Michael Scott, The Office (Steve Carell)

Image Credit: Chris Haston/NBCWell, this was an exciting week in the Officeverse, eh? I’m not talking about last night’s episode, which was a straightforward and funny outing; I mean the news that Steve Carell is maybe kind of sort of thinking about leaving the Scranton branch after next season. The knowledge of that notionally earth-shaking departure (which, admittedly, would be over a year away) added a hidden layer of depth to an otherwise easygoing episode. Did anyone else get a bit of a brain-tingle when Darryl said, “Maybe one day I’ll be sitting in Michael’s chair?”

Could this show last beyond Michael Scott? At least last night, viewers, my answer is yes. Because although I find myself less and less interested in Michael’s utterly awkward romantic travails, there were so many brilliant throwaway lines in the episode that they didn’t even feel like throwaway lines, after awhile. Like the exchange between Michael and Oscar:

Michael: Sometimes it makes financial sense to lose money, right? For tax purposes?

Oscar: I ran the numbers on this, and in this situation it makes more financial sense to gain money.

Or the bit with Ryan and Kelly tormenting a girl over the internet: “Tell her everyone in homeroom thinks she’s fat.” Or Andy commiserating with Michael about misread signals: “I was seeing this really hot urologist about it. Now I think she was just doing a lot of stuff to bill my HMO.” Or Creed, coming out of nowhere with a definite contender for Top 10 Creed Lines Ever: “You ever noticed you can only ooze two things: sexuality and pus?”

Weirdly, the only flimsy part of the episode was the central plot that supposedly connected all the little bits together. Bar Manager Donna, whom we met in the “Date Mike” (ugh) episode, was coming in to the office to buy some printers. Michael was working overtime to impress her, first and foremost by setting up Jim and Pam as an adorable married pair of salesmen. (Michael described them as “The Wonder Twins.”)

So far, so funny. But then Michael started upping his flirtation game in the freakiest way possible, first by offering her a Victoria’s Secret, then by showing her a slideshow of pictures of himself mixed in with pictures of Tom Selleck (and an occasional subliminal blip of the word “sex,” Room 23-style), and then he went in for a kiss IN THE MEETING ROOM WITH THE BLINDS OPEN. (In. Appro.)

Everyone else in the office saw this terrifying display (“Maybe you shouldn’t try to kiss people at work.”) The rest of the episode mainly focused on Michael receiving advice from every single coworker. At one point, everyone was watching him flirt through the window. I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, I liked how this seemed to mark a return to legitimately painful awkwardness (as opposed to adorably protracted awkwardness). On the other hand, yeesh, do any of these people work anymore? To me, The Office always feels precariously stagey when the hilarious supporting cast apparently has nothing better to do than hang out and talk about Michael Scott’s relationship problems.

Give me the B-plotline! Dwight was disturbed by the fact that Darryl was considering taking part in Sabre’s “Print in All Colors” minority executive training program. After he discovered that “Glasses-wearers” and “Cholera-survivors” don’t count as minorities, he decided to find his OWN minority employee to control: Kelly.

I always love when Dwight tries to subtly influence people: It’s just so obvious that he’s planned out every syllable to sound as casual as possible, and he ends up getting angry at the other person when they aren’t instantly on his wavelength. After overhearing Kelly hanging up on an angry phone call, he slid around the corner and said, totally knowingly, “White people, right?” That led into his sales pitch: “How many Indian CEOs can you think of?” “I can’t think of any CEOs.”

Since all of Dwight’s plans end up backfiring, Kelly spurned him for her mad lover Ryan. (I know that the Kelly-Ryan romance is kind of meant to just be a freakish sideshow, but am I the only person who wants to see a bit more of these two?) That meant that Dwight had to try to enlist one of the OTHER minority employees. His pitch to Stanley and Oscar was hilarious (he described “Print in All Colors” as “A ticket on a bullet train straight to middle management.”) Even funnier was his final decision to bring in our beloved Dr. Hide, who started to tell Gabe the story of how he came to America.

Meanwhile, Michael was rounding the bend of freakish awkwardness to stalker behavior with his bar manager, but in a weird twist, it turned out that she actually really liked him, I guess? Listen, I understand the need to shake up character’s relationships in a TV show, but considering all the foundations that were laid for Michael’s earlier romances, the climax of this episode felt a bit… half-finished.

I want to stress: I think that Steve Carell is hilarious, and I think his complete investment in Michael Scott makes a character who could be utterly cartoonish feel vividly real. But to me, this was another episode where the shining stars on the supporting cast felt weirdly anchored down by the supposed center of the show. Even Gabe is starting to grow on me. His “almost too black” line was one for the ages.

What did you think of the episode, PopWatchers? I haven’t even listed all the lines that made me laugh out loud (Pam: “Most printer sales are done over the phone, Miss Boobshirt!”) Does The Office even really need a central overarching plotline anymore? I feel like if there’s any show that could sustain a “22 Short Films About Springfield”-style structure every week, it’s The Office.

Episode Recaps

Michael Scott, The Office (Steve Carell)
The Office

The mockumentary-style sitcom chronicles a group of typical office employees working 9-5 at the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

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