On ''The Office,'' when Phyllis gets flashed, Michael tries to make the Dunder Mifflin women feel appreciated by taking them to the mall, where he has a relationship intervention

May 04, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

”The Office”: A very revealing episode

Well, you can’t win ’em all, can you? Some supersize episodes, like ”The Negotiation” last month, are perfection. That very rich story line flowed in such a way that the closing credits seemed to come too soon. As entertaining as it was, last night’s ”Women’s Appreciation” felt exactly like a 30-minute episode stretched to fill 43 minutes.

Which is not to say that it wasn’t funny, because, let’s face it, even on a slow night, the writing and acting on this show are masterful. It’s just that even though the setup (Phyllis being flashed in the parking lot) created a lot of opportunity for interesting side story lines, the episode really only came together about 24 minutes in, when the office women had their unexpected relationship intervention with Michael in the mall.

As usual, Michael charged ahead into the land of inappropriateness with his laughing disbelief that the flasher sought out Phallus Phyllis and not Pam or Karen. Which, of course, led him to equate a flasher with a clown dropping his pants at the circus, then to stick his finger through his zipper and accost Toby as he walked in. In a rare moment of self-awareness, Michael admitted that he knew, even as he said it, that asking to see Toby’s penis was just wrong. (That admission was almost as good as Pam’s after she rambled on about Roy, Jim, and Jim’s penis: ”Whoo, I am saying a lot of things.”)

Naturally, Dwight helped Michael stay the ludicrous course with his clothing-and-makeup-restrictions memo and safety measures in the parking lot. And Andy (who’s not so painful to watch anymore) got his silent revenge on Dwight for his constant ridicule by helping Dwight plaster the neighborhood with posters of the flasher that Pam drew to look suspiciously like Dwight, only with a teeny mustache.

I fully expected serious moments of discomfort when Michael decided that a more feminine setting was required to heal the delicate women of the office and took them on a trip to the mall. But no way did I foresee that his dish session would turn semiserious as he leaked out his abused-boyfriend story. Sure, it was pretty icky that Jan had her assistant, Hunter, listen in as she offered Michael $300 for sex and then instructed Hunter to buy them booze. But you know Jan. She’s kooky! Somehow the image of Michael dressed up in a cheerleader uniform and the knowledge that Jan taped their sex, critiqued it, and played it for her therapist really brought it all home. As did Michael’s sad little confession that he’s ”unhappy when he’s with her.”

But the real shocker was that after years of watching Michael’s desperate idiocy and months of watching Jan’s self-destructive streak lead to her entanglement with him, Michael’s the one who decided their relationship was unhealthy and ended it — on her voice-mail, which she listened to after driving for hours to apologize to Michael. Priceless. (As were Pam and Karen’s sidelong glances at each other as they expressed very different opinions about when to cut and run on a bad relationship.)

It was nice to see more of both Angela and Meredith. The wild and crazy drunk Meredith sure is a hoot, but even sober, I don’t think you could get me to go for a drive with the chip-scarfing litterbug. And why am I not surprised that Angela, with her cat-embroidered sweater, has to buy a children’s size 10 or extra-large doll clothes but finds GapKids clothes ”too flashy”?

Creed Creep-O-Meter: 10+ Creed was in non sequitur heaven last night. (”If that’s flashing, then lock me up.”) As much as I enjoyed watching the guys’ discovery of the tricked-out women’s bathroom and their afternoon hangout in there, it was made all the better by Creed’s arrival and statement that he goes to the women’s bathroom for No. 2! Eeewww!

I have to say that I cracked up at Kelly dancing in the car to Michael’s ”My Humps” ringtone. Come to think of it, Michael looked so comfortable as the sole male wedged into the minivan that I’m starting to think he was right about what he said to Jim — maybe, despite the misogynistic (not sexist) things he says, he does know the crap out of women.

So was it stretched out, or is this episode somehow on your top ten list? What should we make of Ryan’s having asked out Karen and Kelly’s slip that their relationship is awful ”but sometimes awesome”? And are you psyched for another supersize episode next week?

Jim, Pam, Michael, Dwight and the rest of the Dunder-Mifflin employees hold down the Scranton branch
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Steve Carell,
John Krasinski,
Jenna Fischer,
Rainn Wilson
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