Miffed because he wasn't invited on a company wilderness retreat, Michael goes back to nature solo, leaving Jim behind to mismanage a staff birthday party

By Christine Fenno
Updated November 09, 2007 at 03:42 AM EST

If you’re following news of the writers’ strike, you’ve probably heard that NBC has suspended production of The Office and sent the cast and crew home indefinitely. The upshot for fans: After the Nov. 15 broadcast, no new episodes will air until after the strike ends. Jenna Fischer sums up the mess in her blog, and don’t missthis clip of five still-witty-under-stress Officescribes (Greg Daniels, Mindy Kaling, Michael Schur, B.J. Novak, and Paul Lieberstein) pausing mid-picket to comment. Longtime union supporter that I am, I was particularly impressed to learn that Steve Carell, a WGA card holder, had the integrity to stay home from his acting duties on the Office set — a move that certainly influenced the sudden wrap in production but signaled his support of the talented writers who’ve made The Office the beloved, profitable show it is. (As Michael Scott said of rabies patients: ”Solidarity!”) This executives-vs.-writers struggle is an important one, but what a sad turn of events for TV and film crews, for fans, and for all working people whose incomes depend on a healthy entertainment industry. Casey Coffee-man and Martha Manicurist, may your rent get paid, somehow.

On that cheery note, let me tell you the first reason I loved last night’s episode, ”Survivor Man” (written by Carell). It was ostensibly part of the week’s widely touted ”green” programming on NBC, aimed at raising awareness of the global environmental crisis (a comedy-inspiring theme if I ever heard one). But leave it to the funniest firm in Scranton to come at the topic from left field: No Nobel-laureate guests, no trips to the paper mill — just outdoorsiness with Michael and Dwight, and infighting among the rest of the staff. Oh, and some pants became a tent, so, uh…recycling!

(This is not to be confused with ”The Pants Tent,” the first regular episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a series that pioneered the integration of eco-friendly choices, such as driving a Prius, into its scripts.)

Another reason to applaud was the slightly mellower-than-usual tone, a breather after the wackier high jinks of late. With its controlled pace, ”Survivor Man” showcased the subtle acting that has always setThe Office apart. I thought the last scene — a low-key, layered exchange between Steve Carell and John Krasinski, two of the most likable actors on TV today — ranked among the series’ finest.

At the top of the episode, Toby made a rare excursion out of his shell to gush about Ryan’s ”wilderness adventure retreat” (but since we saw none of it, we can only imagine what a fantastically dorky team-building exercise it was). Michael, who wasn’t one of the execs invited, seethed while Toby rambled about all the fun. (”No more s’mores!”) Anyone catch Toby’s reply to Pam, after she asked whether they’d all slept in cabins? He was almost cut off, but then said, ”Under the stars. It was really beautiful….You should have come.” Poor Toby and his Pam torch.

To even the score that exists only in his head, Michael started mulling over his own camping trip and asked if Jim would, hypothetically, go along. (Jim’s nonverbal reaction during the line ”You know what ‘hypothetical’ means? Not real,” was brilliant.) Scoffing at Ryan’s cliquey ”Broken Mountain” outing, Michael decided he needed a rugged solo adventure. Immediately. He asked Dwight to procure duct tape and a knife within 30 minutes; within 30 seconds, Dwight delivered weapons he’d ”strategically placed” at work. (His blow dart and ”Mr. A. Knife” file were absurd perfection, as was his embroidery-worthy proverb ”It’s better to be hurt by someone you know, accidentally, than by a stranger on purpose.”)

Michael said farewell with ”When I return, I hope to be a completely changed human being,” to which Jim, understating matters entirely, answered, ”That’d be great.” Dwight drove woods-ward while Michael stated that any survivalist experiment should simulate a disaster, such as a plane wreck, except in this case the disaster was an abduction by a serial killer who was about to leave him for dead. Dwight interjected that he’d never let his victim live and would, in fact, remove Michael’s teeth and fingers so the body would be unidentifiable: ”They would call me the Overkill Killer.” I still hadn’t recovered from laughing when Dwight turned to Michael, who’d fashioned his necktie into a blindfold, and hit him on the head with a shoe because ”it would be better if you were unconscious.” What is their sick, strange, hilarious bond?

NEXT: It’s my party

Back at Dunder Mifflin, Jim was in charge. Pam, not wanting to be overprotective, stood back while he slipped up and decided to merge the month’s birthdays into one group party. Angela hated his idea from the start (I did too!), Oscar tried hiding his disappointment, and Creed carped mutinously. Escaping into Michael’s office, Jim soon inherited Michael’s habit of being irritated by the very sound of Toby’s voice. Maybe it was the cake requests, maybe it was Andy’s plea for mushroom caps, but the substitute regional manager found new sympathy for any manager of such a relentlessly needy staff. Jim, horrified when Phyllis called him ”Michael,” keeps making me wonder: If he’s itching to do something different with his life, what is it (sports writing? guitar playing?), and what keeps him from it? Think on that, picketing writers, and come back someday to give us a satisfying answer. We just want Jim to be happy.

And we want Creed to dance more! Almost enough to revive the Creep-o-meter from Abby West’s TV Watches. Oh, let’s do it — I give him an 8 this episode, for the intense Mamet-esque pie negotiations alone. His skippy dance was off-the-charts loony! (I think I’ll rate him — thanks, Abby, for the go-ahead — when the spirit moves me, as in this episode, but any of you Office fans are welcome to rate him on the comments board, anytime! That is, whenever this strike ends!)

In the ”wilderness,” Michael asked to be alone with his duct tape, knife, and — since he can’t ever really be alone — a small camcorder. Dwight watched (”I will remain close by, but I will never help him. I will let harm befall him….”) as Michael ineptly tried roughing it. Looking skyward to estimate the time, Michael told his camcorder, ”The sun is in the two-thirds easterly quadrant,” and snuck a glance at his watch. Then he hacked up his suit because, it seemed, he didn’t know what else to do with the knife; after a miraculous lack of bloodshed, he proudly modeled uneven shorts and uneven short sleeves and then showed off the new uses he’d invented for the fabric scraps. He marveled at his solitude, a.k.a. the freedom to shout anything. (”Jan has plastic boobs!” ”I have hemorrhoids!” And he even owned up to the reason he was there at all: ”Wish I could’ve gone with Ryan on that cool retreat!”) Once the temperature dipped, Michael duct-taped his suit back together and sang ”Happy Birthday” (with a high descant at the end, of course) to Creed in absentia. His walkabout ended when he bit into a cluster of possibly poisonous mushrooms, and Dwight took him down with a running tackle.

Jim, holding cobbler with candles, was leading a lifeless chorus of ”Happy Birthday” when Michael walked in, singing his high harmony and wearing a Battlestar Galactica sweatshirt, presumably from Dwight’s car. I noticed his return made Pam’s face light up. (Are birthdays perhaps the one thing Michael’s staffers think he does well?) Summing up his day, Michael said, ”Man became civilized for a reason. I don’t need the woods. I have a nice wood desk.” And if that’s not very eco-friendly (okay, it’s the opposite of eco-friendly), we’ll just have to be content with Meredith’s words of wisdom: ”I love camping. Anything can happen.

What did you think? Will Jim still be at Dunder Mifflin in 10 years? (If not, who will?) Have you noticed that the Office characters are interacting more directly with their cameramen than they used to? And how are you planning to keep yourselves entertained during the strike-caused hiatus?

Episode Recaps

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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