Michael unveils "Threat Level Midnight," the movie he's been working on for 11 years, but it sounds better than it looked -- and not just in Scranton

By Hillary Busis
February 18, 2011 at 05:30 AM EST
Chris Haston/NBC
S7 E17
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Some things — like eating nothing but ice cream for five days straight, dressing up as The Tin Man on Halloween, and Snakes on a Plane — are better in theory than in practice. I regret to inform you that an episode of The Office based around Threat Level Midnight, the action movie Michael Scott has been working tirelessly on for the past eleven years, is one of those things.

When Threat Level was first mentioned in “The Client,” an episode from The Office‘s near-perfect second season, it was nothing more than a script Michael had completed and stashed away in his desk. Michael’s employees staged an impromptu reading of the screenplay, which was hilarious because it was spontaneous and haphazard — and, perhaps most importantly, because Michael himself wasn’t there to witness it. Though the movie has come up a few more times throughout the show’s six-year history as a running joke, it’s never taken center stage again. And in all this time, there’s certainly never been an indication that Michael ever meant to turn his screenplay into an actual motion picture.

Tonight, though, we learned that Michael actually shot Threat Level Midnight in its entirety… and that over the years, he somehow managed to convince current and former Dunder Mifflin employees — including Jan (Melora Hardin), Roy (David Denman), and Karen (Ann Perkins — er, I mean, Rashida Jones) — to populate its cast. I know that this series has strayed far from the realism that once defined it. Even so, I find it really hard to believe that everyone from Ryan to Meredith would voluntarily give up their nights and weekends in order to take part in their boss’s ridiculously terrible movie. Additionally, what, the entire office just stops working for an hour or whatever in order to hold a screening in the middle of the day? (I also wonder who shot the movie itself — maybe those silent documentarians that have been stationed in Scranton since 2005 lent a hand, and a camera?)

Implausibility wasn’t the only thing off about last night’s episode. The movie itself had its moments, but on the whole, it came off as much less than the sum of its parts. Maybe that’s just because so many of those parts were pale retreads of things the show has already done before, and better — the whole “Do the Scarn” dance break, for example, compares pretty unfavorably with “Lazy Scranton” in my mind. (Although, okay, those lyrics were pretty awesome.)

Season 7 is definitely The Office‘s strongest season in at least three years; clearly the writers are trying to ratchet things up before Steve Carell makes his exit. “Threat Level Midnight,” however, failed to make a great impression because it just wasn’t new enough. It’s great that this show’s writers reward loyal viewers by calling back  jokes that made our sides split the first time they were told. But stretching the boundaries of credibility just to give us a warmed-over look backwards just doesn’t work.

NEXT: Woody Allen gets a shout-out

Of course, because this was still an episode of The Office, there were a ton of tiny little things that saved “Threat Level Midnight” from being a total wash in my book. Presenting this episode’s…

Highlights:

++ Michael explains to Holly that his movie has it all: “action, heart, symbolism.”

++ I forgot about Catherine Zeta-Scarn! Now there’s a joke that kept on giving, from those crappily pasted-together pictures of Michael and his blushing bride to the sad montage of Scarn remembering his lost love, complete with an Armageddon-inspired animal cracker incident.

++ Dwight: Samuel is a cyborg, “very advanced, almost indistinguishable from a real person.” Michael: ” Dwight does not play a robot.”

++ President Darryl! Hm… does that foreshadow Darryl taking over for Michael?

++ Creed was perfectly cast as Michael’s mysterious hockey Miyagi, Cherokee Jack.

++ The passage of time is marked by pages from Michael’s Dave Barry joke-a-day calendar slowly falling to the floor — genius.

++ Michael gets to live out one of his fantasies in a scene in which Toby’s character’s head explodes over and over again. Jim as the villainous Goldenface snidely apologizes to Scarn for killing his friend, and Scarn replies, ” The joke’s on you, Goldenface. That man was a wanted animal rapist.”

++ Best sight gag of the night: Michael “hitting” Darryl over the head with a picture, Darryl casually sitting down.

++ Is Andy as bartender Billy really Ed Helms impersonating Christian Bale in The Fighter?

++ Oh, hey, Todd Packer! Still WLHUNG, I see.

++ “I am a huge Woody Allen fan. Except I’ve only seen Antz.”

++ “Threat level why? Apartheid!”

++ Holly to Michael: “Your dream? You never even mentioned it before.” She took the words right out of my mouth.

Did you enjoy the episode more than I did, or do you agree that it didn’t quite measure up?

Episode Recaps

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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