“Dwight’s Speech” (season two, episode 17; originally aired 3/2/2006)
Michael Scott doesn’t believe he’s part of an ensemble. His two biggest comedic influences, Robin Williams and Steve Martin, don’t do support—at various points in their careers, when Williams and Martin headlined a film, they were the film. This is why Michael enters every improv scene brandishing an invisible weapon, and it’s why he can’t accept the notion that he might be worse at public speaking than one of his employees. In “Dwight’s Speech,” if Michael can’t be Adrian Cronauer or Navin Johnson (though he wouldn’t want to appear as foolish as the latter), then nobody else can. Least of all Dwight.
The centerpiece of “Dwight’s Speech” is a rousing address from Dunder Mifflin Salesman of the Year Dwight Schrute, a speech assembled by Jim from bits and pieces of historical agitprop. But before the character can speak from what’s truly in his heart—an undying lust for authority—he takes a go at a “good” speech in the Michael Scott style. Dwight wants power, but he’ll bow to power as well; in an episode that’s at turns loud and jumbled, one of the best punchlines is the mass groan that follows Dwight’s invoking of Good Morning Vietnam. There’s no need to explain why the employees of Dunder Mifflin are sick of that nearly 20-year-old catchphrase—the silence that greets Michael’s use of it later in the episode says it all.
The Office of “Dwight’s Speech” is a show that’s testing the waters. This deep into a full, 22-episode season, there’s room for that type of experimentation, and following a few weeks of ensemble-heavy episodes that feed a lot of material into ongoing plots, Paul Lieberstein unknowingly auditions for the job of running The Farm with the first episode of The Office that’s led by Dwight in the way The Jerk is led by Steve Martin. “Dwight’s Speech” fully embraces the breakout qualities of Dwight K. Schrute—but it also serves as an anatomy of a difficult character.
It’s laid out bluntly in the cold open: Give Dwight an inch, and he’ll flatten every character in his path. It’s in the way he’s written, and it’s in the strange, otherworldly energy Rainn Wilson brings to his performance. The other three members of The Office’s core quartet are capable of serving as utility players from time to time—even Michael, who provides Steve Carell with some complex, poignant notes to play in “Dwight’s Speech.” But because Dwight possesses the breakout qualities of the Rhoda Morgensterns, Cosmo Kramers, and Ron Swansons of the TV world—combined with the merchandising potential of a Steve Urkel—scenes of the type that followed in the wake of Dwight’s fist-pounding address to the salespeople of Northeastern Pennsylvania would bulldoze the smaller, character-to-character moments of The Office. Wilson is beyond capable of handling moments like that himself (see his delivery of the phrase “tasty, terrific pizza” in “Dwight’s Speech”), but the bigger, increasingly cartoonish demands of his signature character would overshadow those shades as well.
Isolated from what would come next, however, the sequence at the sales conference is spectacular, a mini-highlight reel for Wilson and Carell that’s also the beneficiary of wise editing selections: the abrupt cut to a flop-sweat-drenched Michael; the montage juxtaposing a divided Dunder Mifflin with Dwight’s borrowed calls to rise and unite. There’s a distinct “give the drummer some” vibe running throughout “Dwight’s Speech,” with the thermostat war between Angela, Oscar, Kevin, and Creed dropping hints that other characters could possibly carry this show. (Coincidentally, the Accountants webseries was announced in March 2006—the same month during which “Dwight’s Speech” debuted.) The preparations for Pam’s wedding run through the background of the episode, laying the pipe for plots to be developed later—but the true bit of foreshadowing in this episode is the cackling, enlarged face of Dwight Schrute, surveying with glee a territory he would (for better and for worse) one day come to dominate.
“Take Your Daughter To Work Day” (season two, episode 18; originally aired 3/16/2006)
The Office is a comedy that knew its way around moments of spirit-crushing sadness. This is a show that got the most from both poles of the emotional spectrum; there are plenty of stomach-dropping dramatic beats after “Take Your Daughter To Work Day,” but for me, there’s nothing in the rest of The Office that’s sadder than a young Michael Scott leaving a cat puppet in stunned silence.
The Fundle Bundle interlude in “Take Your Daughter To Work Day” is a hugely revelatory piece of tragicomedy for The Office. The episode begins with Michael worrying aloud that yet another group of outsiders is going to compromise his ability to run the Scranton branch the way he wants to run it. However, this time around, those outsiders can’t fire him for stepping out of line or exclaiming something inappropriate; though doing such things in front of his employees’ children could certainly lead to his termination. But he eventually wins the kids’ favor (and vice versa), which leads to a spell of VHS archeology and the mortifying blow to end all mortifying Office blows: Asked by feline field reporter Edward R. Meow what he wants to be when he grows up, a nattily dressed, preteen Michael Scott offers the following: “I want to be married and have a hundred kids so I can have a hundred friends, and no one can say no to being my friend.”
Cue the non-verbal response from puppeteer Kevin Carlson:
I hate to boil down both of this week’s episodes to a couple of brief passages, but the hanging jaw of Edward R. Meow encompasses “Take Your Daughter To Work Day” for me. What starts as a basic “How will the employees of Dunder Mifflin embarrass themselves in front of children?” premise takes a startling turn into baldly acknowledging the loneliness at the center of The Office’s protagonist. He acts this way because he’s always wanted the audience, the entourage, the friends, the family—and for a few seconds with those kids, he had it. But it goes deeper than that; fitting for The Office and its born ham of a protagonist that this blinding flash of clarity comes courtesy of a puppet. (And smart to couch it in the context of another TV show, underlining The Office’s use of the camera as ultimate truth teller.)
The insular nature of The Office’s main setting brought a bevy of characters into the show’s orbit to disrupt the everyday routine at Dunder Mifflin. Many of them—Charles Miner, Deangelo Vickers, Jo Bennett, Robert California—stayed for multiple episodes; the kids of “Take Your Daughter To Work Day” are short-term presences who shake up an entire workday, exposing different sides of the characters and asking pertinent questions (“Why doesn’t the sawmill just sell the paper directly to people?”) about the show’s status quo. The show’s principals regularly act like kids, so it’s fun to watch that dynamic work together and against childlike behavior from actual children. Meredith’s kid gets Dwight to fall into the simplest of bullying traps (giving the bully a reaction), while Stanley’s daughter and Kelly engage in petty, lunchroom sniping over Ryan. The latter leads to another of the episode’s whiplash-inducing surprises: Stanley snapping into angry-dad mode with Ryan, as Leslie David Baker flashes those “baleful” eyes Michael wanted to avoid back in “Halloween.”
That sequence stands in further contrast to the rest of the episode because it’s the rare instance of one of The Office’s parents engaging in legitimate parenting. And in that instance, Melissa is only tangentially involved. “Take Your Daughter To Work Day” doesn’t want to paint the characters as bad parents any more than The Office as a whole wants to paint them as bad employees. It’s just that this isn’t a space where those instincts naturally occur, which makes sense that it is a space where they’re unconsciously brought out of the employees who don’t have children of their own. Like Michael never earning anything he tries too hard to earn, Pam can’t relate to any of the kids until she’s given up on her gingerbread-house-witch tactics, finally finding an eager paper-shredding partner in Jake Palmer. Roy gets along with the kids as well—even as the show pushes Pam closer to Jim, it’s still good at showing off glimpses of what might have initially attracted her to Roy. In fact, for being the most disruptive of the kids who are in the office for the day, Jake’s the most effective at unleashing everyone’s inner parents, as seen in his final (still fairly petulant) interaction with Dwight.
Ultimately, the kids aren’t just kids—they’re reflections and reflectors of the Office regulars. Like most of the “interlopers” discussed in TV Roundtable’s series of articles on the trope, Melissa, Jake, et al. aren’t around long enough to become fully fledged characters, so the show mostly uses them as fuel to drive the disparate scenes of the most story-free episode of season two. They’re devices of Mindy Kaling’s script, but devices that help get the characters of The Office to important places. And they totally justify their presence by getting Michael to stare into the howling void of Fundle Bundle.
“Dwight’s Speech”: B-
“Take Your Daughter To Work Day”: B
- The only problem with the Fundle Bundle clip is one of time period: Michael doesn’t say how old he was when he got the cat’s tongue, but if he was born (as the Internet claims) in 1964, then the episode must’ve been taped sometime in the early to mid-’70s. The budget probably didn’t exist for such things, but I’ve always wished that Fundle Bundle looked more like vintage Sesame Street or The Electric Company. Of course, Edward R. Meow is a decent stand-in for Reporter Kermit, and auxiliary Muppet player Kevin Carlson gives him a voice that approximates Gonzo The Great’s, so I should get off my Comic Book Guy high horse and stop nitpicking. (We’ll just assume Michael’s mom taped the episode when it was rerun following the proliferation of home-video-recording technology.)
- Angela Kinsey was clearly very comfortable with her character’s tics by the time of “Take Your Daughter To Work Day,” because she says so much with just the flick of her eyes after Dwight disciplines Jake.
- There’s a similarly great, lived-in feel in the way Jenna Fischer chokes on the fake subject of the following “Dwight’s Speech” quote: “People can get all weird about wedding stuff. I just—I don’t want to offend… Angela, or someone.”
- Dwight rubs his victory in Jim’s Cugino’s-eating face: “Do their pizzas play DVDs?”