Like a lot of Office fans, I've been eagerly awaiting the return of half-hour, filler-free, gleefully non-padded Office episodes all season long. But tonight I found myself wistfully pining for the emotional heft and tragic-comic tone of the show's hour-long episodes. Tonight's episode, Local Ad was funny throughout but after the aching melancholy of last week it felt like it was missing something, though I couldn't quite put my finger on what that something might be.
Written by B.J Novak and directed by Thank You For Smoking auteur Jason Reitman, tonight's episode was unusually focused around a single plot line. After glibly dismissing the slick if forgettable Dunder-Mifflin commercial whipped up by seasoned professionals who actually know what they're doing Michael Scott decides to make his own commercial in house utilizing the skills and talents of his co-workers.
It was yet another example of Michael Scott trying to assert his will and individuality and getting smacked down by his superiors and a cold world that doesn't find him nearly as delightful and dynamic as he finds himself.
The Andy, Angela and Dwight love triangle progressed further with Andy obliviously seeking out Dwight's help in wooing Angela and Dwight deriving some measure of sad comfort in Angela moaning for "D" while sorta kinda necking with Andy. There were some really sharp gags in tonight's episode, particularly involving Dwight creating a virtual avatar of himself in Second Life that's exactly like himself only, you know, he can fly. I found amusing that Dwight's virtual avatar created a second virtual avatar to separate himself from the messiness of real life even further.
In addition to being funny the Dwight Second Life subplot cleverly comments on the desperate measures office drones resort to in their bid to escape the drudgery of their grey, dreary lives. I thought it was a neat touch that Jim–who seems like so much less of a sad sack since he started hooking up with the glammed-up Pam–similarly created a Second Life persona that unwittingly revealed his own hang-ups and personal and professional disappointments. Jim exudes such breezy charm and self-confidence that it can be easy to forget that he's also a thwarted soul at a dead end job.
As usual The Office subjected Michael to a series of petty humiliations but afforded him a small moment of triumph at the end when Jim takes pity on his increasingly desperate boss and arranges a "world premiere" showing of the Michael-created, Dunder-Mifflin-unapproved commercial, which seemed to run three and a half minutes long and seemed way too slick from a technical perspective to originate for a rank amateur like Michael Scott.
Tonight's episode was funny and engaging but I've come to expect more from The Office. It's not enough to garner steady chuckles: at this point the show needs to ache a little to feel truly satisfying.
Grade: B -Stray observations -Who knew there was so much musical talent at Dunder-Mifflin? Daryl was working some true magic with that beat-up Casio. It was also kind of neat to see Creed–a real life musician–employ his other talents -Where was Jan during this episode? -I usually expect a whole lot more Ryan in Novak-penned episodes. If only we could have heard more of Michael's Eddie Murphy impersonation. It was not quite on par with Alec Baldwin's Redd Foxx -I did love the part in the faux-commercial Dwight delivers the note that reads "You have a son–It's me!" Who wouldn't be receptive to such a message?