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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Office: "Murder"

Illustration for article titled iThe Office/i: Murder
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Every once in a while the cold light of economic reality permeates the hermetic, insular world of Dunder-Mifflin and we wonder anew how exactly a medium-sized paper company that specializes in customer service and hands-on relationships with clients survives in this brutal, Darwinian economy. Tonight was just such an episode, as the gang learned that their company was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy.

Rather than face this brutal truth head-on, Michael led the office on a field trip to Happy Fantasy Land by mandating that everyone play a particularly ridiculous murder-mystery game set in the deep South. Adopting a Foghorn Leghorn drawl and the fancified manners of a Confederate colonel, Michael happily played a wage-slave pied piper engineering a wholesale escape from reality.


This allowed the writers to exploit a series of can’t-miss propositions—Michael with a ridiculous accent, Michael doing a crazy character, Michael with an imaginary gun and Michael going insane for starters. Michael didn’t even require funny lines necessarily: the accent and lunatic conviction he brought to the part were inherently funny.

Michael and Jim’s co-leadership of Dunder-Mifflin increasingly resembles a professional marriage. In this case, Michael gets to play the fun dad taking the kids out for ice cream and a trip to Disney Land (even if they’d rather be working) while Jim is stuck playing the scowling killjoy admonishing everyone to finish their homework and brush their teeth before bed.


Jim is the realist but in dire times like these too much reality can be, if not a dangerous thing, then at least a total downer. Meanwhile, Andy, AKA Nard Dog, decides to finally act on his feelings towards Erin. He uses the loosey-goosey vibe and role-playing of the murder mystery to ask Erin out but when she accepts, Andy doesn’t know whether she’s accepting as a Dunder-Mifflin employee or as a Southern belle with a scandalous reputation who has always relied upon the kindness of strangers.

When Erin’s dizzy Southern-fried trollop segues from saying yes to Andy (or his character) to happily agreeing to a threesome with Kevin and Meredith, the answer seems to be settled permanently on the "acting in character” side, much to Andy’s disappointment. And Erin’s: it turns out she thought Nard Dog was genuinely asking her out.


Too many comical misunderstandings can be deadly for a sitcom, or pave the way to desperate Three’s Company-style farce and we’ve certainly this will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic over and over again but tonight the hoary old chestnut was carried off with aplomb. Andy becomes a deeper, more lovable character with each passing episode. And Erin has quickly become an appealing, engaging character. It’s hard not to root for these crazy kids. They really seem to be writing more for Andy than Dwight this season. I wonder how much of that has to do with Ed Helms’ surprise ascent to movie stardom. When you want writers to give you good material it never hurts to be the star of a film that’s made nearly three hundred million dollars. I'm not talking about The Rocker.

Other than Jim, Oscar was pressed into service as the token voice of reason. He’s a great straight man, and he has a wonderful little solo where he tries and fails to adopt the cartoon Southern drawls of everyone around him. In the end, even Jim was sucked into Michael’s silly little game, personally and professionally. Hard work and maturity have their merits, but Jim is learning that goofing off and letting off steam can sometimes be essential, not just fun. As for me, I had a ball regressing with Michael and the gang. Tonight may have been spectacularly silly, but it was silliness with a purpose.


Grade: A-

Stray Observations—

—I so would like to peer into the contents of Michael’s feelings journal

—The cold open was a little over the top and zany for my tastes but it redeemed itself with the final reaction shot of Pam looking on nonplussed while Dwight continued to beat the crap out of himself for no discernible reason


—I also loved Creed hightailing it out of the office after hearing about the murder. Knowing Creed, it’s entirely likely that he has actually killed a man.

—Love the Mexican stand-off as well

—If you enjoy murder mysteries and also the hilarious hit NBC sitcom The Office you might just be the target demographic for The Office’s edition of Clue.


—I’m guessing a sizable contingent of audience crushes have already shifted from Pam to Erin. She’s a charmer.

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