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The Office: "New Boss"

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Within the hermetic world of The Office the new Dunder-Mifflin Vice President played by guest star Idris Elba functioned a bit like The Simpsons' Frank Grimes. Michael is generally surrounded by co-workers and bosses who indulge, tolerate and support his shenanigoats and steadfast refusal to grow up and behave like a reasonable human being. Elba’s coldly efficient executive was having none of that. He rightly perceived Michael as an unprofessional buffoon. An amiable buffoon, sure, but a buffoon all the same.

In doing so Elba instantly became Michael’s enemy, just as Frank Grimes was Homer’s Enemy. Just as the “Homer’s Enemy” episode of The Simpsons added a bracing element of realism to the show’s cartoon universe by showing how an unsympathetic outsider might respond to Homer Simpson, Elba’s character ruined Michael’s party, literally and figuratively, by treating him the way a capable real-life boss probably would: with glowering disapproval and stern discipline instead of kid gloves.

What should have been a landmark moment in Michael’s life—his 15th Anniversary at Dunder-Mifflin—instead turned into a nightmare. Michael was on the verge of tears throughout the episode. The show got off to a brilliant start with a cold open where Michael defers to Jim’s judgment and treats him like a monarch, if not a minor deity, because he’s dressed in a tuxedo as a zany prank on Dwight. Michael gazed adoringly at Jim while Jim played it cool and confident. Dwight, meanwhile, grew angrier and angrier at Michael’s worshipful treatment of Jim. I particularly enjoyed the part where Dwight angrily insists that Mr. Peanut is just a regular peanut “with a top hat, monocle and cane”.

Then came Elba’s introduction. The fun came to an abrupt halt. The ladies swooned. Michael instantly dug himself into a deep hole with his new boss and just kept digging and digging. For all his smarts and guile, Jim didn’t fare much better. Showing up to work in ironic garb the day he met his new corporate overlord proved to be a colossal blunder. Jim’s attempts to explain himself backfired. Soon Michael had company in the doghouse.


In a cold cost-cutting fervor, Elba cancelled Michael’s fifteenth anniversary party and eliminated the party planning committee. A devastated Michael traveled to New York to personally confront a clearly mortified David Wallace. Wallace beautifully embodies The Office’s unparalleled gift for creating rich, funny, multi-dimensional characters in a small amount of time.

Wallace is as indulgent towards Michael as Elba is uncompromising. He clearly wants to be a nice guy and do the right thing even if it turns out to be the wrong thing. So instead of telling Michael to shut the fuck up and take up any issues he might have with Elba with Elba directly he offers what I thought was a very benevolent compromise. Wallace promises to free up money for the Anniversary Party and head down to Pennsylvania to attend it himself.


Alas, Michael’s pride has taken too much of a beating for him to be able to accept Wallace's offer. So he resigns in disgust while bemoaning the countless sacrifices he’s made on behalf of Dunder-Mifflin, at least one of which involves hang-gliding.

“Homer’s Enemy” is one of the darkest episodes of The Simpsons. Tonight’s episode of The Office was nearly as dark. To paraphrase Randy Newman’s “Rednecks” Michael Scott may be a fool but he’s our fool. We feel protective of him so when a sleek corporate shark dismantles his world and destroys his sense of self—even for exceedingly sane, reasonable reasons—it’s hard not to feel for him.


In his first episode, Elba served primarily as a straight man, a sober, bottom-line-oriented professional sent to oversee an office full of overgrown children. In tonight’s episode even Jim, usually the responsible one, behaved like a middle-school jokester. Will Elba’s character ultimately be a heavy or the voice of reason in a madhouse of a workplace? Are the two mutually exclusive?

Thanks to brilliant performances from Elba and a falling-apart-at-the-seams, more nakedly-emotional-than-usual Carell tonight’s episode worked spectacularly as comedy and even better as drama.


Grade: A-

Stray Observations—

—Angela in primly flirtatious mode: creepy

—I liked Michael’s line about how Jan would only stop by the office when she was feeling super horny.


—I sometimes think about dressing up in a suit before heading into the office. Now I dress like a homeless person, smell like a homeless person, sleep in a cardboard box like a homeless person and don’t have a home like a homeless person. I’m starting to realize that I might actually be homeless.

—Elba=handsome man.


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