As some of you may know, I am something of an Office super-fan. I’ve interviewed much of its cast. I’ve watched every deleted scene. I try to use “Put it on my tab”, Steve Carell’s hilarious catchphrase from Dan In Real Life, on an hourly basis. I’ve covered The Office for TV Club since 1973, three years before I was born and thirty-two years before it began its run.
I’ve watched 115 of the show’s 116 episodes. The only episode I haven’t seen, strangely enough, is perhaps the most important episode in the show’s history: “Niagara”, alternately known as the wedding episode. I was out of town when it aired, I don’t have one of those newfangled DVRs and never caught up with it when it was On Demand. Now it looks like I’ll have to wait for the season six DVD to fill this unforgivable hole in my Office knowledge.
So I won’t be able to tell you how perhaps the second most important/hyped episode of The Office, tonight’s “The Delivery Part 1+2” compares to “Niagara”. And I was a little confused as to why an exceedingly attractive woman responded to Dwight’s creepy suggestion that he call her with something other than revulsion.
Ah, the delivery episode. It is a television perennial in which we all get to luxuriate in the cheap sentimentality of our television pals welcoming an adorable tot into the world. So let’s start off by congratulating The Office on defying sentimentality at every turn.
If anything, tonight’s episode traveled in the opposite direction. Jim and Pam were at each other’s throats as the pressure of childbirth exacerbated the cracks and fissures in their relationship. It was a refreshing reminder that even the sitcom equivalent of a fairy tale couple has its problems.
Pragmatism was the order of the day. First, Jim and Pam shamelessly used their status as parents-to-be to pluck the heartstrings of clients and score sales. Dwight was much less successful at using his cousin’s goat fungus to elicit sympathy but Jim and Pam’s cynical ploy planted the seeds of a terrible, terrible idea in Dwight’s fertile imagination.
Jim and Pam decide to wait until after midnight to go to the hospital so they can eke an extra day of coverage out of their HMO, but Pam is much more committed to pinching pennies than Jim, who goes at least moderately insane in preparation for the biggest moment of his life, diapering cats and watermelons and obsessing about every detail.
Dwight, meanwhile, having earlier confided, “I’ve been noticing a gaping hole in my life. Sometimes I wake up cradling a gourd” decides to sire a baby for mercenary reasons with Angela. Angela is an an ice queen ninety nine percent of the time. But when Dwight gets that crazed gleam in his eyes and treats her like a conquest to be dragged back into his cave she betrays her furtive desire to be dominated with a guilty little smile of submission.
So when Dwight orders, “Bear my child” she’s putty in his hands. The terrible twosome draw up a ridiculous contract dictating everything from the name of the child to the kind of vegetable mush it will eat in its formative years. Dwight and Angela have long served as the nightmare bizarro world version of Jim and Pam so it’s fitting that their hellspawn should be created in a festering pool of cynical calculation and professional striving.
Ah, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Jim and Pam either. In a sly early moment, Jim flashes that shit-eating smirk of self-satisfaction when he quips that he won’t lift a finger to help Pam unless she sires him a son and Pam snaps that she can’t wait for that running joke to die an unmourned death. Jim is less likeable as a man with major responsibilities than as a man-child defined by his puppy dog crush on his future wife. But he’s also become more complicated, multi-dimensional and human.
Tonally, “The Delivery Part 1+2” was all over the place. The sniping between Jim and Pam epitomized the comedy of excruciating awkwardness the show does so well. Dwight, on the other hand, starred in a live-action cartoon. Whether he was placing a siren on his car (much to the irritation of a Scranton police force that knows him both by name and reputation) and tossing axes and other instruments of destruction out of his window or demolishing Jim and Pam’s home in search of her Ipod, Dwight’s antics were about ten times larger than life.
Speaking of outsized zaniness, Michael, having convinced himself that he single-handedly brought Jim and Pam together, decides to play cupid with the rest of the staff. Now, every good salesman is on some level an expert on human psychology. They’re able to read people and alter their pitch accordingly. The Office has established repeatedly that Michael is a great salesman but he’s also terrible at reading people.
For example, Michael divines that there’s someone in the office just perfect for our adorably lovelorn Erin. And that person is Kevin. There were laughs to be gleaned from this subplot but mostly it just pissed me off. For the love of sweet blessed Baby Jesus up their on the Crucifix, I got really fucking impatient and irritated waiting for Erin and Andy to stop getting in the way of their own happiness and hook up. So I was relieved more than anything when Andy finally mustered up the courage to ask Erin out in his own inimitable, needlessly complicated fashion. Thank the fucking Lord.
Back at the hospital Jim and Pam do just about everything wrong. Pam pisses off her nurse and breastfeeds the wrong baby. Jim gets five parking tickets and repeatedly rubs his wife the wrong way (and copes none too well with a trained medical professional massaging his wife’s breast). I feared that tonight’s episode would be too sappy but it ended up being perhaps the least sentimental baby-delivery episode of any major sitcom in recent memory.
It felt a little padded and implausible and lurched from one radically different tone to another but it was also very funny and intriguingly prickly and real when it wasn’t being cartoonish and over the top. It wasn’t a home run. If I may employ the world’s most convoluted, nonsensical sports metaphor, it was more like a quarterback calling an audible, then getting out of pocket and rushing for fifteen yards before his team fails to execute on a third and long and is forced to kick a field goal from the forty-five yard line. Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what it was like.
—The more we learn about Meredith, the more horrifying she becomes
—Love Ryan’s crazy Harry Potter glasses
—Exactly how many meals do Kevin and Pam eat together per day?
—Tonight’s episode hit close to him, as I too was conceived in a portapotty at Burning Man
—“Ooh, spooky. But why?” Oh, Erin. You are adorable. And possibly mentally challenged
—“If you disagree, say anything”
—Let’s meet at four P.M in our old meeting spot and bang it out”
—I now plan to begin every sentence with, “Speaking as a former baby,”
—Ed Helms not only sold the preposterous notion that his name was taken away and given to a baby his parents liked better; he was also able to invest it with surprising pathos
—“My mother received compliments left and right about how I was always able to distract others in class.”
—“I can do the evolution of dance dance”
—“Hereafter referred to as Morpheus”
—“No Star Trek names!”
—“Tandoori Chicken from Born Into Brothels”
—“I don’t want the first thing the baby hears to be the 8 Mile soundtrack”
—Thanks to tonight’s episode, I will have nothing but positive associations with the Scranton Strangler and his reign of terror
—Is there anything cuter than a cat in a diaper? Yes. Yes there is.
—“Who wants to live in a world where Stanley has two lovers and you don’t have any?”
—“I’m going to fill that empty hole in your body with another person”
—“Oh good. You know everything”
—“You will learn to love me”
—If Andy and Erin play their cards right they too could be the subject of a refreshingly dark baby delivery episode of their own a few years down the line