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Hello. This is Keith Phipps subbing in for Nathan who’s off starting the Nathan Rabin Pop Culture Website. (Or attending Passover Seder, I forget.) Tonight we get two, count ‘em, episodes of The Office split up by the debut of Parks And Recreation (which I reviewed here and plan to cover moving forward.) And though these are two distinct episodes, they make sense as a pair, dealing as they do with the early days of the Michael Scott Paper Company, a scrappy little outfit with just a dream and a discarded photocopier to call their own.


But as the first part of our doubleheader opens, they don’t even have that. Michael is operating out of his sad condo and using a repurposed election sign to announce his presence. Shell-shocked at the prospect of actually, you know, doing some work, he keeps making one piece of French toast after another until Pam ultimately calms him down and makes him make a list. “When one person freaks out it sometimes weirdly makes the other one calmer,” she explains. That moment gets mirrored by a moment at the end when Michael calms down a freaked out Pam (although it's largely Michael’s own actions that have freaked her out.)

I’m loving the way this sidetrip has allowed more time to explore Michael and Pam’s relationship; I’ll freely use the word even if Pam doesn’t like it. They’re weirdly good together. Michael sets loftier goals for her than she’s prone to set for herself. Pam knows how to handle Michael. (Note that the list included an item called “Song Parodies,” allowing room for Michael to brainstorm “My Stumps” and “Achy Breaky Fart.”)

That doesn’t mean that MSPC gets off to a smooth start, however. Michael’s dream team consists of the star salesman from the telemarketing firm at which he moonlighted—Vikrom, is his name, right?—and Ryan, whose post-Thailand existence involves serving as the “shoe bitch” at a Scranton bowling alley. By the end of the day, he’s lost part of the dream team and his chief backers—his grandmother’s investing club—has pulled its funding. But MSPC has a home, back at the same office park that’s home to Dunder-Mifflin. More specifically, in some converted closet space that barely allows anyone to walk around. But it’s still a home.


Meanwhile, back at Dunder-Mifflin, Andy’s suck-up instincts have resurfaced and the office has uncovered the one thing sure to crack new boss Charles’ icy exterior: Soccer. Disastrously, Jim claims to play then proves how little he knows about the sport in a parking lot pick-up game. Relations between Jim and Charles consequently continue to devolve.

I thought the Dunder-Mifflin material here worked fairly well, although Idris Elba has been so good at portraying a heartless professional it almost doesn’t seem right for anything to break through his icy exterior. But the MSPC plot is as good as The Office gets, balancing big laughs with moments that push the characters to their breaking points. It’s a funny show, but episodes like this one make clear just how much the characters have to lose and how little it would take for them to lose it. One day you’re ready to conquer the world. The next you end up with egg in your Crocs.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

- Ryan’s frosted hair is truly atrocious, isn’t it? I’ve missed the character, who gets better as he gets more awful. Who else could say, “I’m swamped, Michael” with such cutting condescension when the work he’s behind on involves playing happy birthday for some bowlers?


- “Confidence: It’s the food of the wise man but the liquor of the fool.”

- This is the first member of Michael’s family we’ve seen in the flesh, right? Would it be reading too much into his Nana’s rejection of his plan to suggest it provided a clue as to why he turned out the way he did?

And now, act two, in which the Michael Scott Paper Company takes up residence in an office that’s way too small for even its modest workforce. Maybe it’s simply a matter of The Office working better 30 minutes at a time—remember the semi-exhausting supersized episodes?—but this felt like the lesser of tonight’s double feature. The Jim/Charles subplot involving Charles’ request for a “rundown” was funny but a bit strained by the end, almost as if the show needed to stall before the proper blowout between them could take place. On the other hand, Dwight and Andy’s competitive bonding as they tried to become friends while simultaneously courting the new receptionist worked brilliantly, and even gave us a musical number. (Who knows the words to “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in German?)


But, again, the heart of the episode was at Dunder-Mifflin’s fledgling competitor. (Even the credits changed accordingly.) As Michael, Pam, and Ryan tried—some harder than others—to get the company moving, they fell victim to infighting and petty bickering that brought out the worst in everyone. (Not that Ryan had too much further to go.) The best moments came from Michael’s Evite-assisted attempts at a paper-themed pancake luncheon whose main offering even Creed deemed too gross to steal. (Meredith’s kid, on the other hand, is in for a treat.) A frustrated Pam even threatens to abandon ship, and while that development kind of contradicts what happens in “Dream Team,” it also seems just like common sense after spending a day in a windowless “office” soundtracked by flushing toilets and overheard conversations about Damages. (Is it really as good as anything on HBO? I’ve slept on that series.)

It all appears to be on the verge of going to hell and then… a sale. And the reduced dream team lives to peddle paper another day. I know the series probably has to revert to something like the old status quo at some point, but I almost wish it could stay in that dank little corner a little longer.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

- Does anyone know what viral video Ryan was watching?

- “She’d probably be a 6 in New York but she’s like a 7 here.” How generous. And that’s one of two comments Ryan makes about Pam’s appearance. Is it residual attraction or is he just being a dick?


- Also, did anyone else notice that Ryan now appears to need his mom to pick him up at the office?

- Brilliant touch: Michael’s white board with the Wayne Gretzky quote that he’s then quoted himself as quoting.