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The Office: "Todd Packer"

Illustration for article titled iThe Office/i: Todd Packer
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I legitimately hate Todd Packer.

I get that I’m supposed to hate Todd Packer. I also get that nearly every character on the show itself hates Todd Packer, and so it’s not as though the show doesn’t acknowledge just how abhorrent he is.


However, I also don’t enjoy Todd Packer. It’s the same problem I’ve been having with Community this year, to cross streams for a moment: It’s not a problem that Pierce is a horrible person; it’s a problem that I don’t enjoy Pierce when he is at his most horrible.

Because Packer has only been a recurring player, justified by his position as a traveling salesman, the show hasn’t had to deal with his one-dimensionality. While a character like Pierce is at least given a sense of purpose, a reason for being a horrible human being that will justify his continued presence as a regular on the series, there is no turning back for Todd Packer. Until the end of time, Todd Packer is going to remain a horrible human being.


The reason “Todd Packer” works is that it doesn’t try to dispute this point. No, I did not find any of Packer’s antics or jokes in the episode funny (that ship has sailed), but the fact that no one else but Michael Scott (and one other employee, who I’ll get to in a minute) did either was comforting. By using Holly’s ignorance to Packer’s true spirit against her, as Michael’s glowing reference leads her to make a decision that we all know is a mistake, the show gets to test out what it would be like if Todd Packer had never left the office to head out on the road, contract STDs, and spread them to multiple sexual partners with dubious taste in men.

Despite the title, however, this episode is not about Todd Packer. Instead, it’s about what Todd Packer’s presence drives the rest of the office to do. It unites Jim and Dwight in an effort to drive Packer away, which had a scrappy feel to it that worked quite nicely. Their eventual prank was not an Office classic, and that it worked at all says more about Packer’s intelligence than their own, but the dynamics it created were a nice continuation of the cold open’s stalemate of sorts (which I thought was silly, but charming). Both characters are motivated enough by Packer’s presence (Jim because he’s a jerk, Dwight because he took his desk) to ignore their disdain for one another and embrace their shared love for vengeance. It’s a fine use of Packer’s awfulness: He is such a horrible human being that even Jim and Dwight can put aside their differences in order to defeat him. Instead of dragging the episode down, Packer inspired some nice, light-hearted interaction between two characters who have not been at their best as of late, which earns him a few points at least.


I was also quite taken with the way the episode used Kevin, as it had a sad tone that said a lot about the situation at hand. I think there needed to be at least one person other than Michael who thought that Packer was the funniest person alive, and that it was Kevin makes perfect sense. However, the way the character was slowly broken by Packer’s cruelty, shifting from celebrating being burned to becoming self-conscious about it, was an effective demonstration of what happens when Packer remains in the office for extended periods of time. When he was an ephemeral figure, a "drive-by douchebag," Kevin could enjoy the cruelty and then romanticize the idea of Packer in the interim. When he actually has to deal with it over and over again, fat jokes merging with jokes about his intelligence, Kevin changes. He started as a fanboy, but he quickly becomes becomes one of those fans who knows the bloom is off the rose but won't admit it, just waiting for the moment when the truth will fully reveal itself. And, sure enough, just look at Brian Baumgartner’s face when Packer delivers his false apology: That is a broken man, and his transformation is a nice, subtle example of Packer’s influence during his short time as a permanent salesman.

However, I do think that the Michael and Holly portion of the story continues a problematic trend from “Threat Level Midnight,” in which shortcuts are taken with both characters in order to come to a particular conclusion. In the case of Holly, I am starting to wonder if she has ever actually met Michael Scott. Sure, “PDA” indicated that she loses her sense of decency and objectivity around Michael, but wouldn’t she know about a movie he’s worked on for years? And, in the case of “Todd Packer,” wouldn’t she know that Michael may not be the best judge of whether or not someone is funny or appropriate? If we’re heading toward Holly losing her job over her inability to do her work while in a relationship with Michael, I’ll accept these particular problems, but I think the character has become too irrational, too quickly. And while I was fine with her personal relationship with Michael compromising the office atmosphere (both because it was funny and because love does crazy things), or the reception of an unrealistically professional movie project (since it was hardly the episode's least believable element), something about her just not doing her job (by accepting Michael’s recommendation and not soliciting any other opinions) felt off.


Also, I think this is the second straight week where I’m looking the gift horse in the mouth and complaining about Michael Scott’s rationality. I very much appreciate that Michael comes around to the fact that Todd Packer is an asshole, but it was too cheap for my taste. Having Packer come right out and insult Holly was too easy: Michael didn’t have to realize that Packer had been insulting every one of his employees, or calling his daughter a bitch, or generally being a terrible person. Instead, only when Michael is personally insulted does he come to the realization that Packer is a complete tool. Something about the tone of that last scene just struck me as odd: It was sweet and charming, as if I was supposed to see this as a sign of Michael maturing (as it was definitely pitched at the end of “Threat Level Midnight”), but I don’t want that maturation to be oversold. Some of you felt that, for someone who wants Michael to be mature, I didn’t focus on his realization that his movie was not meant to be taken seriously very much last week, but that’s because I didn’t buy it. It feels like the show romanticizing Michael as it moves towards his final episodes, rather than building a storyline that would justify that maturation without these episode-ending epiphanies.

As for the B-Story, in which Pam purchases Erin a computer and Andy decides to test Pam’s commitment to the principles laid forth in Lay’s potato chip commercials, I don’t really have much to say. Jenna Fischer got to have some fun with smug self-satisfaction, and I will always enjoy a good Craig Robinson brow furrow, but there just wasn’t anything to latch onto. While I appreciate giving Pam storylines that actually take advantage of her new position as office administrator, I thought Andy’s willful destruction of a slow but ultimately functional computer made him out to be a real jerk. Perhaps this is simply because Packer’s presence made me want to believe in something good in this world and thus led me to consider whether a local school or some other organization might have benefitted from the use of that computer, but it just didn’t sit right with me. That smile on Jenna Fischer’s face when she takes about being “full-on corrupt” was enormously charming, but the situation wasn’t funny enough to justify its ultimate triviality.


I would like to believe that this is the last we’ve seen of Todd Packer. I know many of you might feel differently, but I don’t want him to miraculously get an actual job at corporate, show up toward the end of the season, and return to being his obnoxious self. I want this character to be gone, as I like to enjoy watching this show and do not enjoy it when his character is the center of attention.

However, Todd Packer was not the center of attention in “Todd Packer,” and I actually think the episode had some legitimate insight into the character’s behavior. When Michael starts to run down how Packer’s vices are not dissimilar from many of those in the office (divorced like Stanley, a bad parent like Meredith, daddy issues like Andy, an animal lover like Angela), it dawned on me: The problem with Packer is that he is everyone’s problems rolled into one. He has every psychological condition you could imagine, rendering him an irredeemable jackass without a single shred of respectability.


He might not make me laugh, but Todd Packer, at the very least, made me think here. By turning the attention away from Packer and onto his influence on others, “Todd Packer” successfully resisted the urge to glorify his behavior and instead gave us something that Packer haters and Packer fans alike can find value in. The episode around it wasn’t exactly an all-time classic, and I do have some lingering concerns about the show’s overall trajectory, but I appreciate the balancing act achieved with the eponymous jerkface.

Stray observations:

  • As you may be aware, this was the first Office episode penned by The A.V. Club’s own Amelie Gillette. As you may also be aware, I was brought in to write about the show in order to avoid any conflict of interest, since I have never met Ms. Gillette or interacted with her in any capacity, so you’ll have to find another reason to disregard my opinion. Hopefully, I gave you plenty of options—it’s the least I can do.
  • As far as product placement goes, I like the idea that HP is the computer brand you purchase and buff up to make look fake when one of your employees is envious over another employee’s new iMac. I hope they didn’t pay too much for that.
  • “Kevin will be eaten. Pam will be taken slave. Jim will be made a warlord’s jester. Meredith will be okay.”
  • “I have very little patience for stupidity.”
  • “We can’t just sit around waiting for Creed to die.”
  • I enjoyed both of the following exchanges in the office’s confrontation of Holly:
  • “Why are you nodding?” “United front!”
  • “What are you referencing?” “…Everything.”
  • “So something good happening to Stanley is crazy now.”
  • “Make sure nobody is humping me!”
  • “I think the ants are waking up—they need to start farming soon!”
  • “Who is Justice Beaver?” “…It’s a crime-fighting beaver.”
  • “I was going to say dogs!”

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