So here we are. The last The Office of 2011. The first mid-season finale of the post-Michael Scott era. (I should note here that I wasn’t the hugest fan of Michael Scott, especially during his final season(s). Last week, I just found drawing analogies to him as the best way to explain why Andy Bernard fails as a character.) And, like most years, we end at a Christmas party.
Tonight’s non-themed Christmas party also offers the advantage of not really having a plot so to speak, nor does it feature a Robert California Riddle of Business Acumen. While previous years focused on Michael screwing up and maybe redeeming himself at the conclusion, this year the party is essentially smooth sailing with the episode more about smaller character moments (featuring most of the cast) with the two main subplots belonging to Andy/Erin and Jim/Dwight.
Making up the “emotional” core of the show, Erin is angry that Andy has moved on and is dating someone named Jessica, whom he brings to the holiday party. Although Erin represses her feelings at first, a series of alcohol shots opens her up, and she reveals her inner rage and then overbearing sweetness. It’s your basic “drunk person who has never been drunk before” material. Andy, who still has feeling for Erin, fears that the recently separated Robert California (more on that in Additional Thoughts) might take advantage of the secretary, so, at the end of the night, he stalks them with his car. When the CEO doesn’t make any untoward advances, he shows relief. Now that it’s obvious that Andy and Erin are back in “will they/won’t they” (or, more accurately, “when will they?”) territory, and since there’s nothing legitimate preventing them from getting together (yes, Andy has a girlfriend, but it’s clear he doesn’t care much for her- Jandy is no Jam), any obstacles preventing their reunion seem forced, lazy, and boring.
Meanwhile, Jim and Dwight have to engage in a non-prank off. Their tendency to one up one another has driven Pam’s replacement to ask to be assigned to a different desk cluster. Andy threatens the two that whoever makes the next prank gets the other one’s bonus. This leads them to pull pranks on their own selves in order to frame their opposition. It’s a workable concept, but one that the show could have done more with. Unlike last year’s superior Classy Christmas where Dwight makes Jim insane with paranoia, Christmas Wishes doesn’t give the fake pranks the strength they needed. The porcupine in the desk was probably the best gag of the sequence.
As for the episode itself, if you still like the characters as they are now, you might find pleasure in this installment of The Office. Representative of the show’s move from being about people forced to co-exist with one another to one about an extended, multicultural family, Christmas Wishes consists of a lot of moments tailored to make you say/think “awww, that’s cute” rather than cause laughs.
The best example of this might be the gift giving montage set to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. As Dwight and Creed air guitar (again, not funny but harmless “fun”), we see such presents as an “Ask, Then Touch” shirt from Ryan to the pregnant Angela, a pamphlet on vasectomies from Meredith to Jim, and a cookie jar from Oscar to Kevin. The characters seem content with their gifts and there are hugs, but none of these presents elicits an emotional response. None of the gifts are humorous (unless you consider the posters at Spencer’s Gifts to be the epitome of hilarity), nor do any of the gifts provide some deeper understanding/appreciation of the characters or their relationships. In previous years, at least one gift offered a truer connection than an “Old Fart” birthday card.
Probably best evidenced by the Andy/Erin storyline, Christmas Wishes strives to be heartwarming and only succeeds in the most basic and obvious ways. This was an easy episode, and the writers attempted to push enough buttons with enough characters that I wouldn’t doubt that many viewers found at least one thing to enjoy or take from the affair. Unfortunately, I thought that the writers pushed each button halfheartedly, providing the audience with only the most general outlines from which to eke pleasure. With this being the lighthearted Christmas episode, maybe I’m being overly critical, but I tend to look down on shows that produce episodes meant to be “one big hug.”
And so that’s where we are right now. I’ll be back in 2012 to continue my analysis of the show, everything it does wrong, and the few things it does right. I really don’t want The Office to be terrible and would like to write more positive commentary (how could I foresee the actualities of Terra Nova?), but judging from the first half of the season, the show clearly still has problems in righting the ship. I don’t consider fixing it to be an impossible task, and I understand the difficulty they must be facing (well, I did at the beginning of the year), but after 10 episodes, it’s hard to believe in a show with only two rising above decent- Lotto (genuinely good) and Garden Party (okay if you block out the Andy parts). Of course, my thoughts would be different if The Office had taken any chances at all during the past three months, but it has constantly shown a detrimental risk averseness. Maybe this will change in the new year. Maybe.
• So Robert and Susan have split. Was I the only one disappointed by this turn of events? Not just because my “fanwank” was wrong but because I expected the two to have a more interesting relationship than one that could be destroyed that easily. I’m also concerned that if Susan returns, it’ll be in the role of “Divorcing Woman Out To Get Everything From Her Ex” thus defeating my compliments about her more nuanced character from last week.
• Moment of the Evening: Ryan’s “he gets it” point to Robert when he’s blasting the Black Eyed Peas.
• Robert implies that the Black Eyed Peas played at the corporate party. While Dunder-Mifflin seemed like it had a bunch of incompetents in charge, both Jo and Robert (the former and current head of Saber) seem to have better business sense than hiring that band to perform a corporate show.
• When Andy wants to get serious, he wears a “Hard Ass” Hat- a cap with two butt cheeks on it. He also says, “My ex is meeting my sex.” I know his awkwardness is supposed to be endearing, but it does not work for me in the slightest.
• Pam is still on maternity leave. Her absence does not affect the show in any way.