California Literary Review

The Office Recap: Jury Duty (Season 8, Episode 13)

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February 2nd, 2012 at 11:34 pm

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Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

In case anyone is interested in my thoughts on the potential Dwight Schrute spin-off, you can read my comments here.

Tonight’s episode of The Office was one of the better ones this season. That isn’t to say it was particularly funny, but I thought it was a more-or-less successful half hour of television. We spend a good deal of time in the office, which is a plus, and the stories actually concern the characters rather than the characters’ zany antics.

The main plot involves Jim returning from one week of jury duty, which luckily coincided with the show’s one-week hiatus. As a matter of point, I found it difficult to believe that anyone in the office would care what happened during the trial, but people were actually asking him about it. Nevertheless, the hitch is that Jim was let out of jury duty at noon on the first day and took the rest of the week off to help Pam with the babies. Only Dwight suspects something’s up and strives to out Jim to the rest of the staff in an attempt to get him fired. It’s oft-tread ground by this show, and tonight this storyline dwindles pretty quickly. Dwight tests out one of Jim’s alibis and Andy is willing to lie on Jim’s behalf, but you get the sense that the writers hadn’t the faintest idea of where to take it beyond that. So, they have Jim confess to his wrongdoings by the end of the second break and use the third act for Jim to clean up his mistake. He does so by summoning his wife and two crying kids, and the office soon realizes that his five days off were no vacation. Despite the sense that the writers “bailed” on Dwight’s investigation halfway through, I have to give them credit for not playing it out to the end of the episode as they normally would. Besides, the key instigator in that storyline, Dwight, had far more important things to do in the second plot.

Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

While Pam was pregnant, Angela was too, and tonight she gave birth to a baby supposedly a month premature. This meant we finally saw the return of supposedly gay State Senator Rob Lipton (Jack Coleman, who still looks weird without glasses), a severely underutilized character in the show. Even though he doesn’t do much tonight, he nevertheless gives off a vibe that he could fit into the show, as though he’s part of its universe rather than just an extra like Pam’s Replacement. Eventually, Dwight eventually visits his former flame where he realizes that the larger-than-average “baby is a Schrute! And unless someone taught Mose sex, that baby is mine!” It’s the best line of the episode (maybe of the season), and the entire sequence shows that Rainn Wilson is the strongest performer on the cast. His interactions with Angela have a spark that’s lacking in the show’s other relationships, his smarminess around Lipton shows his comedic strengths, and his pride is fun to watch. When Dwight tells his possible-child that one day he’ll rule millions, either willingly or as slaves, you realize that letting Dwight loose provides an energy the show sorely lacks. Could that mean success in his own show? I offer my thoughts after Additional Thoughts.

Additional Thoughts:
• Tonight, Andy came across as particularly annoying. The entire cold open featuring him dancing like an ass and making a mess of the warehouse seemed more like something Michael would do. I also hate when people dance goofily.
• More annoying things from Andy in Jury Duty: hugging Jim when he comes back from jury duty, calling details “deets,” the fake chill pill gag, “fire you to Timbuktu,” saying that Jim’s in “deep doo-doo,” and dancing in the warehouse during the cold open. I should note that I did feel a lot of Andy’s actions came from The Michael Scott Playbook tonight.
• Gabe loves maternity wards because it’s a “perfect blend of love and horror. Things can go so wrong or so right.” It took the show awhile to figure out what to do with Gabe, but Creepy Gabe works for me. And Woods gives his character enough distinction to prevent him from becoming Creed II.
• They’ve gotten some mileage out of it this season, but Erin and Kevin have a good rapport.
• Pam returns to the office during the final third, and I never realized how little she offers the show. Her absence has not affected the series at all. Though Creed confusing her for Angela was a good moment.
• This might be my second favorite episode of the year with Lotto as my first. Coincidentally, both don’t feature my favorite character of the season- Robert California.
• Now that the amazing Justified is back on FX, I admit that I don’t get the point of the Timothy Olyphant subplot from Season 7. It still bothers me more than a season later because it seems like such a waste of screen time and of the dryly funny Olyphant. Either way, Justified became a truly terrific show in season 2, and it looks like the show will continue to live up to the standard it set for itself last year.


Midcap: Scrute’s

Welcome to Schrute’s!

Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

I wanted to comment on this last week, but it didn’t seem worth its own article. Let’s talk about the potential Dwight spin-off being discussed at NBC that involves Schrute’s Farm’s Family Bed and Breakfast.

While I’m mostly down on the current incarnation of The Office, I do think Schrute’s could work. Odds are it won’t, but it could, might, maybe. The biggest problem I can foresee is the need to change Dwight entirely, especially for a “family comedy.” The Office has always presented Dwight a quasi-evil character and a punch line. Tonight, he wanted to best Jim in trial by combat. That type of character cannot serve as the lead of a show (see: Joey), unless they want to make the show entirely offbeat. If you populate Schrute’s with people weirder than Dwight, you’d have a series inhabited by genuinely dangerous people. I would actually like that, but I can’t imagine that being the path it would take considering the “dumbing down” of the The Office over the past few seasons.

The article also discusses how we’d get to see more of the Schrute family, which again could be problematic. I always got the impression that Dwight was the most normal one in the clan, the one who could hold a job and interact in normal society, which should indicate how dysfunctional the rest of his family is. We’ve gotten definite implications that his family had Nazi ties and that they subscribed to arguably torturous concepts of child rearing, not to mention the possible Schrute inbreeding. The humor eked from Dwight’s past is dark and a Marilyn Schrute would take away from his character and screwed up history. Furthermore, if tonight’s episode is meant to set up a Dwight/Angela/Philip family, Angela is an equally unfit character to base a show around since she too was meant as the quasi-evil punch line. She’s the anti-Pam in the same way that Dwight’s the anti-Jim.

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In other shows about innkeepers such as Newhart and Fawlty Towers, the main character was usually the straight man surrounded by a gang of idiots. Dwight, on the other hand, is the misfit, and we’ve known him as in that role for close to a decade. Then again, most of the comedy from Basil Fawlty came from watching him try to be a model of respectability as he slowly lost his composure. So maybe Dwight trying to put on a public face for the guests and probably the camera crew could allow him to fall more into the Fawlty mold, but I don’t think it would work nearly as well because we’re too accustomed to Dwight as the weird guy. Also, both the hotels were decent places in nice locations whereas Schrute’s Farm is a sty. Though I guess he can pay for renovations.

And, of course, will there be anything more embarrassing than the eventual “Jim and Pam, what are you doing here?” episode.

Either way, as part of The Office Spin-Off Showcase, it ranks above The Boring Lives of the Halperts and Andy Bernard Tours With His A Capella Group, but below Florida Corporate and Ryan Does Something.

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