TV Article

Captive Audience

On ''The Office,'' after ex-con Martin makes prison sound good in comparison to work, Michael tries to scare his staff straight; plus, Jim pranks Pam

Steve Carell, The Office | THE STRAIGHT DOPE Prison Mike put everyone in lockdown
THE STRAIGHT DOPE Prison Mike put everyone in lockdown

''The Office'': Doing hard time in Scranton

How is it possible that Michael Scott could have an even more uncomfortable moment while trying desperately not to be racist than Michael Richards had spewing racial obscenities? Our Michael's earnest determination not to assume that Martin was the ex-con whom the Stamford office had hired devolved into a wonderful satire of white liberal guilt: ''I just wish that Josh had made a more progressive choice.''

I know it's just TV and much of TV is implausible, but I can't help thinking about how a real company would have handled Michael's ''management style'' by now. Much like Tony, and Oscar before him, Martin now probably has an actionable claim again Dunder Mifflin. Is Michael really so good a salesman that they'd stand by him in the face of an onslaught of workplace suits?

It was nice to see Pam jab at Michael with the prison-is-better-than-here rallying cry. The staffers couldn't hit Michael lower than to say that they don't like coming to work. He really believed it when he said that the office was the American dream. As my husband says, Michael's chief delusion is that he sees himself as an entertainer and thinks that his employees should look forward to each day as if it were a Broadway show. His scene upstaging Hannah's baby was a perfect example of his need to be the center of attention. Everything is just a setup for him to perform. And what a performance he gave as Prison Mike.

Now, I've only seen snippets of 1978's Scared Straight!, but from what I remember of it, Michael did a dead-on impersonation of a badass convict, if he were on crack. (Martin probably couldn't relate because it sounds like he was in more of a country-club-type prison than in Oz.)

But the story line did give Toby an opportunity to find a tack that actually worked with Michael. By telling Michael that the staff was just teasing him, Toby appealed to both Michael's off-kilter sense of humor and his pompousness. It'll be interesting to see how Michael and Toby relate to each other in the future.

Now onto the triangle that I was really interested in. (Aren't you proud of me that I waited this long to touch on it?) So Jim and Karen are officially dating. Awesome! A nice, normal progression for two single people who are into each other. Now, it's just good policy not to spread that sort of office-romance news around (see Dwight and Angela), but Jim's reasons are a tad suspect. It might affect the way that people behave around you guys, huh? Not any one person in particular?

And what did we learn from Jim's reluctance to bring Karen in on his dastardly plan to have Andy hit on Pam with the perfect storm of things she hates? Was it a worlds-colliding moment? Did he get how cruel it would be to have your new lady prank your old flame? I choose the latter because Jim's a good guy who's often pretty intuitive.

Man, was that prank ever worthy of Jim's evil-mastermind chair spin. Again, Ed Helms was amazingly funny as this oblivious blowhard. His ending scene, singing The Muppet Movie's ''Rainbow Connection'' while strumming on a banjo (along with John Krasinski's winning play to the camera, which really sold it), was possibly my favorite Office kicker ever.

And what was better than Pam's panicked little head shake as Andy asked her out to listen to some tunes and smoke a few Macanudos? Her ''Wow!'' after he spoke pig Latin to her, that's what. Atwhay oday ouyay inkthay?

The side players brought their A game as well. I love that everyone was very much in line with his or her character, like Dwight and Angela with their unwavering judgmental attitude. And one my favorite lines of the night was Kevin's: ''I had Martin explain to me three times what he got arrested for, because it sounds an awful lot like what I do here everyday.''

Creed-Creep-O-Meter: 5 (paperclips)

And I really shouldn't have to tell you this, but just for the record: Jesus ≠ Apollo Creed.

So what do you think? Is there anything Michael could do that would get him fired? How long will Jim and Karen last? Since they're dropping like flies, will Hannah be the next Stamford person to go? (God, I hope so.)

Originally posted Nov 30, 2006
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