The Office S09E10: "Lice"
Before we begin, please allow me to remind you that I've been so very nice to The Office lately. The show gave us a more impish than admirable Christmas episode this year but I had good things to say. The absence of Andy has been a boon to the program and I've made sure to note that. Dwight and Angela providing us with the term "redvining" is one of the best moments we've had in many moons.
Which is why you should know that I feel no malice when I say that "Lice" was terrible.
Or maybe it wasn't terrible. Maybe this was an episode that actually took place in some Fringe-like alt-verse. That's the only explanation as to why Val was reduced to an impressionable pawn in Darryl vs. Staff sexual politics. It's the only reason Pam would be such a disaster simply because Jim was gone. It's the only possible conclusion you can draw when after seeing Creed NOT be the funniest part of the show. Like, there was a scene where Creed was being smeared with mayonnaise and, somehow, it wasn't hilarious.
I know this isn't how TV shows work but how I picture some producer chewing on the stub of a cigar pulling Niki Schwartz-Wright aside and saying, "I have three things for you to keep in mind as you move forward with this "Lice" script. One, I want a couple of the broads to karaoke the hell out of Cyndi Lauper. Two, in order to get John Krasinski back this season, we had to promise him an episode with Dr J. And three, I want you to write in some CG so we can throw my cousin Lenny some work since his side special effects business, Industrial Lenny and Magic, has hit some hard times. Now get out there!"
To be fair to the writer, I'm not even sure it was even entirely the script's fault. All of my least-favorite performances by the characters were here. As much as I like it when Pam doesn't have a storyline where she can smirk at everyone from her high horse, the frantic "I wish Jim were here" excuses were out of place. Dwight always walks a line between cartoon and realism, but he swung way too far into the territory that is known as "annoying caricature." And the writers just need to quit with Nellie. Isn't there a boat trip she can go on?
Now. We might not agree on how weak this episode was and I'm fairly certain there are some of you huffing and puffing louder than old men during Question Time in British Parliament. I'm willing to concede that there were some bright spots: Angela waterboarding Oscar, Kevin putting bubble wrap in the baler, and, of course, Meredith shaving her head. Though I'm surprised that NBC didn't try to synergize the latter with Parenthood and Kristina's own chrome dome.
The other highlight has been the most consistent part of the season so far: Ellie Kemper playing Erin. No matter what kind of material she's received this season, she's played it as funnily and as warmly as anyone else. Erin jumping on Stanley's back, the mayonnaise explanation, "he got to purple." While everyone else seems to find peaks and valleys, Erin remains a constant, even if she has to be a part of the Courtship That Would Never End.
Watching Pete and Erin not date each other while Andy is away makes me curious as to how we were able to stand 28 episodes of Jim and Pam and still want more. I'm not sure if it's just because I know this storyline can't continue for much longer (since we only have the rest of the season for it to wrap up) or because I know the end game is drama for when Andy eventually (groan) returns, but it's starting to get repetitive. I think part of it is that the chemistry isn't the same, but another part of it is that it feels drawn out. Instead of being incrementally teased, we're in a holding pattern. Each passing episode is less like an installment of a great love and more like a plea to 'ship these two. And it's going to take more than a lingering arm while watching Die Hard and some quick shots of trying to pull off Ed Grimley mayonnaise hair for me to buy in. Or maybe I already have and I just want it to progress already.
The bottom line on this episode is that it wasn't nearly as sharp as others we've seen in Season 9. The jokes were predictable and the execution was only mediocre. There was no button to Jim's day with Dr. J (it was supposed to contrast with Pam's day, but did nothing in the end), the characters didn't behave like themselves, and the show wasted our time with punchlines that weren't funny the first go-round (did we need to see the smoke bomb gag twice?).
I know not every episode can be a winner but now that we're back from the winter hiatus we're just counting down the episodes until the end of the series, and every week counts. This one was weak sauce.
– One other positive to note is an attempt to create a story between two characters who almost never hang out together: Pam and Meredith. It was only slightly hackneyed and gave us the phrase, "Shave her head!" Maybe the writers should look into some other team-ups between people who rarely spend time together: Stanley and Oscar, Kevin and Dwight, Toby and anyone who's not Nellie.
– The teaser this week was... weird. Jim biting his lip? Have they run out of material for the cold opens? Also, Kevin knows what he's talking about with regard to the NBA. It was good to see him get a few lines that betrayed his reputation of being a complete loser simpleton. He also knows the Hawks are garbage!
– Reading some of the tweets from Kate Flannery's Twitter reveals that some folks thought "Lice" was a hilarious episode; a few are even saying it was the best ever. I'm willing to learn. If you thought this episode was amazeballs, let me know about it in the comments.