'The Office' -- 'Casual Friday': Unhappy returns

Stevecarell_theoffice_s2_240 Following the dissolution of the Michael Scott Paper Company and the departure of Charles Miner, the question was whether "The Office" would be able to keep up the good run it's been on of late. Question answered: Yes.

Having Michael ignore the very real bad blood that existed among his once-again employees over him, Pam and Ryan poaching their clients, not overplaying Michael's wrongheaded need for an apology and adding a silly but amusing conflict over what "casual" means, "Casual Friday" gave us these characters as angry as maybe they've ever all been at once. It was a good choice.

Plus, how can you argue with Jim and Creed hanging in the break room?

What I liked about the episode is that even in its more outlandish moments (Dwight trying to mandate a new dress code, Michael and his warehouse fort) seemed fully in character for these people. Stanley, Phyllis and Co. would of course be upset that the MSPC crew was rejoining Dunder Mifflin and would of course be even angrier that Michael is blithely adding Pam and Ryan to the sales team with no consideration for their lost clients. And yeah, Michael would definitely be in that place where he feels like the wounded one because the entire office didn't march out with him a few weeks before.

But instead of whimpering and crying about not getting the I'm sorrys, Michael adopts a (relatively) tough-guy stance, even sarcastically throwing "seed money" at the sales team when Dwight threatens to lead a walkout and start the "Schrute Bernard Lapin-Vance ... Stanley" paper company. He only stops when Phyllis plaintively observes that Michael always referred to the office as a family, "and then you went after us."

The fact that Michael would actually realize what Phyllis is saying is true, and offer up a fairly genuine apology (while still trying to avoid the tough part of things, having to cut either Ryan or Pam from the sales force) is another example of the way Michael is growing, at least a little bit, this season. The character has been the least cartoonish he's been for maybe the entire series in the past few weeks, and it's working really well for the show.

Which is not to say that he's not still Michael. The fake firing of Pam was vintage Scott -- and the kind of thing only he would find funny (for us in the audience, who know it's coming, it's more cringey than anything, but the greatness of Steve Carell is that even though we've seen this bit in any number of situations before, it doesn't feel stale.

Kateflannery_theoffice_s2_240 As for the subplot that gives the episode its name -- just, um, yeah. It might be a while before I get the spectacle of Meredith and her too-short dress (or, more accurately, shirt) out of my head. I think Kelly summed it up better than anyone when she said, "Dammit, Meredith, where are your panties?" Kate Flannery has got to be one of the most fearless actresses on TV.

By itself, the dress-code subplot wasn't much. But added on top of the anger that everyone was already feeling over the re-integration of the office, it was a good outlet for the staff's more irrational anger. Although I'm guessing that some of Angela's seething over Oscar's toes might really be about Charles no longer being there.

Plus, all the sniping and bad blood gave us Jim and Creed in the break room, playing chess and Scrabble, and this exchange. "I want to set you up with my daughter." "I'm engaged to Pam." "I thought you were gay." "Then why would you want to set me up with your daughter." "I don't know." Creed hasn't been featured much lately, so a good concentrated dose of him was much appreciated. And yeah, Jim, it does sound like a dream you had.

Other notes on "Casual Friday":

  • Phyllis has occasionally shown a tendency to be harsh, and never more so than when she called Pam out on stealing her clients: "Close your mouth, sweetie. You look like a trout." Dang, Phyllis. That's cold.
  • Ryan on how to stop the incipient mutiny: "You gotta go down there and crack some skulls, Chiklis-style." Michael: "The Commish!" Ryan: "Yeah, but Chiklis 'Shield' style, not 'Commish' style."
  • "It's pony."
  • I'm not sure why Toby would find Kelly's outfit all that inappropriate either. It's ridiculous, but it's not especially inappropriate.
  • "What'd I tell you about building forts in my warehouse?" Darryl, selling his one line for all it's worth.
  • I think the show made the right choice in keeping Pam on, and not just because it's wildly unrealistic that Dunder Mifflin would rehire someone who defrauded the company. But I also think that Ryan now works better as an occasional character, his brilliant d-baggery confined to limited doses.
  • Dwight: "What are doing here?" Meredith: "I don't know. I saw a crowd -- I thought maybe there was a dogfight."

What did you think of "Casual Friday"? Is "The Office" still keeping up its strong run, even now that the Michael Scott Paper Company is no more?