'The Office': Five short films about Scranton (featuring David Brent)

ed-helms-office-seminar.jpg "The Office" gave us a fairly low-key, slice-of-life episode on Thursday (Jan. 27) of the type that it doesn't do a ton of anymore. And while none of the various stories in "The Seminar" were all that big -- not even the Ricky Gervais-featuring cold open -- they all knitted together nicely to produce a warm, fun half-hour.

The cold open

You can watch the opening scene here, and as I mentioned in that post, the show did a smart thing by confining David Brent to a one-on-one meeting with Michael outside of Dunder Mifflin. In addition to it just being fun to watch Gervais and Steve Carell work off one another, it also served as a reminder that, despite the ways in which Michael has become very much his own character over the years, there's still quite a bit of the template Gervais-as-Brent set in the BBC series.

Andy's seminar

Andy hits on an idea to increase his anemic sales by holding a small-business seminar -- i.e., convincing people that the way to growth is to buy paper from him. The clientele looks lacking, so Dwight, Phyllis and Stanley bail on him, and Jim inexplicably takes off to a "meeting." Substitutes Kevin and Creed don't help much (although we're totally looking into the Loch Ness Monster thing Creed mentioned), but Kelly -- aka "the Business B***h" -- provides an unexpected assist, and Mykonos Michael -- showing that he's not completely a David Brent clone -- actually helps Andy close a couple of sales. (It wasn't featured in the episode, but Andy also prepared a PowerPoint presentation for the seminar.)

Inadvertently, at least (or maybe not), the show also made a case for why Andy probably should not be the next branch manager. Setting aside the fact that the character is sort of Michael-lite, he's also a self-confessed "terrible salesman" who's easily intimidated and occasionally crippled with self-doubt. The fact that Michael actually knows sales has helped us excuse some of his terrible management skills; with Andy, there's no such cushion.

Also? The seminar gave us this bit of brilliance from the mouth of Kevin: "I'm no Jim. The only way I'm Jim is in the movie version, where Jim sees what his future would be like if he never met Pam."

Michael and Holly

Amazingly, Michael seems to recognize that now might not be the time to force the issue with Holly, a week after her breakup with A.J. But he also can't quite leave her alone, so he tries to enlist her in being a plant at Andy's seminar and in honing his Greek character, Mykonos. Holly's not all that into it at first, but she does point out that Mykonos sounds more Italian than Greek -- then suggests that perhaps Mykonos joined an Italian circus at a young age. After a little more of this, including her own attempt at a Greek accent, she can only shrug.

Michael almost blows it by taking an in-character moment of affection too far, but again, he pulls back just in time. My goodness, there may be hope for these two crazy kids yet.

Jim vs. the past

Jim sees something he doesn't like inside the conference room and bails on the seminar for an afternoon of rock-kicking, sports talk radio and other diversions, until Pam finally gets him to stop and explain why. Turns out that in third grade, Jim and one of the seminar attendees were close friends -- until Jim got put in a higher reading group and Jim's mom suggested she hang out more with his new peers. Which, OK, that's maybe not the best parental advice, but the way Jim delivered the news to his buddy Tom was even worse: "My mom thinks you're too dumb to hang out with."

But it's silly to think that 20-plus years later, Tom would still carry a grudge, right? Yeah -- no. A chance meeting in the break room gives Tom the opportunity to rip into Jim about what a genius paper salesman he must be, closing with "Where's your jetpack, Zuckerberg?" Your assignment (and mine) for the next week is to work "Where's your jetpack, Zuckerberg?" into as many conversations as possible.

Erin vs. Gabe

Gabe playing Erin in Scrabble to decide who gets to pick the movie is really not a fair fight, as evidenced by the couple's recent string of watching "The Shining," "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Ring" ("I do like the early parts of the movies," Erin says, "where they have perfect families"). So with a little help from Pam and Oscar ("Put the Q there!"), she comes ever so close to getting to watch "Wall-E" instead of "Suspiria." "She may be playing out some kind of 'Slumdog Millionaire' scenario, where every word she plays has a connection to her orphan past," Gabe surmises.

But Pam's sweet gesture to let Erin play the last word backfires when she plays "ape" instead of "apoplexy," and Gabe's only nod to a compromise is to combine robots and gore by watching "Hardware." He also fails to notice how crestfallen she is, or how excited she is when Andy gives her a copy of "Shrek 2" ("There's a 'Shrek 2'!?!"). The gesture wasn't built up as a play by Andy to win Erin back, but I wouldn't be surprised if that ball starts rolling again.

So, not very high stakes this week, but "The Seminar" was the kind of episode that makes you remember why it's been (for the most part) such fun to hang out with these characters for so long. What did you think of the episode, and how will you be using "Where's your jetpack, Zuckerberg?"
Photo/Video credit: NBC