'The Office,' 'Threat Level Midnight': Do the Scarn

threat-level-midnight-320.jpgSo how did you feel about "The Office" devoting at least half of an episode to scenes from Michael's 11-years-in-the-making movie? Fun or fluff? A great callback or a waste of time? Or some combination of all that?

I'm starting off with so many questions because we're not sure either. "Threat Level Midnight" -- the episode, not the movie within the episode -- had moments that were a huge amount of fun, both inside Michael's labor of love and in people's reaction to it. But it also felt a little bit clip-showy: The callbacks to Season 2's "The Client," where we first learned of the film's existence, and characters gone by were nice for fans, but as a way of building to the show's emotional centerpiece, it certainly took the long way 'round.

Let's start with the fun stuff, though: "Threat Level Midnight," the movie, is every bit as "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-level amateurish as you might expect. There have been some revisions to the script since "The Client" -- Agent Michael Scarn's wife Catherine Zeta-Jones is now dead, incompetent sidekick Samuel/Dwigt is now robot butler Samuel -- but the hash of movie clichés (Bond-like villain! Wise old mentor! Training montage!) as filtered through the mind of Michael Scott and shot with all the care of a home video came out about the way most of us probably envisioned.

The movie itself was mostly just lame (save for the amazing "Do the Scarn" dance scene and Toby getting his head blown off), but as with "MST3K," the fun came in the commentary underneath. Writer B.J. Novak and director Tucker Gates very deftly cut in a bunch of talking heads about the filming, including catching up with Jan ("He finished his movie? Wow ... that's great. Good for him") and Karen, whose one line that we saw was "Ever bang an entire bachelorette party?" and whose response to hearing about the finished product was "Why are you singling my line out, like a million years later?"

But Michael's most important audience -- Holly, who has no other connection to "Threat Level Midnight" -- is nonplussed, which in the past would have sent Michael into a fit. It's a sign of how much he loves Holly that he does more of a quiet seethe at first, and then remembers to apologize and say "I love you" after sniping at her a few minutes later. I've always been a fan of Michael's personal growth moments, and him coming around to seeing his opus for the unintentional parody it is -- and maybe realizing a little bit that he can make his mark without becoming a famous entertainer -- was a nice way to end.

It just felt as though the episode took its sweet time to get to that moment. As we saw more and more of "TLM," and Holly looked increasingly uncomfortable, it became clear that we were building to some sort of spat between her and Michael. The present-day meat of the story took a back seat to a trip down memory lane, even if that trip was fairly enjoyable.

Your mileage may vary on that, of course. But to have a fairly significant beat between Michael and Holly play such an obvious second fiddle to the movie screening was a little out of balance.

Other thoughts on "Threat Level Midnight":

  • Moments within the movie that made me smile/chuckle/laugh out loud: The Dave Barry quip-a-day calendar pages hitting the floor; "Mop the ice"; Dwight/Samuel leaping in front of Goldenface's bullet (Michael: "That was not scripted"); Carol's real estate sign outside Scarn Manor; and Ryan's Hobbit-like buddy from New York as Goldenface's henchman.
  • From the talking-head portion, favorites were Darryl's comment about wanting his daughter to see a black president, even if it's just in a movie ("What a stupid waste of time"; also, rent Season 2 of "24," Darryl!); Michael's monologue about how much he admires Woody Allen for sticking to his guns ... about "Antz"; and his realization that he did, in fact, let Dwight be a robot, which in turn helps him laugh at the fiasco that it is.
  • "Threat Level Midnight" has an official site, and it also has a trailer, which you can watch below.

What did you think of the episode?

Photo/Video credit: NBC