Afternoon Baseball

Common-sense ruminations on baseball and culture.

Well, it wasn't boring. A show at its peak...

"The Office" season three finale is the culmination of the general theme of the American version -- that the dreariness of office life is sprinkled with little moments and feelings of hope within that despair. Despite the miles of potential ahead, the series could end now and have achieved everything it initially set out to do. Note: being an hour-long show, this post is going to feel an hour long. Sorry.

It's, for sure, not quite as much comedy as real-life drama. But it's not Gellar-ized, demasculinized "Friends" (something "How I Met Your Mother," for instance, as much as I was glad to see it renewed, teeters constantly on the edge of doing).
Rather, it's the most-solid foundation of comedy -- absurdity, cleverness and vapidity upon a bedrock of uneasy choices, issues and genuine relationships formed by and through people simply doing the best they can. Comedy without background loses its shock value, and even shock never stings quite as much as when it has that bit of serious truthfulness to it.
"The Job" is an episode, on the heels on the second half of season three, that vaults it alongside "Arrested Development" as the great 21st-century comedy (with apologies to "Scrubs" and a bunch of 1990s shows that lasted into this decade). Except, while "AD" was the heir to "NewsRadio," a similarly underappreciated genesis of genius writing, diverse spot-on acting and terrible things with terrible people in a realistic world just deranged enough to have you laugh instead of be horrified, "The Office" is the heir of, perhaps, "The Wonder Years." Comedy, yes, but one that cements itself in investing our lives in their lives. And, perhaps, like that show, one that in the end will not have happy endings -- or at least the ones we think should happen.

Paul Lieberstein, who plays Toby, deserves a lot of credit. He's written (or co-written) "The Client" and "Cocktails," two of the episodes that have starkly real moments. A fine choice for "The Job."

On that note, let's end the conspiracy theories. Ryan got the job. Jim and Pam aren't just having dinner. Karen will reappear, probably, but she's not going to be back at the Scranton branch, and maybe not the company. And if the above isn't true, it tarnishes the whole series. So there.
As for the episode itself, it's easiest to go character by character...

Karen ... is kind of a bitch. But not because of how she treats Pam. That's understandable, since she made a public play for her boyfriend, playing to his weaknesses and not apologizing a bit.

Rather, it's her complete lack of empathy. She joins in the listening and counsel of Michael as a form of pity and competition with Pam, not because she cares at all. Ditto her follow-the-leader with the dueling Christmas parties.
She does have some humanity, for sure. If we can't see it enough, it's possibly due to the lack of depth shown by Rashida Jones.
But Karen thinks Pam is out to get her long before the beach, and though she reaches out, it's in a condescending way. She fully believes there's a marked difference in them because one's sales and one's just a glorified secretary.
This week, Karen equates feeling bad for Jan and acknowledging she's crazy to be incompatible, when in reality they are joint emotions. In her interview with the CFO, she shows she's learned from Josh Porter more than anyone -- the CFO knows that Michael's crazy, but he can do the work and puts the company (and its people) first. Withdrawing from the position because Jan's fired is exactly what the CFO wants to see -- instead, Karen thinks it's hilarious. In this vein, he wants a 10-year plan because he doesn't want another Josh using leverage. Jim, who's clearly his protege, the man who doesn't like the corporate life (though the CFO compromised at some point), can only do 10 years in Scranton. Karen outlays five years and then says, and the other five, who knows? Because Dunder-Mifflin is not only just a job, it's already out of her mind.

In her relationship, she takes Jim's, oh sure, you don't have to wait, as a, thank God, I have stuff to do. She takes his homebody attitude as a deficiency to be erased, not, at worst, something to be worked on.
And worst of all, when she gives the ultimatum -- there's one too many people around in Scranton -- she doesn't give any thought to the fact that maybe Jim doesn't see things the same way. She shows she really isn't all that crazy for Jim after all, just for the idea of proving she can nab a guy like Jim.

Not a bad person. But not Jim's type of person, nor Pam's. She's New York to his Scranton.
And, as it seems to have turned out, not the Dunder-Mifflin corporate type. Sure, corporate set their bar low, but they want either decency or selfish arrogance -- not someone masquerading as having both.

The oddest thing is, in an office of bizzaro people -- from Angela to Kevin to Creed to Kelly to Michael to Dwight, etc., almost all of them are more humanizing than she is. Again, part of that, unfortunately, could be acting, or lack therof.

Michael just showed more of his bizarre humanity. Actually, it was a run of the mill episode for him, but by no means not funny. For him, as we saw in "Business School," business is the most personal thing in the world.
Ryan just keeps learning that being an SOB is the way ahead. To be fair, Kelly has probably driven him half-insane. Not my favorite character, but Ryan has to get a more prominent role soon to justify his opening-credits billing, and being the boss is a surefire way to do so.
Andy and Dwight would have made a great team. Andy being the loyal #2 who still looks to undermine for his own power, with both alternately being comforted and tricked by Pam. Well, maybe just Dwight getting comforted.
Creed and Meredith are stereotypes, but at least Creed gets dialogue like "Swing low, sweet chariots." Greatest character ever who's so low on the totem pole he's only listed as a guest star.

And on to the new couple.

Jim and Pam are pranksters, one by nature and the other by practice. But both prefer victims who refuse to give in, and both will come to the aid of those who feel abused, alone and cornered. For the many who don't seem to understand Pam's playing along with Dwight and his secret job title, it's obviously a chance for her to goof around. But notice her quick glance as the crew in the break room mocks people who "don't deserve their jobs" -- referring most to Michael and Dwight. She empathizes there, and despite their buffoonery will not let them be destroyed unless by their own doing.

JAM is not a perfect couple, not are their actions without fault. Both sought, to certain degrees, to sabotage the other's relationship. But both, at all times, have essentially said this -- I'm there for you, no matter what. Is he or she?
The difference in the past two episodes has been -- shocker -- they actually said these things to each other. And, the timing worked out. As opposed to not saying things in "Basketball," "The Dundies," "Sexual Harassment," "The Fight," "Christmas Party," "Booze Cruise," "The Secret," "Boys and Girls," or having awful timing like in "The Alliance," "Dwight's Speech," "Casino Night," "The Merger," "Benihana Christmas," etc.
And there in lies the real leap their characters make, Pam last week and Jim this week -- finally saying something without the prompting of the camera crew.

There's an awful lot of Pam talking to the camera this episode, but after all, the crew is more invested in this relationship than anyone. They snuck in to get last season's kiss, they're always asking pointed (and at Phyllis' wedding, "hypothetical") questions, and they are, in a sense, the confidant neither has outside of each other. Also, they are skeevy Peeping Toms when it comes to office relationships (Dwangela, for one, and every time Michael has relationship triumphs and failures), but still.

A year ago, I said the writers had to be careful not to ruin the show through overexposure of Jim and Pam. After this year, I can't see how they could do that unless they lost their minds -- or the current staff left. I'm confident the good trend will continue. And "The Office," for now, perhaps for a while, remains the best comedy on television -- a balance of everything anyone might want to get from whatever they consider a comedy.


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