Overthinking the Office Part 2.5: Love and War (mostly love)

When I need background noise while writing, more often than not I turn to The Office. And rewatching a show as often as I have means you have thoughts and opinions.

These are mine.

Romance is in the air

We’ve covered how Jim and Pam are the central couple of The Office, certainly in its early seasons. But in season two, they’re not the only ones. The ensemble is too big for only two people to have a love story, and besides… Jim and Pam are the swoon-worthy couple from the word go. Their relationship is played for “Awwwws” rather than laughs, and that means that there are places they couldn’t take that relationship. Lines they couldn’t cross and gags they couldn’t do. And that’s where these other couples introduced in season two come in handy. Let’s meet them, while looking at the key episodes that shape their arcs.

Michael & Jan: Michael and Jan’s working relationship changes forever, and not entirely for the better, in season two’s The Client, which is a key episode on three fronts. When Michael and Jan have an off-site meeting trying to sell to the local county government, Pam finds Michael’s screenplay, “Threat Level Midnight,” featuring a superspy version of Michael Scott and his assistant/would-be-lover, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Yup. It’s not subtle. So we have three important things in this episode: 1) Jim and Pam bond during a staff reading of Threat Level Midnight and an impromptu rooftop dinner picnic; 2) despite going against Jan’s wishes at every step (moving the meeting to Chili’s, opening with a joke, playing truth or dare over drinks, an Awesome Blossom, and baby back ribs), Michael makes the sale, demonstrating how exactly he got promoted in the first place and his worth to the company; 3) having learned about Jan’s divorce, and dragged the story out of her during truth or dare, after the sale Michael and Jan share a celebratory kiss in the parking lot, and a night in a hotel room (mostly conversation, mild making out). Michael being Michael, he assumes Jan is now his girlfriend, and when Jan calls the next day with morning-after remorse, he’s completely blindsided. To the point of trying to hide under his desk from the cameras, which provide no escape.

But he does not take this rejection well, easily, or sanely. It’s the self-delusion that propels Michael through most of the series. Despite all the, frankly, overwhelming evidence that this relationship is a non-starter, Michael is unable to let go of the idea that she and he are meant to be. Michael’s pursuit of Jan approaches uncomfortable to the point of scary. He manages one positive act on her behalf on Valentine’s Day, though to be fair it’s just making up for his own nigh-catastrophic mistake.

There are points when being with Jan is supposed to be a victory for Michael. A Pyrrhic victory to a point, because the Jan-related prize usually comes after something bad on his end, but a victory just the same. But even when things between them become good, there is always something… off about them. So if Michael’s pursuit seems uncomfortable, it’s okay, folks… when we reach season three, we find out that the punishment fits the crime. The punishment for his horribly awkward courtship of Jan is, ultimately, successfully wooing Jan.

Kelly & Ryan: In the beginning, The Office doesn’t really know what to do with Kelly Kapoor. They also didn’t 100% know what to do with Ryan but that came later and is another story. She’s mostly there to be one more minority to suffer Michael’s knee-jerk reflex to profile (her Dundie is the Spicy Curry award, a title he is unable to explain, given the obvious answer; at Halloween, he thinks Bend It Like Beckham would be a better costume than Dorothy). But fortunately for the show, Kelly is played by writer/producer Mindy Kaling, who in the back half of the season finds Kelly’s character. Her sometimes vapid, celebrity gossip obsessed, rom-com loving, drama queen character. Which made her an entertaining fit for the more casual, easy-going, one-foot-out-the-door Ryan Howard of the early seasons. Their early relationship is best defined by Valentine’s Day… Kelly excitedly tells Jim that she and Ryan finally got together the previous night (Jim having become Kelly’s confidant during an earlier episode), and is thrilled to have a boyfriend for V-Day. Ryan has a talking head moment in which he runs his hands through his hair, voice calm but a look of terror and sad acceptance in eyes, and says “I hooked up with her on February 13th.” From there, it’s Ryan’s low-key, non-committal attitude versus Kelly’s rom-com-fueled, high-maintenance quest for a husband and babies.

But that is just the beginning. There are amazing depths of dysfunction these two have yet to plumb. And that is what makes Kelly and Ryan one of the show’s most memorable couplings. Very rarely has a show managed to make a relationship so very wrong and so very right at the same time. In season two, there’s just Ryan’s limp acceptance that “Just having fun” has become “long-term relationship” faster than he was in any way braced for. But they evolve into a truly, weirdly hilarious portrait of mutual abuse as Ryan’s character shifts in the later seasons. They’re the couple who are absolutely wrong for each other but at the exact same time weirdly perfect for each other. We’ll check in with Kelly and Ryan as we go.

Angela & Dwight: There are reviewers out there who feel that Jim and Pam are not the true central couple of The Office. That that title belongs instead to the Frank Burns and Hot Lips Houlihan of Dunder Mifflin, Dwight K. Schrute and Angela Martin.

Dwight and Angela would be impossible to like in real life. Both are abrasive, judgmental, and attempt to hold their co-workers to insane standards of behavior that play out like a Victorian England Taliban. And yet… as time goes on, Dwight wins you over. The sheer absurdity of Dwight, and the passion he devotes to everything he does, gradually becomes endearing. And one of Dwight’s greatest passions is uptight accountant Angela.

Their relationship is largely defined by secrecy, which becomes part of the fun. Angela is devoted to maintaining her (completely inaccurate… remember that self-deception is the key theme of this show) self-image as a perfect Christian, which means keeping her affair with a co-worker as secret as possible. Secret enough that despite a few dropped hints, you’d never guess they were together until Email Surveillance, when Pam enlists the Documentarians to help uncover proof that Dwight and Angela are together… a quest she walks away from after Phyllis assumes the “secret office affair” she’s talking about is actually her and Jim.

But it’s too late. The Documentarians know all, and from there, we’re all in on the spycraft-laced relationship of Angela and Dwight. So why would this relationship between, on paper, the two least likeable characters on the show eclipse Jim and Pam? Well, part of it is the same “These two must be right for each other because they can not be right for anyone else” energy that Ryan and Kelly end up having, but a bigger part is that Angela and Dwight are free from the fear of disruption that surrounded Jim and Pam.

See, Jim and Pam’s budding, inevitable romance was treated with such devotion that once it finally happens, the writers are unwilling to throw any real tension at it. Dwight and Angela do not suffer from that, and thus their story can be more epic. Spanning years, blood lost and lives ruined. They’re together, they’re apart, they see other people but cannot resist each other. Their love is filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, it’s a story that lasts all nine seasons, whereas Jim and Pam peak early and stay there.

Plus, there’s a lot more comedy in a weirdly adorable train wreck than a relationship that’s obviously perfect and why can’t they just see that, which is what Jim and Pam are giving us this year.

Anyway, those are the main plot threads in season two. Jim and Pam inch towards to each other, Ryan finds himself in over his head with Kelly, Michael wins, loses, and almost but not quite wins back Jan before moving on to his realtor, Carol… a rare Normal that ends up dating one of the cast.

New Characters

Season two introduces us to some other key people at Dunder Mifflin. Valentine’s Day introduces the new CFO, David Wallace. Wallace becomes the face of Dunder Mifflin’s corporate HQ for the next five years, the straight man who must deal with Michael’s shenanigans. The same episode introduces Josh Porter, manager of the Stamford Connecticut branch, which will be highly important once season three kicks off.

Also of note… Christmas Party introduces us to Phyllis’ boyfriend, Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration. They become to office park’s weirdly and uncomfortably passionate middle-aged power couple.

And I mentioned Carol, right? Michael’s realtor, introduced in Office Olympics, and played by Steve Carell’s fellow Daily Show alumnus/real-life wife Nancy Carell (née Walls)? She turns up three times, and goes from one-time guest star to person of interest.

Key Episodes

God, so, so many. That’s what makes season two the golden year, every episode feels like a new delight. Office Olympics. Booze Cruise. Take Your Daughter to Work Day. The Injury. The Carpet. And the climax, Casino Night, one of two episodes written by Steve Carrell, in which everything comes to a head.

But if I had to choose one. (Other than The Dundies, which we discussed last time)

Dwight’s Speech, in which, as the company’s top salesman, Dwight has to deliver a speech to a sales conference (something Michael did twice, as he’s swift to remind people), represents a turning point. There have been, for lack of better words, wackiness and hijinks in the show, but they’ve been relatively grounded. Dwight’s Speech, in which Jim pranks Dwight by handing him a speech culled from quotes from famous dictators, is when we begin to cross the line into larger, broader comedy. Dwight’s transition from almost realistically eccentric and power hungry peon to legit supervillain, along with Creed’s breakout lunacy, begin a transition into an Office where the rest of the staff don’t just roll their eyes at Michael or Dwight’s craziness, but contribute their own. Everything gets pushed further and further. Kevin gets dumber. Meredith gets trashier. Creed gets crazier. Kelly’s quest for attention gets bigger. Ryan’s relative normalcy gets chipped away. Even quiet, low-key Stanley and Phyllis get their quirks.


None. They’re all great. Have I not made that clear?

Notable Guest Stars?

Amy Adams is back as Jim’s girlfriend, Katy, for two episodes before the whole “He’s only dating her to distract himself from being in love with Pam” thing wears him down. Tim Meadows is the titular client in The Client, and apparently Melora Hardin (Jan) had a terrible time keeping a straight face (let alone a perpetual scowl) playing opposite him and Steve Carell. Our fourth Daily Show veteran (I totes forgot about Larry Wilmore in season one, that’s on me), Rob Riggle, is the captain of the Booze Cruise.

And most notably, David Koechner makes his first appearances as Michael’s ultra-obnoxious best friend, travelling salesman Todd Packer, in Sexual Harassment… perfect timing, because as inappropriate as Michael can be, Todd Packer makes him look like mild-mannered Toby in comparison. Packer made his first appearance over the phone in the pilot, but season two is when Koechner brings him to full, horrifying life. And provides another layer of Michael’s self-delusion: despite what Michael thinks, Packer isn’t as funny, awesome, or nearly as good a friend as Michael (or Kevin) thinks.

Next time… season three gives season two a run for its money, and the last central character arrives.


Overthinking the Office Part 2: The Golden Year

When I need background noise while writing, more often than not I turn to The Office. And rewatching a show as often as I have means you have thoughts and opinions.

These are mine.

The Best of Times

Seasons two and three are very much The Office at its apex. There is a joy of discovery happening, as the writers shape and explore the ensemble and the larger world of Dunder/Mifflin. The jokes hit so well and so frequently that there’s typically 40 minutes of material for each 22 minute episode, leading to a wealth of hilarious deleted scenes for those with access to the DVDs. Many episodes involve finding the sweet spot between cringe and heart, as they find ways to make us love these paper-selling misfits while still making us glad we don’t work alongside them.

Three important things happened between the first and second seasons of The Office. First, iTunes sales of individual episodes made up for the initial season’s low ratings. (Honestly, when are we going to move past Nielson ratings? As Last Week Tonight would say, how is this still a thing?) Second, The 40 Year Old Virgin transformed Steve Carell from “ex-Daily Show correspondent” to “Legit movie star,” which helped bring more attention to the show. And third, they adjusted the tone of the show a little.

To the credit of both the producers and Steve Carell himself, this did not involve a major shift to Michael Scott. His worst habits are still there. Still casually racist, still filled with self-delusion, still prone to cringe-inducing attempts at humour or flirting. There are just two differences… first, they give him a more flattering haircut, and second, he is granted the occasional moment of redemption. Because US audiences need the grim, gloomy tone of the UK version to be cut with moments with hope and levity. So beginning in season two, we get a lighter atmosphere to contain all of the cringe and dread.

Now… they don’t always nail it. Sometimes the lighter, redemptive moments can come across as unearned. The best example of this comes in Christmas Party.

Some reviewers have said that The Office shines at Christmas. And it does. Out of nine seasons, only two don’t have a Christmas episode (one and four, when the show didn’t air in December), and they’re typically key episodes. And Michael is not always his best self when Christmas rolls around. But Christmas Party is the year when Michael goes from “terrible and selfish” to “forgiven and everything’s great” so fast it gives you whiplash.

When Michael’s gift in the office Secret Santa isn’t to his liking, he hijacks the entire party, turning Secret Santa into Yankee Swap (you know, the game of many names where you either open a new gift or steal something that’s been opened), in a transparent attempt to relieve himself of a homemade oven mitt while reveling in how much the staff covets the iPod he bought Ryan in a flagrant violation of the 20 dollar limit. The problem is, people bought gifts for specific people, making Yankee Swap awkward for many, and especially for Jim… whose gift to Pam is filled with inside jokes and card containing his true feelings. (Which she won’t read for over seven years, but that’s another thing entirely.) Once Michael’s selfishness has thoroughly spoiled the party to a point where even Michael can’t convince himself otherwise, he rushes out and uses his Christmas bonus to buy a lot of vodka to get the party back on track.

Yep. That’s it. He buys vodka. In the end, he even gets invited out for post-party drinks with everyone, something his improv class invented an unlikely excuse to avoid just one episode earlier.

Sometimes Michael’s redemptive moments are touching. Sometimes he makes a gesture that shows his professed love for his employees isn’t all talk. But sometimes they’re just not willing to settle for a downer ending, and perform narrative gymnastics to get around it. What seems like an insufficient gesture makes up for his misdeeds in Christmas Party. When the improv class (rightfully) shuns him in Email Surveillance, an episode that shows his desperate need to be the center of attention doesn’t end when he leaves the building, he finds acceptance from Jim mostly out of pity on Jim’s end. In Performance Review, Jan lists everything about Michael that’s distasteful, but seeing the hurt in his eyes, backs off and, in an attempt to be kind, accidentally gives him a ray of hope. When season six reveals the Worst Thing Michael Ever Did, a sympathetic voice still points out the silver lining, rather than let him stew in his mistakes. They so seldom let him stew in his mistakes.

But not all redemptive moments go down this way. And there is a more positive example right off the bat.

The show in one episode

You know what? The second season premiere has everything you need to know. You just need to watch it closely.

The Dundies. Not unlike a second pilot, albeit only six episodes after the first one. We witness what seems to be Michael’s proudest achievement as regional manager: the Dundie Awards, an annual attempt at recognizing the staff through trophies with award names he finds amusing. In the course of prepping for and attending the awards, we get subtly recapped on everything introduced in season one, plus introduced to our lighter tone for seasons two and beyond.

Michael’s delusions: Michael truly believes that the Dundie Awards are a beloved institution amongst his underlings, whereas everyone else sees it as a yearly obligation that they tolerate for Michael’s sake. Michael thinks giving Pam “Longest engagement” every year just gets funnier and funnier, whereas Pam sees it as a reminder that another year has passed without her engagement being fulfilled.

Michael’s redemption: This is an instance when Michael’s redemptive moment is earned. After getting heckled by outsiders mid-show, Michael almost shuts the whole thing down. Broken and defeated, he hands one last gag award to Kevin and surrenders. But Pam and Jim lead the rest of the staff into a spirit-boosting round of applause. Because he may be a self-deluded obnoxious jerk at times, but damn it, he is their self-deluded obnoxious jerk, and no outsider gets to take the Dundies away from him.

Michael and Jan: Season one only gave us a few glimpses at Michael’s working relationship with his boss, Jan Levinson-Gould. Here we have it laid out for us that Michael’s unorthodox style is not appreciated by corporate, something he didn’t anticipate, as Jan’s refusal to cover the bill for the Dundies takes him by complete surprise (leading to one of the few attempts on Michael’s part to escape the camera crew. We’ll talk more about Michael and Jan in a minute.

Michael and Ryan: Season one offered glimpses of Michael’s odd relationship with temp Ryan Howard. Michael sees Ryan as his super-handsome best friend/protégé/surrogate son, whereas Ryan sees Michael as his weird boss with an uncomfortable crush on him. It’s all summed up in Ryan being awarded “Hottest in the office.” As Ryan says to the cameras… “What am I going to do with it? That’s… the least of my worries right now.”

Jim and Pam and Roy: They don’t need to recap the Jim/Pam/Roy triangle directly. Everything you need to know you get watching the three of them at the Dundies.

The Documentarians: After a fun and eventful night together, Pam has a question for Jim… but spotting the ever-present camera crew changes her mind. The Documentarians might usually avoid getting involved in the story, but sometimes they can’t help but influence it, as intimate moments are not typically enhanced by the presence of a cameraman and boom mic operator. Well, maybe for Meredith.

The rest of the cast

Most of the Dunder Mifflin staff was briefly glimpsed in season one, but this is where they begin to take shape, as the writers cast their eye beyond the five leads. In the sales department with Jim and Dwight are grumpy, crossword obsessed Stanley and quiet, matronly Phyllis; in accounting are bookish Oscar, slow-witted Kevin, and uptight, judgmental, hyper-Christian (in word if not deed) Angela; behind them, sexually adventurous single mom Meredith and Creed Bratton, who… cannot be described simply; in the annex, on the far side of the kitchen and break room, customer service rep Kelly Kapoor and HR representative Toby Flenderson, Michael’s nemesis. In the warehouse, Pam’s fiancé Roy reports to Darrell, whose importance to the show only grows. Each of these characters gets built over the course of the season, and each has their moment to shine, though I’d like to talk about two in particular.

Toby is an ideal nemesis for Michael. Played by writer/producer/eighth season showrunner Paul Lieberstein, Toby is the low-key, low energy barrier to Michael’s more outlandish ideas. This alone might be enough to make Michael resent him, and that’s certainly why he claims to hate Toby, but there’s more under the surface. When Michael wants to insult, belittle, or devalue Toby, one of his go-to moves is to bring up the fact that Toby’s divorced. They never spell out why, but… Michael wants to be married. Michael desperately wants to be part of a family, enough that he tries to make his office a family through sheer force of will. Toby had it all, and gave it away (save for partial custody of his daughter), and it’s not hard to theorize that that actively offends Michael.

And it cannot help that the employees of Dunder Mifflin actually find Toby funny and likeable in a way they never do Michael. That one goes all the way back to Diversity Day, when Michael kicks Toby out of a meeting in theory because of the content of his joke, but more likely because his joke got a laugh.

Now Creed… where to start. At the beginning, he’s in quality assurance, and manages to duck getting fired by arguing with Michael until he changes his mind and fires another little-seen employee instead. By the end of the season, he’s freely admitting to habitually stealing (“I stopped caring a long time ago. I just love stealing”). By the next, his detachment from our shared reality has become his defining trait. Basically, Creed becomes the repository for any action, idea, or thought process that’s too “out there” for Dwight. How you react to Creed will help determine whether second or third season is your favourite, for reasons I’ll get into.

There’s a lot to say about season two. When every second or third episode feels like a series highlight, that’s bound to happen. So we’ll have to pick this up next time, as romance extends beyond Jim and Pam’s will-they-won’t-they.

Overthinking the Office, Season 1: Mercifully Swift

I’m not someone who needs silence to write. Or wants it. In fact, I typically need something on in the background, if only to keep me off of YouTube. And that’s how I’ve ended up rewatching The Office start to finish about four times in the last two or three years. Because as much as I try to mix things up, I keep coming back, perhaps because it’s become so familiar that it’s enjoyable without being hugely distracting. Scrubs sucks up more attention, especially in the seasons I’m less familiar with (4-8, which I’ve only seen twiceish); Community only has three seasons that I can/want to watch, so it gets older faster; and the Flash only lasts me a few days.

And so I keep finding myself rewatching the antics of Dunder Mifflin paper company. And if that’s going to keep happening, and I’m going to keep having thoughts about it, I may as well start writing them down.

So let’s start at the beginning. The awkward, cringe-filled first season.

Early steps

For those unfamiliar with the Office… I promise to try to make this accessible. Anyway, it’s adapted from a British series from masters of cringe comedy Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Aside from reality shows, adapting a British series is always a dodgy process, one with more failures than successes. Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, Skins, Coupling, and The IT Crowd all failed and failed fast, and there’s practically a failed American Fawlty Towers alone for every success story. Maybe it’s a failure by American networks to understand how these shows work. That would explain how they take shows like Coupling, Spaced, and The IT Crowd, adapt episodes almost word-for-word, and still end up with unfunny train wrecks.

Community’s Joel McHale couldn’t make American IT Crowd funny, and he was using the same script.

Back to The Office, then. This first season tries to match the original British version’s twin atmospheres of boredom and gloom, as we meet the Dunder Mifflin crew while the branch is staring down the barrel of possible downsizing. Dunder Mifflin is not the corporate titan Michael Scott sees it as, and will be plagued by financial troubles for the next six seasons. So here in the beginning, the bulk of the cast (save for Michael and Dwight, who see paper sales as their life’s calling) are both bored by their jobs, and anxious about losing them.

This is, of course, easier to maintain on a British series designed to run in brief spurts. And since the US version’s debut season was only six episodes long, much like both series of the UK version, they could keep this atmosphere. Once they needed to run longer, some things needed to change. But we’ll get to that.

There’s only six episodes in season one, which doesn’t leave a lot to pry open, so let’s open with a review of the basics.

Central cast

Now, The Office did borrow a few things other than tone from their UK brethren. Mostly the cast. While every character has a different name (Michael Scott in place of David Brent, or “Jim” in place of “Tim…” as Ricky Gervais put it, “Way to put your own stamp on things”), the basics of each character are still there. Everyone starts out in the same place. Michael Scott, regional manager of Dunder Mifflin paper company, would-be father figure and entertainer; Dwight Schrute, assistant regional manager—no, assistant to the regional manager; Jim Halpert, slacker salesman wishing he were anywhere else; Pam Beesley, the receptionist, who stopped chasing her dreams so long ago she doesn’t fully remember how; and Ryan Howard, freshly hired temp. And it becomes clear that they have one thing in common.

Our central theme, ladies and gents

Some sitcoms aren’t content to restrict their narrative to “These people all work/spend time in the same bar/airport/court.” If you dig into them, there’s a deeper theme. Community wears its theme on its sleeve, in its title, even: it’s all about connecting with people, forming a community. Like I said, not subtle. The Office takes a little more attention.

The Office is about self-deception.

And nowhere is that more clear than its leading man, Michael Scott. Michael sees himself as a born entertainer, when in reality his jokes are met with sighs and eye rolls more often than not. Michael sees himself as the patriarch of the Dunder Mifflin family, when everyone else just sees it as somewhere they work. Michael thinks he is adored, when he is often merely tolerated.

But it’s not just Michael. Especially here, at the beginning, no one is who they think they are. Dwight is not a born leader, diabolical genius, sheriff’s deputy, or even assistant manager. He’s a great salesman and decent beet farmer (although that doesn’t come out until season two) with severe delusions of grandeur… delusions that the writers began to buy into from time to time as the show ran on and Dwight drew in popularity.

Jim’s self-deception is more subtle: he thinks he’s above this place. This is just a job to Jim, something he does to pay the rent while he waits for his real life to start. Something which has the added bonus of keeping him near the object of his affection. But Jim is not better than this sales job, not yet. He’s just a slacker trying to do the minimum effort, and pranking Dwight to repay all the ways Dwight makes life at the office harder.

And Pam… Pam routinely falls for the saddest deception… she thinks her life is fine the way it is.

The key couple

Pam’s engaged to Roy, who she’s been with for eight years. They’ve been engaged for two of those, but in season one are nowhere near picking a wedding date. It’s clear to us in the audience… and to Jim, who’s secretly in love with her… that Roy is wrong for her, and she’ll never be truly happy with him, but Pam is scared of chasing a better life if it means risking the flawed, comfortable existence she has now. And not for the last time.

Whereas Jim is stuck not only in a job he hates, but stuck watching the woman he loves settle for a man who takes her for granted over and over.

It’s important to note that this is not a standard will they/won’t they. It can’t be. Those don’t last nine seasons, not without driving people crazy. But here, in the early days, Michael is the lead, Dwight the wacky sidekick, Ryan the new guy, and Jim and Pam are the show’s beating heart.

The Documentarians

The Office didn’t invent the mockumentary format (how could it, it’s a remake), but as far as series television goes, I think it’s fair to say that it boosted the style’s popularity. Since then, we’ve seen the format pop back up in Parks and Recreation and Modern Family, but each of these shows makes the same choice: they keep the “talking heads” sections, in which characters talk to the camera about what’s happening, but that’s it. By the end of P&R’s first season, or by Modern Family’s second episode, they’ve abandoned the pretense that there’s a camera crew following these people around. The Office never does.

It’s not consistent. Sometimes they fade into the background. An entire Diwali party in season three seems unaffected by the cameras’ presence. It’s hard to believe that a convenience store clerk would let a cameraman behind the counter just to get a better angle on Michael, but in season seven, that happens. But in these early days, they really drive home the fact that we’re not just secretly spying on a group of office workers, there are people with cameras and microphones following them around, and their presence isn’t always welcome. Something that stays a trend all the way to the last season, albeit off and on.

Key episodes

With only six episodes in the first season, they’re basically all key episodes. The pilot introduces us to (some of) the cast, Diversity Day is the first big Conference Room meeting, the show’s most common trope; Health Care is both Michael’s failures as a leader and inability to live up to his own self-image and Dwight’s thirst for power in all their early glory; The Alliance is when Jim and Pam’s pranking of Dwight begins to take its proper US shape; Basketball introduces us to the warehouse crew; and Hot Girl… well, it has Amy Adams in it. What more do you need.


On occasion, when doing a rewatch, I’ve skipped the entire first season. Like its younger sister show, Parks and Recreation, the short opening season is rougher. The larger ensemble is unformed, and the tone bleaker. And of all of them, Basketball might be the easiest to miss. Diversity Day already let us know that Michael’s kinda racist, and it should be pretty clear that Jim and Roy have an unspoken rivalry, and there’s not much more there.

Notable guest stars?

A lot of big names and/or cast members of The Wire will make their way through the Dunder Mifflin offices over the years, but in season one, it’s pretty much just Amy Adams as a purse saleswoman who Michael and Dwight lust after, but who ends up dating Jim.

Next time… The Office finds its footing, and its own voice. And thanks to iTunes and the 40 Year Old Virgin, an audience.


A pause in my deep dive into the furiously fast to talk about something that plagues us every holiday season.

I do like Christmas. I really do. The sense of togetherness, gathering with friends and family to make the coldest, darkest days of the year* into the warmest and brightest. I say this because it’s kind of obfuscated by two factors: a) I don’t really get into the Christmas spirit until the third week of December, and b) I hate the music.

*Unless you live in the southern hemisphere, in which case enjoy summer, dick**.

**That was mean, I’m sorry. It’s just really cold this week.

Just… never got into Christmas carols. I would theorize that it’s because of my brief time in my elementary school choir, which from September until December was nearly exclusively Christmas carol-based, but that seems like poppycock. Aside from one somewhat embarrassing mishap singing on a department store escalator and one incident of fainting at a gig, something I had to be told happened later that day because it made so little impact on me, the sole trauma of my one semester in choir was giving up my lunch breaks. Not exactly deep wounds there. No, I’m pretty sure I just didn’t care for carols much to begin with, and being drowned in them for two solid months doesn’t help.

But there’s one carol in particular that takes way too damn long, and when you look at it, doesn’t make a lick of sense. No, not Jingle Bell Rock, though you could be excused for thinking so. Jingle Bell “Rock?” Maybe in the 50s it could be considered “rock,” but in 2015 it should be legally required to be called “Jingle Bell Old-Time Country Jamboree.” Unless it’s played by a death metal band. I’d allow that.

No, I’m taking about the 12 Days of Christmas. And if you follow along with me, you’ll see exactly why this “true love” giving you all these presents is a bad gift-giver at best, and a war criminal at worst.

“On the first day of Christmas–“

Gonna stop you right there, actually. How many of you out there actually understood what the hell “first day of Christmas” meant when you first heard this song? I couldn’t have been the only six year old saying “No, wait, back up, there’s only one day of Christmas, or at least only one when I’m getting any presents.” Okay, sure, in the UK, the Twelve Days of Christmas, or Twelvetide, is still a thing for some people. Some people. But in North America the whole idea was slowly killed by secular Christmas and Santa, and the rise of New Year’s Eve as a more popular holiday than 12th Night. Maybe the 12 Days thing was a big deal in 1780, when this bizarre pile of presents was first theorized, but today?

I get that we haven’t come up with a particularly iconic Christmas song since the Kennedy administration, but maybe if the traditions they refer to are dying, we can let a few of these go, is what I’m about to take a long time to say.

Now… what exactly has your true love decided to hand you between Dec. 25th and January 5th?

A partridge in a pear tree

Okay. Not super weird. A pet bird and a tree to keep it in. Although… it is winter. Like, super deep into winter. Not a great time to plant a tree, and that partridge isn’t going to want to sit in it right now. But assuming you have a lawn for the pear tree, and that it doesn’t die before it has a chance to sprout a pear, this… isn’t awful.

Let’s just establish something before we move on. There are two ways to take what’s about to happen. You can assume that this is the only partridge and pear tree combo that will be given out, or you can assume that every single day means a new partridge in a new pear tree, and that 11 out of 12 days will have fresh pairs of turtle doves, etc. I’m choosing to believe the former: that each item is only given once. First of all, because I think this list of gifts is weird and troubling enough as it is, and second, because the merciless pop culture critics over at Cracked have already broken down the financially crippling, feather-encrusted nightmare scenario that comes with assuming that each day you re-receive a fresh set of all of the gifts from the previous day, plus something new.

So this is your only partridge and your only pear tree. Just off the top of my head, partridges aren’t a very common pet bird, and pear trees are apparently hard to maintain and more than a little pungent, so I’d have some serious questions about this true love who assumed he/she had nailed the perfect gift.

Two turtle doves

Turtle doves aren’t exactly a low-maintenance pet. They need a diet of seed mix, fruits, vegetables, and gravel (for digestion). They need a bird bath and a well-designed cage. They need thirty minutes of exercise per day outside of the cage, which needs to be disinfected once per week. And they’re not even the prettier dove. If you’re picturing white doves, you’re way off.

This true love of yours better be damned sure you like birds, because they’ve just given you chores for Christmas. Well, for Boxing Day.

Three french hens

More birds. Great. Thanks.

According to my research, french hens are, in fact, the best chickens to keep as pets. If that’s what you’re into. And hey, free eggs? If you want? People might react oddly to being offered a partridge-egg omelette or a turtle dove frittata, but french hen eggs just sound fancy.

Still… still though. That’s six birds in three days. And weird birds. No parakeets, no parrots, but the uglier doves and chickens. Still, as long as we move on to proper presents soon, it’s not so–

Four calling birds

No? We’re still doing this? Okay. Four more birds. But at least these are songbirds. One could almost consider this a proper pet. Four at once seems like diving in with both feet, though. Ever cared for a songbird before? I hope so, because here’s four of them, on top of the hens, doves, and the partridge you already got.

At this point you’re going to need a full on aviary to keep all of these birds in. Probably a heated one, since not all of these are cold-weather birds. Certainly not the turtle doves. Not to mention it would be a place to keep your foul-smelling pear tree alive in late December. Why is this happening? Did you get, like, a bird statue from your grandmother, and then you put in on your mantle because it’s started to sink in that she’s not going to be around forever so you’d better start appreciating the hell out of her now? Then everyone saw it and assumed you’re totes into birds?

Five golden rings

Now we’re talking. Rings! Golden rings! Admittedly a lot of them. I mean, I probably wouldn’t wear five golden rings all the time. I once considered wearing a grad ring and a wedding band, then as a result had a dream where Liberace accused me of being a little too flashy, but hey, you do you. I know several people, male and female, who make multiple rings work, and it is your true love giving them to you, so it’s not horribly forward or anything.

And even if you only wear one or two of them at a time, at least your true love has stopped giving you birds.

Six geese a-laying

Oh god damn it. Come on now, when are you going to sit your true love down and ask them who could possibly need, or even want, this many fucking birds? Or this many types of bird?

And we have moved on from cute, small birds, too. Geese? Fucking geese? Geese can be aggressive, you know. These are not pretty birds to keep around the house. Or let into it. If you weren’t building an aviary before, you are now, and it had better have pens for the geese. And good luck hiring someone to build it for you on December 30th.

Before you suggest that you now have access to free fois gras, I’d ask you to consider whether killing and slaughtering your own geese, then dealing with judgemental glares from every vegetarian you know, is actually worth not just buying some in a store. Assuming you even know how to get proper foie gras out of a living, honking, hissing goose that your bird-crazy true love has dropped on your doorstep the day before New Year’s Eve.

Oh yes, and there’s all these goose eggs to deal with. Which means that these six geese might be extra aggressive, since they all just laid eggs and now here you are getting all up in their nests.

Seven swans a-swimming

SWANS? Swans. Forget what I said about geese being aggressive, because we’ve entered a new thing here. Swans will fucking fight you. Swans will knock you out of your boat, then make sure you never find land. Rowing races have been called off because of swan aggression, and rowing crews are basically tree trunks with smaller tree trunks for limbs.


Oh, and since swans are sometimes used to keep geese away from a property, it’s safe to assume that these seven swans a-swimming are going to have beef with your six geese a-laying, and that’s just going to agitate those delicate flower turtle doves, which–

No no wait, stop, shut up… seven swans a-swimming? What are they swimming in? There’s no way seven swans fit in any bathtub. I hope you have a pool, because if not, your Hitchcock-recreating “true love” just flooded something in your house. Your basement, your garage, your newly-built aviary, something just got turned into a swan habitat, and I’m willing to bet it’s not something you’d intended to be a small pond. But too late, everything you’d kept in your storage room is now under water and covered in swan shit. The good news is, you’ll be able to recover what’s left fairly easily, because the swans should be relatively cool until nesting season. The bad news is, it’s New Year’s Eve, and instead of getting ready to party, you’re dealing with a flood and twenty three pissed off birds because this psychopath you’re dating couldn’t be bothered to just get you The Flash on Blu-ray like a sensible person.

And it actually gets weirder from here.

Eight maids a-milking

Eight maids. Your true love has given you eight women. As a gift. Not to clean your house or anything… they haven’t signed you up for a cleaning service to deal with all the bird crap or the water damage from the swan habitat you didn’t ask for. No, these are milk maids. They milk cows, and according to the song (which we’ve probably been singing for five minutes by now), that is exactly what they’re doing. These eight maids are a-milking.

Your true love did not give you any cows.

Putting aside the person-as-gift problem for now (but oh will we ever come back to it), you have been handed criminals. These eight ladies are out there, in the countryside, sneaking onto farms and milking things, then presumably bringing their unpasteurized spoils back to you in your bird-infested house that I have to believe has been the subject of some noise complaints by now.

Happy new year. You are now running a gang of milk thieves. And since there isn’t a lot of overlap between “people qualified to milk cows” and “skilled cat burglars,” I don’t love your chances of getting away with this. A rancher, or worse, a factory farm is about to press charges against you.

Nine ladies dancing

So… now your true love has handed you nine dancers. We have dancers… being given as gifts. This… Your true love’s unorthodox gift plan has gone from a wacky, feathery nightmare to something horrible.

Let’s stop beating around the bush here. Your “true love” has stopped handing you increasingly large and potentially angry birds, and is instead giving you human beings as gifts. As pets. SLAVES. Your true love is a human trafficker. First, eight women who spend their nights stealing you milk, now nine women to dance for your amusement. Which, I guess, as far as women (probably eastern European or Asian) being offered “dance scholarships” in the west go, is less horrific than the usual. They may be slaves in a house overrun with birds and unpasteurized milk, but they actually do get to dance. That’s… something?

Oh, wait… is that why they gave you the rings? The five golden rings? Were they… were they supposed to be your pimp bling? Your true love was dressing you to be a pimp. Marinate on that. The only genuinely positive gift on this list is tainted forever.

Ten lords a-leaping

Oh no. No no no. It’s all becoming clear. I thought maybe your true love was just tapped into a terrible, terrible black market of human slaves and… mildly exotic birds, but it’s so much worse than that.

It is terribly, horribly, tragically easy to buy women. I assume there’s a way to do that on the dark web, something I hope to never, ever have to confirm.

This is going to a dark place. Let's take a baby otter break.
This is going to a dark place. Let’s take a baby otter break.

Your true love didn’t just grab ten poncy-looking brits. No, these are ten lords. Noblemen. People who actually govern (when they choose to) in the UK. People with security and staff, people who would look for them if they went missing and turned up in somebody’s sour-milk-reeking slave mill and birdhouse. Kidnapping one noble takes work, and attracts attention. Grabbing ten? They’re either Kilgrave from Jessica Jones, controlling minds, or else your true love conquered a country. They marched in, seized power, rounded up ten of the ruling class, slapped them in chains, and shipped them to your house to jump around. Jump around. Jump up, jump up, and get down.

That may have been an inappropriate time for the House of Pain (they’re far from plain), but I thought maybe a touch of levity would help, given that you’re slowly learning that your true love is a goddamn monster.

Eleven pipers piping

Of course. Of course that’s next. What took so long, really? Surely those nine enslaved dancers and ten leaping lords could use some musical accompaniment. Let’s just kidnap a jazz band. Why not at this point.

Twelve drummers drumming

Sure. Come the fuck in. Drum up a storm. Somehow we’ve made it all the way to January 5th and the cops aren’t here, so bring in a drumline. It’s like a bird-poop-crusted Burning Man.

So let’s recap. What exactly has this true love of yours thrust into your home over the last twelve days?

Twenty-three birds, some of which are fighting, all of which are pooping, some of which have cages you’ve been neglecting to clean because of the chaos that followed, so I bet people are starting to get sick.

One hastily-constructed aviary to hold said birds. Hopefully. Which spared you nothing, thanks to…

One aquatic swan habitat, somewhere in your house.

No less than fifty slaves. Eight of whom are constantly stealing fresh, raw milk and stuffing it anywhere that has less than five birds. Nine of whom are dancing to the music played by eleven enslaved pipers and twelve involuntary drummers, making enough of a racket to draw the attention of the authorities. And let’s not forget the ten lords who were taken either as part of a war crime, or as part of a series of kidnappings that are probably bringing someone’s special forces crashing through your window.

Merry Christmas. You have the bird flu, some sort of milk-borne infection, and you’re on your way to the Hague to face prosecution for crimes against humanity. All because you fell in love with a monster who thought paying for a year of your Netflix subscription wasn’t “flashy” enough. And every year, you get to hear people sing about how you ended up in this mess with smiles on their faces, because somehow they don’t see that none of this is okay.

I mean Little Saint Nick is a bad song, but god damn.