I realized something watching last night’s episode of The Office: Everyone has become Jim and Pam. By which I mean, even the minor characters are getting romantic. There’s Erin and Andy, along with Oscar and Warehouse Matt. There’s the never-ending slow-mo train wreck that is Ryan and Kelly (if you mash up their last names, you get “KapHow,” which sounds a bit like a bomb going off.)
Don’t forget, this season started with Stanley’s affair. And now, we’re even venturing back into love-triangle territory with Dwight, Isabel, and Angela. (The only characters who haven’t had a romantic plotline are Meredith and Creed. Hmmmm. Meredith and Creed. I like the sound of that.)
None of these relationships have quite the same funny-sad emotional intensity as vintage PB & J, but taken all together, they form an ecosystem of relentless amusement. Last night’s episode, which had a few million great throwaway moments with the supporting cast, was a real treat.
The fun started with the pre-credits sequence. Michael challenged everyone in the office to beat his record of “25 and one girl push-up.” The winner would get to go home. (I read somewhere that Google does something like this. Stupid hippies.) Personally, I was betting on Oscar for the win, but Stanley managed to find the inner strength to succeed. (“He’s got all this weight that’s helping him go down,” Michael complained.)
The main plot of the episode was adorably simple: Oscar was trying to find a roundabout way to get to know Warehouse Matt better. “We talked this morning. And we talked at Christmas. So, a little momentum there.” In The Office, you always fall for someone very close to you, but somehow that proximity makes it harder, not easier, to connect. Awkward romance used to be a plot point; now, it feels like the show’s unifying theory of existence.
So Oscar walked into Darryl’s snazzy new office and suggested that Upstairs and the Warehouse go out for a drink, just like they used to do never. Darryl could see right through Oscar: “Be straight with me. You can be gay with Matt, just be straight with me.” That’s a lame joke, but Craig Robinson made it sound hilarious. Did you catch Craig Robinson when he appeared on Doug Benson’s “I Love Movies” podcast? The guy’s hilarious, even when he has no clue where he is.
Everybody in the office was excited about a night out. Phyllis: “I tend to wear something low-cut, get men to flirt with me, and Bob beats them up.” Jim tried to squirm out by dropping the newborn card: “This baby is amazing. She gets me out of everything.” But he didn’t count on the fact that Pam would want to see other adults. Any other adults, at all. When Pam saw Kevin again, she screeched happiness. Kevin screeched, too, but then the screeching became something… different. Sort of like crying. Or meowing. The punchline: Kevin was trying to make baby sounds to spur Pam’s lactation. Ick Factor Seven!
Pam had brought her friend Julie to meet Michael, reasoning that Julie laughs at everything. It was a big night for Pam’s single friends. Isabel showed up, too. She engaged Dwight in some witty back-and-forth dialogue. “I like repartee,” Dwight said, “Usually means there’s a battle scene coming.” I have to say, Isabel didn’t make much of an impression on me in her earlier appearances, but I thought this twosome had some real zip last night. She makes Rainn Wilson seem eerily charismatic in his matter-of-fact absurdity. (“How did you get so good?” “Whacking moles.”)
Michael figured out that he was on a date, which led to a Bruce Banner transformation into… DATE MIKE! (Is it me, or does that phrase, repeated several times last night, rhyme way too much with Steve Carell’s new movie?) This led to the instant implosion of his Julie flirtation, but it also led to an unexpected little moment: Michael, going full blowhard complete with a hat that just screamed drunk fratboy pretending to be drunker, somehow successfully flirted with the bar’s manager.
After she threatened to kick Date Mike out for various shenanigans, Michael stormed over angrily. “You embarrassed my friends in front of me,” he insisted. That segued into a discussion of their respective managerial tactics. Michael, my friends, is writing a book (it’s actually finished, in his head.) It’s called Somehow I Manage, with a picture of the author shrugging on the cover.
The bar manager (played by the great Amy Pietz from Aliens in America) somehow found this all attractive, and they bonded over Lee Iacocca’s book. Yup, Lee Iacocca. There was even a Chrysler joke. For a magical moment, last night’s The Office turned into an early-’90s Doonesbury strip.
Meanwhile, Andy and Erin were trying to keep things secret around the office, lest they suffer myriad embarrassments. They saw Kelly and Ryan playing Dance Dance Revolution, and boy, is that an office-romance cautionary tale. (I like how Kelly and Ryan seem like more of an old married couple now than Pam and Jim. “Stop telling me how to spend my tickets!”) Andy decided they should pretend-flirt with other characters, to throw people off the trail. Erin rubbed another man’s lap, which set Andy off. She said she learned to flirt from watching movies, which set Andy up for the line of the night: “What movie? Black Snake Moan?”
I liked Andy’s microphone confession. Yes, it was over-the-top, but it was also simple: “We’ve been on two dates. There will probably be more.” And I just like seeing this couple together. To me, Andy has always seemed like about half of a real character (I’ve always preferred Passive-Aggressive Wall-Punching Andy, personally), and Erin seems like a character from a more farcical universe than Scranton. But there’s something really pleasant about seeing them sitting next to each other in the dual confessional. It feels like bringing them together has forced the writers to really fill in the blanks in their respective personalities. They literally complete each other.
Oscar got to spend time with Warehouse Matt, despite Darryl’s warning: “Matt’s an okay dude. But he’s a dummy.” Maybe, but he’s sooooo cuuuuuute. Angela attacked-served Dwight with a summons for breaking his baby contract. I figured Isabel would stalk off in sitcom fury. Jango! Instead, viewers, she whacked Angela on the head. Like a whac-a-mole. High. Larious. Dwight: “You are an impressive specimen.” Isabel: “Thank you.”
Did you like “Happy Hour,” viewers? It’s usually a bad sign when sitcoms hit the point where everybody falls in love with everyone else, but to me, every romance on The Office feels realistic and weird in its own specific way. Who’s your favorite Office couple? Do you like Michael’s potential new squeeze, or is she just another time-filler before the inevitable series-finale Amy Ryan denouement?
By the way, Creed is incredible at DDR. (As if you couldn’t guess.) Also: “The Scranton strangler is a professional strangler.”