The Audacity of Hope

Okay, an hour off of the football stuff. It’s The Office/Pam Pregnancy show. Where’s the Nard Dog?
-Peter King, 3/4, 7:52 p.m.

I was expecting to hate last night’s baby-producing episode of The Office. I really was. The show has been terrible all season long, with almost no glimmers of the excellence that used to be standard. Plus, sitcom baby episodes are inevitably terrible:

I thought that the Halpert baby would not only represent a new low for a show I once loved, but possibly mark the point at which I stop watching altogether. Yes, friends, hopes were dim at Camp Dilemma.

Then, two things happened:

  • The episode itself was pretty good
  • I read this article in the New York Post.

The Office, at least for an hour, healed many of the ills that have plagued it all season long. Jim and Pam were likable, unsure and relatable, not arrogant, mean and holier-than-thou. Michael’s role was minimized. Dwight and Angela were re-teamed, which re-inforced that they’re far better together than apart. Yes, the episode hit some predictable beats, and dragged a little in the second half, but this was the best episode of The Office this season, and one that renews a tiny flicker of hope that there might be more good to come.

And reading the Post’s TV critic’s mocking, haughty review of the show reminded me what I used to like about it in the first place. I knew that Linda Stasi and I would never be best pals when she held up the episode of Friends in which Phoebe gave birth to triplets as a paragon of sitcom baby-delivering hilarity. Oh, and then there’s this:

The delivery of Pam and Jim’s new baby should be classic sitcom stuff, but isn’t.

Why? Because “The Office” revels in its own droll, wink-wink-aren’t-we-smarter-than- everyone-else smugness, that’s why.

This time, the running gag is that since the firm’s HMO will only pay for two days in the hospital, Pam is forced to wait out her labor pains in the office.

The writers might have felt compelled to throw in Hollywood’s latest opinions on the health care crisis, but we don’t need to hear it. (We already sat through the health care summit. That was depressing enough.)

I mean, are they kidding? What’s funny about a young couple trying to keep a baby from being born until after midnight because they can’t afford an extra day in the hospital? Nothing.

How dare The Office allow the real world to intrude on its wonderful fantasyland of humor and delights? Sitcoms are about entertainment and escapism. America’s economic problems have no place on Must See TV!

Stasi not only reveals her own political leanings (assuming that writing for the Post didn’t do that already), she betrays a complete lack of understanding about what made The Office work as a sitcom. Skirting the edges of dark realism is exactly what The Office was once great at. While never as overtly bleak and uncomfortable as its British forebear, The Office consistently goes to places that traditional American sitcoms don’t. That’s what separates it from According to Jim and Boston Common, and that’s what has made the show’s failure to address the current economic climate in any real way this season such a disappointment.

But thank you, Linda Stasi, for inspiring me not to give up on the “droll, wink-wink-aren’t-we-smarter-than- everyone-else smugness” just yet. Because, yeah, at its best, The Office is smarter than just about everyone else.

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1 Comment

Filed under Television Has AIDS, The Dilemma

One response to “The Audacity of Hope

  1. I stopped watching it.
    Office Fail!
    I would rather play a first person shooter and blow shit up.

    But the first couple of seasons were funny.

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