The Office: We're Officially Afraid of Ryan
The Office has always been at its best when it mixes the eccentricities and occasional cruelties of its characters with a kind of sad humanity; basically, every character is constantly rediscovering just how much life can suck, then acting out about it, then dealing with it, then repeating the whole process. "Double Date" was a great example of that, and it combined the show's nimble humor and one-liners with an uncomfortably blunt end to the story of Michael dating Pam's mom, Helene (Linda Purl). In short, another solid episode for the season.
The cold open had Dwight bringing everyone bagels he'd gone to New York to get, childishly assuming that now everyone would "owe him" and that this groundswell of support would help him unseat Jim from the co-manager spot. This was also the springboard for the B story, which played Dwight and Andy off each other nicely as they attempted to out-help each other. (Andy's fierce defense of his manners -- "Do not test my politeness" -- was a standout line.) These characters have a great history together, what with the whole Angela thing, and seeing them in a battle of good wills (DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE) was entertaining.
But the main story was a double lunch date with Pam, Jim, Helene, and Michael that started out at a normal level of discomfort but soon began wallowing in the onset of emotional anguish. (Comedy!) Michael had been flirting with a family vibe on the car ride to the restaurant, even saying, "We just want you to succeed, Pammy," which was violently creepy. But once he learned that Helene was turning 58, he lost all interest in her as a partner. Rather than think about it, or realize he was maybe being irrational, he proceeded to grow more distant until he finally dumped her over dessert, with Jim and Pam staring from across the table. It was horrible, and the kind of deeply unfunny moment that often lies at the heart of many Office episodes.
Things came to a head when, back at work, Michael tried to apologize to Pam and rattled off a list of options, including hitting him, which Pam jumped at. That of course led to people asking Michael if he understood how much trouble he was in, as well as Jim screwing with Michael's head about Pam's growing insanity, though the best was easily poor old Toby teaching Pam to throw a punch. The twist execution was great, too: Michael got her to stop by genuinely apologizing, but when he went too far ("Your mom came onto me"), she turned and slapped him! I said exactly what Phyllis said: "Holy crap." I didn't think she'd actually go through with it. It was kind of funny, but more shocking and sad than anything, and Jim got to be right (again) as he led her off and Pam admitted she didn't really feel better at all. Sometimes, The Office is more about the depressing complications of existence; sometimes, it's about dick jokes. It's a good balance.
And holy crap, guys: Ryan is now the skeeviest human alive. The nude photos he took of Kelly that he then showed to Erin to pique her interest in "modeling"?! GAH. Awesome and unsettling. Well done, B.J. Novak. Well done.
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