The Office: Phyllis Claus

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"Secret Santa" was another solid Christmas episode from The Office, and held pretty much to the pattern they've established with past installments like "Christmas Party" (and, well, the whole show): There's an office party, Michael does something embarrassing and rude, everyone feels weird, they get over it, Michael apologizes, everybody feels a little better. Tack on a funny or sweet coda and you're done.

Written by Mindy Kaling and directed by Randall Einhorn, the ep opened with Dwight telling the camera that he'd put his "diabolical plan" on hold for the holidays, which turned out to be blessedly true. The episode was free of his machinations, content to focus on the regular insanities. This year, Jim let Phyllis dress up as Santa, which is all Michael needed to get upset. He spent the first part of the half-hour whining and trying to win people over to his cause, and when that didn't work, he flipped his red coat inside-out to reveal the white lining, scooted the fake beard down, and declared himself to be Jesus. (Who, per Michael, has the power of flight and can "heal leopards.") He said he was there to talk about the true meaning of Christmas -- getting a hilarious burst of applause from Angela -- but he just got bitter and depressed and decided to rag on all the Secret Santa gifts being exchanged. So, Michael's regular self.

The gifts were fun, the mix of low-cost and unthinking presents people foist on each other at office gatherings, though Andy went overboard by giving Erin actual representations of the 12 days of Christmas, which meant she showed up pecked half to death. ("Is it my fault that the first eight days are basically 30 birds?" he vented to the camera.) Michael blew his cover, too, and for the first time, Erin wasn't happy with something Andy had done. I didn't even know she was capable of unhappiness.

Pam spent the party trying to set Oscar up with the gay warehouse guy who is apparently on the show now, so good for them. Michael called David Wallace to complain about Phyllis and found out the company had been sold, so of course he told everyone the company was going under and everyone would be canned. Predictable panic ensued (though really, at this point they should take Michael's announcements with a grain of salt), so Michael called David back and had him tell everyone on speakerphone that they were safe. It's just the execs being fired. Everybody celebrated, but dudes! Wallace is still out of a job. How was there no follow on that? The call just ended. Sorry, man. Good luck.

So everybody was happy again, and Michael smoothed things over with Phyllis just as Bob Vance showed up to kick some ass. Kelly loved her New Moon poster from Jim, and Dwight loved the nutcracker from Michael that he'd received and assembled one piece at a time. It was a tidy little end to a fun episode, though the sweet kicker was after the party when everyone was walking through the parking lot as Andy marched in with 12 drummers drumming. He banged a cymbal and wished Erin a Merry Christmas, and began to dance like a goofball as she smiled. These two are completely adorable, and I'm happy that Erin stuck around and they're such a good match. All in all, a nice Christmas episode and a vast improvement over the soul-sucking pain of "Scott's Tots." Stay on track, guys.

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