Thursday, April 28, 2011

Opinion Five-Spot Extra - Remembering Michael Scott

Most people interested in something big start with an interest in something small, and their appreciation of that thing is so deep that it makes them more interested in everything else around it. For me, that small thing was The Office. I'd watched shows regularly in primetime before it, but never that many. As of the mid-2000s, the only shows I really watched in primetime were Lost and Desperate Housewives, and I didn't know a thing about how they fit in the TV industry and I didn't care. The Office was the show that made me a superfan, so much so that I started posting about it online, reading spoilers and even checking its ratings each week. To figure out what its ratings really meant, I then started trying to figure out the ratings of everything else, and then I became fascinated with that landscape. Though I still like the show a lot, and I still get kinda defensive when people simply dismiss the last few years of the show, I've sort of drifted away from Office superfandom and spread my attention across more shows. But it's probably safe to say this blog wouldn't be here today if not for The Office. I'd probably also be watching a lot less TV, so I'd likely be more active and healthier and stuff. Hmm... thanks a lot, The Office.

Anyway, Steve Carell and his character Michael Scott are leaving the show tonight. As seemingly part of the minority on the Internet that still digs the show, I'm hopeful for the future. The ratings are likely to get ugly either way, but the ensemble of this show has been so strong that I want to see what they can do without him. That said, Carell's impact has been undeniable. He's provided the sort of big, dynamic performance that has helped this show to stick out among so many other low-rated comedies of its ilk. So I'm gonna take a look at five of my own memorable Michael Scott moments. Some are really common "best episode ever" nominees, and others are less common but tie in closely with my experience watching the show. This is far from my top 5 episodes ever; in fact, I think only one (maybe two) of the eps discussed herein would make that cut. This is more of a "remembering Michael's run on The Office and my own run watching it" thing. Maybe I'll list my actual top 5 perhaps when the series finale rolls around.

  • "Basketball" - This was the first episode of The Office I ever watched, on a tiny TV in a game store with a couple friends sometime during the fall of 2006. I wasn't absolutely blown away by it or anything, but it intrigued me enough to start giving it a shot in primetime. Since the show has kept its regular cast so close to intact, there are very few character dynamics that have truly been lost in the later years, but there's one on display here: Michael and the warehouse guys. They trigger this masculinity inferiority complex in him, and watching him try to prove himself "one of the guys" is always a treat. There are plenty of great hoops moments in the office vs. warehouse game for the basketball fan in me, and this episode is also a great example of the almost unrecognizable monster Michael was in season 1. He's rude, racist and almost universally despised. Who could've imagined then that his employees would ever be singing him serenades on his way out?
  • "The Convict" - I casually kept up with The Office for much of the fall of 2006, but this was the episode that truly hooked me on the show. The main reason was the Prison Mike character. That bit was the first thing I ever saw on this show that I really wanted to watch again and again. This episode gives you some sense of what they did with Michael's... "insensitivity" in later seasons. It's still there, but it's definitely not as appalling as in season 1 episodes like "Diversity Day." It was also one of season 3's few great displays of the chemistry between John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer, so I finally felt like I'd gotten some sense of what all the Jim/Pam hubbub was about. This episode inspired me to purchase seasons 1 and 2 on iTunes, and I'd devoured them within the two weeks between this and the next episode. An obsession was born.

  • "Gay Witch Hunt" - Chronologically, this comes before "The Convict," but I saw it after. If I'd been part of the fanbase at the time, I imagine all the focus coming into this ep would've been on the Jim/Pam cliffhanger at the end of the season 2 finale, yet somehow that ends up being such a small part of what I remember about this all-time classic episode. This is another good example, like "The Convict," of Michael's "kinder, gentler" insensitivity. But I think this episode is actually a bigger deal as a Steve Carell episode than as a Michael Scott episode, because it was Carell and not the writers who came up with the kiss with Oscar. That's obviously gone on to become a hugely iconic moment for the show; it was even mentioned in last week's "9,986,000 Minutes" song. 

  • "Dinner Party" - Like "Gay Witch Hunt," this episode is frequently listed among the show's best ever. The Michael/Jan relationship was so interesting in the early seasons, and as far as I'm concerned, this episode was a more than fitting final meltdown for those two. (The show briefly brought back Jan for what ultimately amounted to an end-of-season 4 cliffhanger plus an impetus to drive Michael and Holly together, but again, as far as I'm concerned this is the better ending for those two.) This episode is perhaps the most textbook display of this show's signature brand of cringe humor. The awkwardness is palpable among the dinner party's hosts and its guests, and there's this feeling throughout that the Michael/Jan relationship is right on the verge of totally exploding. When it does, it's hilarious. I still cringe at the thought of Michael yelling, "SNIP SNAP SNIP SNAP SNIP SNAP" in front of his horrified guests.
  • "The Michael Scott Paper Company" - Like many people, I believe The Office was truly at its best during season 2 and about the first half of season 3. The only time since then that I felt the show approached that level for a run of several episodes was during this fascinating Michael Scott Paper Company arc. It was the name of an episode, but I'm referring more to the whole arc in which Michael leaves Dunder Mifflin and makes his own paper company. First there was the run-up to Michael's resignation, which shows that David Wallace (who had mostly taken from Michael and given very little back) can only push Michael so far. Then there's the team Michael assembles, which makes for an interesting exploration of the Michael/Pam and Michael/Ryan dynamics. Ultimately, it predictably all came back to roughly status quo, but it goes down as the last time the show's been as thrilling as in those first few seasons. This clip's not from the actual MSPC episode but from the arc:

More Five-Spots in the Index.

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