Friday, June 28, 2013

Week 6 of "My 25 Favourite Episodes of TV"

We have arrived at one of my most favourite entries on this big list of favourites. Much like the "South Park" episode I wrote about a couple weeks back, I can't imagine this one will ever get old for me. You might even say that if we were playing "desert island," this would be one of my five episodes. (I would of course still agonize over the other four slots, though.)

After the break: Write down your guess as to how much of the episode's dialogue is transcribed below. Closest to the full percentage point wins a jar of jellybeans.

The Office, "The Injury"
First aired on NBC Thursday, January 12, 2006

“ forgot your bumper!” – Jim Halpert

I’ve tried all week to come up with a better, one-sentence review of this episode than the one I did, but I failed, so here it is: it will astound me until the day I die how much this episode just kinda happens.

So what does that sentence actually mean? Well once upon a time, a writer named Mindy Kaling wondered what would happen if Steve Carell stepped on a George Foreman grill. On a Thursday night in early January 2006, NBC used its 9:30 half-hour to show just that. And it is without question one of the funniest TV half hours of the decade.

Strangely enough, though, this episode barely caught my attention the first time I watched it. It happens more often than I ever would have thought that episodes of TV that end up becoming my favourites often don’t really faze me in the first viewing. In this case, I’m actually not completely shocked, because “The Injury” might be the most unremarkable thing that has ever aired on network television. In this case, unremarkable is not a criticism of quality, but rather a commentary on the fact that, as I wrote above, this episode just kind of happened. I still can’t think of a better way to say that. There are no big booming plots for a 30 second promo. No developments in the show’s significant couple. In fact, this episode was randomly aired between two episodes that dealt head on with salesman Jim’s forbidden crush on receptionist Pam: “Booze Cruise,” which aired on January 5, and that episode’s spiritual sequel “The Secret,” which aired on January 19.

As “The Office” started to dip in quality in its later seasons, with more manic stories and sitcom rhythms, I often used to say about the show, “Remember when episodes would end because it was the end of the work day?” And seriously, this episode barely even has an ending. I watched through the show’s first three seasons on DVD in the summer of 2007 but later downloaded the episodes on iTunes, and I was absolutely certain the ending of this one had been cut off. In less than about 40 seconds, Pam peeks her head over the cubicle wall separating reception from accounting to tell Oscar that Dwight’s going to be fine (she’s really using Oscar as a proxy to relay the information to Angela, who Pam knows is Dwight’s secret girlfriend). We cut back to Michael and Dwight in the hospital – Dwight is going in for a CAT scan, Michael tries to put his burnt foot in the machine, and a doctor tells him to stop. Cut to black. While it is incredibly sad to think how far the show eventually fell, it is incredibly amazing to think about how much NBC was really letting them get away with back then.

On that same note, oh how this episode is filled with classic, hilarious, cringe worthy Michael Scott moments. Yet they are delightful because we know Michael is trying to do the right thing (a problem the show mostly fixed between the first and second seasons), as opposed to when you just want to die inside watching Michael keep derailing his improv class’ comedy scenes by holding them hostage as Agent Michael Scarn, in “Email Surveillance”. The very first, almost chaotic-for-its-era scene of the episode is Michael calling the office and begging for someone to come “rescue him,” as Pam puts it to Dwight. After wailing for a few minutes, Jim finally puts the phone on speaker so the entire office can hear Michael’s plight. This leads to embarrassing revelations like Michael’s morning routine of laying out strips of bacon on his Foreman grill before bed, waking up to plug in the grill, and then “waking up to the smell of crackling bacon,” as well as the fact that Michael can’t call the girlfriend he claimed to have gone out with the weekend before because “that was all made up.” (Cue embarrassed reaction from Meredith, of all people.)

Later on, Michael tries to teach everyone that disabled people deserve to be treated as equals. But because it’s Michael, he’s more trying to teach the office that disabled people require our pity. He invites Billy Merchant, the properties manager of their business park, to come in and “talk about his struggles” such as how long it takes to brush his teeth in the morning (Billy: “I don’t know, like 30 seconds?” Michael: “Oh my god...that’s three times as long as it takes me.” Thanks for that gross visual, Mindy Kaling!) When Billy realizes why Michael has invited him to speak – it’s not to remind the Dunder Mifflin employees not to block the freight entrances with their cars, even if you have your blinkers on – he gets one of the episode’s best lines when he simply says, “You know what Michael, let me just stop you right there – and leave.” Actually, Jim gets an even better line with his reaction to all of his boss’ insensitivities during that scene: in a talking head interview, he tells the documentarians, “I want to clamp Michael’s face in a George Foreman grill.”

Lines like that would have probably seemed just a tad too harsh in the first season, and “The Injury” marks a real point of clarification in regards to the dynamic of the office – both in how these people operate with each other and how they have adjusted to the presence of the camera crew. If it wasn’t firmly established before, this episode absolutely nails down the idea that everyone in the office views Michael as an overgrown child, with the reasonable Jim and Pam acting as his surrogate parents. Jenna Fischer wonderfully delivers some very backhanded motherly lines about how Michael should take aspirin because he “seems a little fussy” – when was the last time anyone over the age of five was referred to as fussy? Fischer and Steve Carell also knock the following exchange of dialogue out of the park:

(Michael, laid up in the conference room and yelling out “Paaaaam” while dragging one of his crutches across the blinds, calls Pam at reception; she picks up the phone)
Pam: What?
Michael: Come here...
Pam: Tell me before I come there.
Michael: I want you to rub butter on my foot.
Pam: No.
Michael: Pam, please? I have Country Crock.
Pam: No.

(He thinks Pam will reconsider if she knows it’s Country Crock. THIS EPISODE.)

Pam hangs up the phone and Michael immediately goes back to dragging his crutch across the blinds, this time calling out for Ryan’s help instead. Ryan passively aggressively “helps” Michael through the day by expressing shock that he couldn’t get the fresh yams Michael asked for at the gas station where he bought his boss pudding cups. This also leads to Michael claiming that “Ryan brought me some pudding and his kindness healed my foot,” and Ryan explaining to the camera crew that he ground four extra-strength aspirin into the pudding, just as he does to get his dog to take heartworm medicine. Hmm – maybe Michael should actually feel lucky that some people only view him a child, which is still a human being with opposable thumbs.

We could have probably locked it in back in 2010 or so, but the saga of Michael’s cooked foot remains the funniest half hour “The Office” ever produced. Considering it’s one of my all time favourite shows, there was no way “The Injury” wasn’t going to make this list. You know what, let me just stop myself right here – and leave.

Actually, I’m not leaving yet – you better believe I have “random other things I found funny” up the butt for this one:

- The ten-second shot of Dwight, in his concussed state, simply typing his name repeatedly in all caps as the name of an untitled folder on his computer

- Jim, at the hospital filling out forms: “Dwight, what’s your middle name?” Dwight: “Danger.”

- The episode opens with a quick few seconds of generic office life, which includes Oscar explaining to someone off-screen (I think Jim) that when watched back-to-back, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is long, but good. Because Angela Kinsey didn’t know she could be seen in the back of the shot, we see an out-of-character moment where Brian Baumgartner does a funny dance and she laughs, hitting him on the shoulder with a file folder

- Michael, shoving his bubble wrapped foot in Stanley’s face after the office claims he is not handicapped: “What does this look like to you, Stanley?!” Stanley: “Mailboxes Etc.”

- For his presentation on "respect for the handicapped", Michael has printed out pictures of famous disabled people and posted them on the conference room wall. Jim and Ryan ask why Tom Hanks is on the wall twice. Michael explains that he was mentally handicapped in “Forrest Gump,” and played a character with AIDS in “Philadelphia,” even though, as Kelly points out, the supposed “Philadelphia” picture is clearly the scene from “Big” where Hanks and Robert Loggia play “Heart and Soul” on the giant piano at FAO Schwarz

- Billy Merchant was late to the presentation because “somebody parked in the handicapped space.” Cut to Michael looking mortified

- Billy: “What’s wrong with that guy?” Jim: “You mean today? He stepped on a George Foreman grill and he burned his foot.”

- Pretty much everything about the scene where Jim, with Michael riding shotgun, is driving Dwight to the hospital in Meredith’s minivan. Dwight finds a bottle of alcohol under the seat and Jim uses the spray bottle he’s been using to keep Dwight from falling asleep to get him to put it back, and later on Michael for fighting with Dwight about it. Michael: “Give me the bottle or you’re fired!” Dwight: “You can’t fire me, I don’t work in this van!”

- Pam and Dwight, BFFs: (I don't mean to marginalize this part of the episode into "after thoughts," because it's amazing. I just think it fits better down here.) Pam ended up trading the much-coveted video iPod she received in the office’s Yankee Swap game during the Christmas party to Dwight for the teapot that Jim had originally bought for her. Her fiancĂ©e Roy, who was initially thrilled that he didn’t have to buy her one himself and could now just buy her “a sweater or something,” apparently cheaped out on that promise and got Pam something called a “Prism Duro Sport,” which Dwight says is “like an iPod but better because it’s chunkier and more solid.” He also knows a Russian website where songs can be downloaded for just two cents apiece. In his concussed, pleasant state, he initially jokes to Pam that all the songs are in Russian, and then calls her “Pan”. Later, he gives her a protective cover for the MP3 player and Pam is thrilled with how friendly he’s suddenly become. (Jim: “Do you think Dwight’s being a little weird today?” Pam: “No. He’s actually been really nice and helpful.” Jim: “And that isn’t weird?”) Which of course brings us to:

- Jim: “So I guess Pam and Dwight are friends now.” Pam: “Oh God no, Dwight isn’t my friend.” (long pause...) “Oh my God, Dwight’s kind of my friend!”

- Pam: “Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam.” Jim: “Dunder Mifflin, this is Jim.” I can be pretty cold-hearted, but come on, that’s cute

Next week: Former millionaires shoot for the moon, only to crash and burn.