Television

'The Office' Finally Faces Reality

Well, it finally happened. After a few seasons of steadily escalating lunacy, The Office got hit with a faceful of cold, hard reality last night.

Not that it's not fun to watch Michael literally prancing around the office dressed in a Willy Wonka costume (as happened last week) or Dwight taking it upon himself to destroy a $1200 baby stroller that doesn't belong to him in the interest of testing its structural integrity (as happened in the repeat that preceded last night's episode).

But last night's episode was, in many respects, a long time coming. There's only so far a show that purports to shine a light on the mundanity of modern work can take its wackiness before it flies completely off the handle. With the introduction of new Dunder-Mifflin VP Charles Minor (played with no-nonsense focus by The Wire's Idris Elba), the show addressed the elephant in the room by saying, "This is how this sort of behavior would actually be received."

Most notably, of course, there was Michael finally coming face-to-face with an authority figure who refused to indulge his obsequiousness (to both his superiors and his underlings) one iota. Unlike corporate head David Wallace, who has made a habit of cleaning up Michael's messes while still attempting to humor his desperate need to be loved, Minor had no compunctions putting Michael in his place.

Jim's very bad day, and why this may be one of the most important episodes in the show's history, after the jump...

Among the issues Minor faced? The party commemorating Michael's fifteenth anniversary with the company. Considering Michael's fundamental need to be celebrated, Minor's cancellation of the event — which also cleanly and forcefully eviscerated the vicious politics of the Party Planning Committee, Gordian Knot-style, thus ending countless unproductive hours of cake-buying and decoration-hanging — was more offensive to Michael than anything that pertained to how he ran his office.

And Michael's fed-up reaction to being patronized yet again by Wallace (who offered to pay for the party out of his own pocket after unsuccessfully ducking Michael for the umpteenth time) rang truer than just about anything Michael has ever done: he quit.

Jim, meanwhile, had a bad, bad day. Dressed in exaggerated obedience to Dwight's proposed office dress code, he used the authority of his tuxedo to offer terrible suggestions to Michael for his own amusement. (To be fair, though, he probably would have offered them even in his standard attire.) Unfortunately, he chose to do this on the day that a visitor who could cost him his job was watching, and Jim was mortified by the realization that his standard behavior, which had previously gone unpunished, could suddenly have actual career implications.

Does all of this sound like a bummer? It wasn't. The Office has always thrived on discomfort as a key component of its humor (albeit less so than its British counterpart), and the episode provided many deeply squirmy laughs while setting up future episodes for even squirmier ones.

It may, in fact, have been one of the most important episodes of the entire series, acting as a corrective to the show's increasing flirtations with ridiculousness. The characters of The Office have lived in a bubble for long enough. It's about time they get to deal with the consequences of their actions. We can't simply roll our eyes and say, "Oh, Michael" forever.

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