The Office, “Stress Relief”

Before I get to the review, I gotta point this out.  In the scene with the Red Cross training, when Michael reflects on being a quadruple amputee and how he thinks he would prefer to die, that joke is a direct lift from David Brent’s motivational speech in the original UK Office. The US Office also used the motivational speech set-up from that UK episode in the Season 3 episode “Business School,” when Michael lectures to Ryan’s class.  This isn’t a put-down; I like when the show pays homages to the source material. Below is the scene from the UK version, episode review after the jump.

I read a bunch of mixed reviews of this one, and I concede some of the points but the funny parts were just too funny for me to really care.

For example, I’ll concede that the bootleg movie subplot felt disjointed from the episode as a whole. I didn’t really have any problems with the Pam & Jim B-plot on its own, but it seems like they added the cameo-packed faux film just to pad that plotline with more jokes.  Even with this added bit, the funniest part of that storyline was the beat where Jim says he could’ve told Pam that half of marriages end in divorce so it was either her parents or his, and immediately gives a very Michael-esque apologetic look like, “Nope, I didn’t just say that on camera.” As the PB&J plot got more emotive, the movie gag wore thin instead of getting funnier, and for the movie plot to be worth it, the opposite should be true.

Disjointed is the term most often thrown at hour-long Office episodes, and sometimes it’s more earned than others.  The tricky thing is, these episodes are not structured like a traditional hour-long script.  Because they are always split for syndication, these hour-longs generally have a thread to tie both halves together, but are written with a distinct shift in narrative momentum when the episode hits halftime.

In this case, the thread that tied the whole show together was Stanley, having a heart attack in the teaser and providing the emotional catharsis in the final scene. But Stanley’s stress is just the episode’s MacGuffin; the active character before halftime is Dwight, who it seems to me has gotten more stubborn and arrogant about all of his idiosyncracies since the final conclusion of his affair with Angela. Some people don’t like it when The Office gets too over the top, and the Red Cross seminar definitely did that, but for me it was totally worth it when Dwight wore the CPR dummy’s face like Hannibal Lecter.

After that, though, Dwight drop sfrom the A-plot to the C-plot. For the rest of the show he’s hunting signatures, while the MacGuffin, Stanley’s stress, becomes Michael’s problem because he’s the one giving the whole office agita.  The Michael Scott Roast as an A-plot is classic, and a brilliant set-up for the show to highlight its core premise in the post-Superbowl episode. Everybody’s preparation for the roast; the roast itself; Michael’s inept attempt to feed pigeons and reflect; Michael’s redemptive roast: the whole thing is gold.  Between the opening scene of the night (the cat being thrown through the ceiling), Dwight’s first-half antics, and the roast plot, I easily coasted past any parts that others may have found draggy.

The different plots bob and weave and thread together in a way far less fluid than most shorter episodes, but the episode still gets high marks from me because despite the plot swapping, it was one of the strongest hour-longs the show’s done.  The Office is on a roll these days; 30 Rock‘s arc with Jon Hamm from Mad Men better bring it or Dunder-Mifflin’s gonna take back the crown.

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