To be sure, there have been out-and-out duds, like last week, just as there have been diamonds in the rough, like "Garage Sale." But an episode like "Michael's Last Dundies" tries so hard to wring humor out of the audience's lasting affection for the show's prime that occasionally, in spite of itself, it succeeds.
In that respect, it reminded me a lot of "Threat Level Midnight," which was essentially a full half-hour of fan service. There was no way to watch what is (probably) the series' last Dundie award ceremony without recalling its first one, back in the halcyon days of season two. There's also no way this incarnation can quite live up to its predecessor, but as the penultimate stop on the Michael Scott Farewell Tour it was entirely appropriate, and even strangely necessary.
"The Dundies," as the second season premier, was a critical moment in the life of The Office. It showed the first instance of the staff rallying around their boss, in a "nobody insults my family but me" sort of way, and as such it marked the first separation of this show from its British counterpart, and of Michael Scott from David Brent. Unlike Brent, Michael would be a man capable of inspiring twinges of affection, no matter how inappropriate or infuriating he could be.
Over five years later, those twinges of affection would morph into a sappy, "Rent"-spoofing tribute song. It goes without saying that "suspension of disbelief" doesn't begin to cut it in such a scene. Set aside the likelihood of, for instance, someone like Stanley going this far out of his way to praise a man he's nakedly disliked and disrespected for years. (Toby, on the other hand, I totally buy; he's too much of a good-hearted doormat to do otherwise.) We're not seeing the staff of the office send off their leader so much as we're seeing the staff of The Office pay homage to the man without whom their show would have lasted six episodes.
Judged on those terms (just like "Threat Level Midnight"), the scene and the episode worked for me. The song was like a mini-clip show, with several characters recalling their bonds with Michael Scott in just the right ways (Ryan: "You helped me get off drugs;" Oscar: "I forgave you for kissing me;" Meredith: "You hit me with your car."). And Carrell played his reaction so wonderfully - finally on the receiving end of all the goofy earnestness he puts out into the world - that when he declares "This is going to hurt like a #&@*^," I can't help but agree.
The rest of the ceremony prior to that, back in the fancy restaurant, was generally uneven. There were moments I liked, like Jim's speech (and Pam's subsequent dig), and Ryan poorly masking his disappointment at having his "Hottest Employee" streak broken. But the show's signature awkward/painful moments felt like they only went halfway. Michael's costumed caricatures of Jim (with an earring?), Phyllis, and Angela were funny, but seemed to pass without comment apart from a few grimacing reaction shots.
And Pam's resentment at losing "Best Mom" to Meredith could have made for a funny rider - Pam can be tenacious when she's been slighted, and Meredith is a character designed for conflicts. That's symptomatic of the problem I feared when the Will Ferrell casting was announced - that his guest character would suck up so much screen time at the expense of the regulars.
Speaking of Deangelo Vickers, after seeming too much like a more brittle version of Michael last week, he was clearly distinguished this time. Nothing could be more diametrically opposite from Michael than crippling performance anxiety. This led to some funny bits, especially Deangelo crashing and burning in the conference room rehearsal.
But the episode went to that well once too often - again, due to wanting to maximize Ferrell's time. His character fit in better this week than last, but I still generally sympathize with Dwight's feeling that Deangelo is crowding out the veteran Dunder Mifflinites.
Filed under: The Office
Tags: Angela Kinsey, B.J. Novak, Brian Baumgartner, Craig Robinson, Creed Bratton, Ed Helms, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski, Kate Flannery, Leslie David Baker, Michael Scott, Mindy Kaling, NBC, Oscar Nunez, Paul Lieberstein, Phyllis Smith, Rainn Wilson, Steve Carrell, The Office, Will Ferrell