Friday, September 28, 2007
While it may be a little hasty to detect signs of creative rigor mortis in what is only the start of the fourth season of a consistently high-quality TV show, The Office's premiere episode of année quatre seemed too weighed down with lame jokes and low energy to jump a shark even if it wanted to. Last year--successful though it was--featured two red flags which last night were on prominent display: Where do you go once your central relationship consummates? And what do you do when your main character is an overbearing nuisance?
Regarding the first, I'm indifferent to character relationships in general (recognizing them as, you know, not real) as long as the main characters remain interesting as individuals and the supporting characters don't spend all their time orbiting around the principals. This episode used the odd effect of keeping Pam and Jim mostly on the sidelines, substituting meta-commentary--Kevin and Oscar discussing the relationship, the videotape being shown to P&J--that felt unnecessary for a show that already relies on talking-head interviews to get its points across. Keeping a relationship secret from other characters (e.g., Monica and Chandler on Friends) can be funny; coyly attempting to keep it secret from the audience is not.
As for Michael, it is clear that the writers, having backed themselves into a corner with an increasingly idiotic blabbermouth who won't shut up, have given Steve Carell a hint of purpose to go with his overextended free rein. From the opening prologue (which had an admittedly funny and shocking climax) through his faster-than-usual confession to his crackpot "race for the cure" solution (for rabies), the first episode appeared to be foreshadowing a season about Michael's long-arrested growth. But like everyone else's actions, his occurred in a void. Hopefully Ryan's move to corporate will provide more comic tension for subsequent episodes. Michael needs somebody to push against, and who will push back.