Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Wedding Party (The Office: Season 6)

In this season's premiere of The Office, Jim and Pam's efforts to conceal the latter's pregnancy are inevitably quashed, and hypersensitive Michael expresses hurty feelings that they didn't let him in on it. "You're right," Pam deadpanned. "We forgot that this is equally about you." A good zinger about Michael's narcissism, yet she was more right than she realized. I've written before about how this comedy series embodies David Milch's philosophy of community better than any show this side of Deadwood. The current sixth season is taking even further the notion of collective identity and adding to it the struggle for individuality. To put it another way: Can an office relationship truly be only about the couple involved?

The latest episode, "Niagara" (Parts I and II) explored this in the context of Jim and Pam's much anticipated wedding, with family, friends and colleagues joining them in Niagara Falls. "I like cheesy," Pam admitted in last year's buoyant "Cafe Disco"; and the wedding episode conveyed The Office's deep affection for American kitschiness without condescending to it. As Jim and Pam, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer communicate a low-key radiance. (Krasinski's reaction to the news of Pam's pregnancy in last season's finale is his finest moment as an actor.) Distinct as individuals, believable as a couple, their relationship has remained compelling by ditching the boilerplate on-again/off-again TV template in favor of building comic tension out of whether they can build a life together while surrounded by nutcases.

These nutcases continue to form the best ensemble on television. Most shows are lucky to create one memorable character; The Office features around fifteen. Each of them were given indelible moments in "Niagara," but my favorite was the uproarious opening teaser, when Pam's morning sickness is via gag-reflex communally shared. It's miraculous that these moments of surrealism, exaggeration and caricature coexist easily within the documentary naturalism. It probably helps that Steve Carell and the writers have finally gotten a firm handle on Michael, the character who walks the line between these shifts in tone.

Of course Michael finds a way to insert himself into the ceremony. What makes him more tolerable and touching these days is his ego now makes room to include everyone. One of the first indicators of this was in "Cafe Disco," when the employees at the Scranton branch let go of their hostilities and got jiggy with it; and dancing is key again here when Michael along with Jim's jokester brothers decide to reenact the famous You Tube video of the wedding party dancing down the aisle. Paul Feig, the director of "Niagara," has a gift for musical interludes (in episodes like "Cleveland" from 30 Rock and "Discos and Dragons" from Freaks and Geeks), and his cross-cutting between the shenanigans at the church and Jim and Pam's surreptitious nuptials on the cruise ship is a transcendent sequence, joyous and unspeakably moving. "You do one for them, and then one for you," Martin Scorsese once said. He was talking about the art of filmmaking, the compromises between the professional and the personal. The Office embraces this compromise as part of the art of life.

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