Last week's episode of The Office was the best this season. I liked the wedding episode, but the "mafia" episode was a real dud. There were a lot of people out there screaming about shark-jumping, which I thought was premature. Besides, you can't even claim a show jumped the shark at a certain point until at least a half-season has gone by: the phrase is about the overall effect, not immediate bitching about something that pissed you off. There's a new phrase for that: "nuking the fridge." That's when you idiotically whine about how a series that features Nazis being melted by the power of God, a man surviving a fall from a plane in a raft, a guy having his heart ripped out of his chest and continuing to live, and a man simply walking off a gunshot wound after drinking from the Holy Grail is suddenly unrealistic because a guy survives a nuclear blast inside of a lead-lined refrigerator.
OK, them's fightin' words! Well, not really, but I do disagree with some of this, so here are my points of contention with My Right Honorable Friend.
While I haven't opined that The Office has engaged in shark-jumping, I've wondered if it might be getting close to doing so, because for me, the show's best moments -- and there have been so, so many -- have all been grounded in a strong sense of believability. We've all known bosses who are like Michael Scott: amiable, and even good at their original position, but utterly inept at management and who only succeed by virtue of the good people they have under them. We've all known managers who stay employed almost inexplicably: "How can the higher-ups not see this stuff going on?!" Michael is that boss, and The Office has followed the tried-and-true comedy strategy of taking something very familiar and simply dialing up the intensity just enough to allow for absurdity.
The problem, for me, is that the absurdity has usually been still believable on some level. The least successful episodes have all involved incidents in which Michael, or someone else, did something that I'm pretty confident would get them fired in nearly any real-life workplace. I remember a few seasons back when the Scranton office got flooded with the just-relocated members of the now-closed Stanford branch, and Michael outed one of the new people as a felon and humiliated another who was extremely fat. Or the episode where Michael "outed" Oscar as gay. Those episodes left bad tastes in my mouth, because things just wouldn't return to normal after incidents like that, unless we're talking about a very poorly run company indeed.
My problem this year is that so far it feels like the air of plausibility around The Office is feeling strained. Michael and Jim as co-managers? I've never seen any kind of co-manager scenario, except in a couple of cases where one manager was being transferred out but his "effective" date at the new place wasn't for a week or two. Long-term co-managers? I don't see how any workplace would try this.
Likewise, Jim and Pam in the same office. I have never heard of a workplace where this is allowed: a person allowed to work in an office where their spouse is their direct superior. This has already reared its ugly head on the show, in an episode where Michael and Jim had to decide which employees got raises and which didn't. That kind of thing is a giant can of worms, and each week it goes on, I find it hurts the believability of the show.
My biggest problem with the show's direction right now, though, isn't about plausibility but about character. Dwight Schrute is one of the show's signature creations, but so far this year, especially with the promotion of Jim, I fear that the writers are going too far with Dwight. They're perilously close to making him not a very odd and paranoid character, but an outright malevolent one. I found the sadistic glee Dwight showed in bugging Jim's office almost out-of-character.
However, I could still be wrong. It could be that the writers are setting up some storylines here. I hope so.
(On SamuraiFrog's "nuking the fridge" comment, I do object there on the grounds that with the exception of the liferaft-from-the-airplane thing, the Indiana Jones moments he cites are all instances of something literally magical happening in the movies. Sure, I can accept the power of God melting the Nazis, because that's the power of God. Sure, I can accept a sacrificial victim still living after his heart's been plucked out, because that's the power of the evil sorcerer-priest. Ditto the Hole Grail. There is no magic at work in the fridge-nuking, which is why that scene doesn't work. It's the same with the airplane jump: there's nothing magical going on there, so all we have to go on in terms of plausibility is our own experience. Suspension of disbelief is a hard thing to get a handle on, sometimes.)