This week and next, all the network shows will be airing their last episodes of 2008. Many will be back right away (Gossip Girl returns January 5th), others won't (Heroes comes back in February). But with a ridiculous amount of midseason shows this year (Lost and 24, to name two), all will be trying to keep viewers hooked heading into the new year. This week I'm looking at The Office and Gossip Girl.
The Office has not had its best year. It came back from the writer's strike with a slew of episodes on the wrong side of the awkward/funny scale, such as the Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf-style dinner party and the excruciating job fair. But that was all forgotten when Amy Ryan joined the cast, leading to one of the show's better finales. She brought new energy to the beginning of this season and brought out new sides of Michael, completely reinvigorating the show.
But since her departure, the show has felt, well, blah. The Business Trip episode showed more of Oscar and Andy, but that's it. Frame Toby and The Surplus were both completely forgettable. It's not that The Office has been bad. It's still perfectly pleasant to watch, and even still gets in a few laughs an episode. But I can't help feeling it might be reaching the point The Simpsons did about ten years ago, where it settled for being reliably watchable but nothing more. The Office seems to have lost interest in being a buzzy, watercooler show.
Which brings us to last night's Christmas episode. The Office has a tradition of excellent Christmas episodes, from season 3's A Benihana Christmas, one of the best episodes period, back to the British version's holiday special. All of which would lead us to expect something a bit more than the fairly typical episode that aired last night.
It certainly starts off well, with Jim gift-wrapping Dwight's desk. The Jim/Dwight dynamic, always hilarious, has been far too lacking the past few seasons. There are also some solid comedic ideas. An intervention for Meredith should have been hilarious. It provides a perfect opportunity for Michael to do what he does: take a cause and make it all about him. It was also very amusing to see Mean Phyllis come out, gleefully bossing Angela around before announcing her secret.
But for all of the good ideas, it didn't seem to work that well. The Meredith intervention was neither as uncomfortable nor as funny as it should have been. Michael may have failed in helping her, but he actually seriously tried instead of making it an opportunity to grandstand. Since no one else cared one way or the other, there was little juice to the plot. Even the Michael/Toby conflict provided nothing more than an acknowledgement of its continuance. As for Dwight and Angela, their romance was amusing enough as a C-storyline but has become far too prominent this season. For all the time it has dragged on, I just really don't care that much.
And why have Jim and Pam had nothing to do all season? I applaud the writers for trying to show a realistic couple instead of using typical TV procedures to keep them apart. This season has shown them struggling with long-distance, heading in different life paths, and getting a house together. But as real as it may be, it's not funny. And since Pam's come back from New York, all she's done is complain about a microwave and petition for new chairs. They're the heart of the show. Use them.
I do have to mention Dwight buying up all the Christmas dolls and selling them off at higher prices. Everything about it was funny, especially Toby's desperation to get one and dismay upon seeing its race. More bits like that and maybe The Office will regain its old buzz.
I've suspected for quite awhile that Bart Bass was not long for the Upper East Side. And by suspected I mean was pretty much told. The cast had been teasing a death all season, and it wasn't a leap to realize it would be Bart. Reasons: He's the oldest major character, it removes an obstacle between Rufus and Lily, it creates conflict between Chuck and Lily, and Bart's OC equivalent also died in the second season. Outside of glorified extra Vanessa and not-really-still-on-the-show-anymore The Captain, who else could it be?
But as unsurprising (and vaguely described) as Bart's death may have been, it certainly led to plenty of drama. Chuck's plunge into drunken anger brought him to whole new levels and created quite the dramatic mess for everyone else. Even when she overdoes the "We're Chuck and Blair," Blair's attempts to support Chuck against his rejections were moving. I'm totally ready to see Chuck and Lily go at each other in ways beyond the blame game for Bart's death. Also, an episode with no Vanessa and little Jenny or Nate is always a good thing.
On the other hand, I'm getting a little sick of the Roses. Cyrus gave one (or three) too many "we must be married this second" speeches, which I hope means he has some sort of illicit secret that encouraged his haste. Otherwise he was just being annoying. Aaron continues to get more boring by the episode. Though Dan wasn't much better with his wishy-washiness over Serena. As for Lily's big secret, when it gets hyped up over two episodes and causes a man's death, its revelation is bound to be a letdown. But that all she did was have a secret baby? So what? That's the go-to secret of any soap opera. There better be some extra twist there if it's to be worth all that build-up.