Ever since Greg Daniel’s started working on Parks and Recreation three or four years ago, we lost the glint in the eye of The Office; the show at that time itself was wrestling with its own nature and concept. The longevity of this show was unprecedented and Daniel’s smartly implanted a necessary difference between the original British series and its US counterpart just in case it did reach such lengths. The change started in the second season wherein key relationship differences were simply equated into one, as driven-home by the singular vision of Michael Scott: the people who work in The Office are indeed work-colleagues to each other, but also friends and in both a literal and figurative in a manner of speaking – they are family. The British version, in its few hours of life, explores a few characters but consistently keeps it grounded and naturalistic, these people are unhappy with their jobs and are stuck in middle-ocrity. A form like this can work when telling a film or a short series, such as the british The Office but not for a show embedded in American culture that even dreams of reaching syndication. The show, for all its jokes and silliness is a love story, originally of that between Tim and Dawn, then Jim and Pam and eventually Michael Scott and his friends.
What’s interesting about this friendship is that every episode until “Todd Packer” — the friendship is just assumed. The characters banter, get along and never have a big moment in their lives without one another (though what this says about the minor characters lives is arguable). Through plot-contrivances and stretches of imagination, the entire office can go to Niagara to see Jim and Pam finally tie the knot and although events such as this aren’t particularly notable for anything other than getting the cast out of the office once in a while, they provide the chance for the sometimes cartoonish characters to go outside and interact with the hopefully normal and amusing folk that entertain this slightly elevated-reality that the show has developed for itself.
In “Todd Packer” however, for the first time, or the first in a long time, the office has grouped together and had dialogue like people who have known each other for over a decade might. The cold-opening is interesting because it begins with the usual mixed bag of Dwight Schrute but quickly evolves in a much nicer and enjoyable sequence of Jim picking up on Dwight’s crazy mind and picking at it: the scene consists of Jim questioning Dwilight’s elaborate dream sequence about the end of the world. Smash cuts are used show time progressing and after hours have gone by, they are still at it… Jim, knowingly or not enjoys company of his workmate. This season two type of camaraderie extends to the episode itself as the office as an entity openly start dreading and hating Todd Packer, the incredibly minor and undeveloped buffoon of the travelling salesman, and in it’s unification of everyone it provides a real sense of community that the show has often embraced but backed down from.
Once again, this is an episode where Holly is forced to stand against, and then change opinion of, something Michael adores. (First occurring the episode prior, Threat Level Midnight). I wouldn’t mind this as a concept since its the show going back into the shows roots and mythology but it doesn’t work as effortlessly as one would want and essentially sums up Holly’s role since her reappearance: she hasn’t been so much as a character as a foil for Michael swiftly followed by a one-dimensional love-interest. The idea of Michael being with someone works, it works because it gives him happiness and a reason to live other than his support system in the office but if we had never met Holly before – we wouldn’t care. She’s altogether just been a vessel for Michael’s “Happy Ending” and that fact is incredibly annoying since what a cringe-worthy delight she initially was. Performed wonderfully by Amy Ryan too.
I like The Office, I love The Office and it’s certainly a scary thought that the current critical-darling Parks and Recreation could fall so low. I fear The Office’s main trip was its attempt at doing more episodic endeavours – once Jim and Pam were together, the office more or less lost direction. I feel that (ignoring changes behind the scenes) the show lost track of what it’s series bible said and embraced the sitcom heaven called ‘syndication’.