A review of last night's "The Office" Christmas episode - featuring the welcome return of Amy Ryan as Holly - coming up just as soon as I go to a picnic run by the comptroller's wife...
Christmas episodes at "The Office" tend to be memorable affairs in seasons both good and bad, and they also tend to come in different flavors. Season two's "Christmas Party" climaxed with the excruciatingly awkward Yankee Swap scene, but also had the sweetness of Jim's gift and the wildness of Meredith flashing Michael. Season three's "Benihana Christmas" was a sillier affair, memorable for Michael using a marker to identify the Benihana waitress who was his date, but also for the brief but glorious Pam/Karen team-up. Season five's "Moroccan Christmas" had several marvelous bits of physical comedy in Meredith's hair lighting on fire and then Michael trying to force Meredith into the rehab center, while last year's "Secret Santa" was a weird affair highlighted by Michael as a passive-aggressive Jesus. Some worked better than others, but all four stand out among the episodes and moments I imagine I'll first think of whenever I think back on "The Office."
This hasn't been a particularly strong season for the show (with last week's episode a notable exception), but "Classy Christmas" was yet another standout holiday episode, which decided its take on the holiday was going to be absolute, utter darkness.
Holly returns, but other than her introductory scene's reminder that she and Michael are soul mates(*), it wasn't at all the glorious reunion Michael had hoped for. Holly's still with AJ, still insistent that her brief relationship with Michael wasn't the big deal he and we have made it out to be, and she gets genuinely angry at seeing her filthy, discarded Woody doll.
(*) I could honestly watch an entire episode that was nothing but Steve Carell and Amy Ryan throwing random movie references and accents at each other while others watched.
Jim's impulsive decision to peg Dwight with a snowball - and, more specifically, his refusal to apologize for it - backfires on him bigtime when Dwight plots a relentless campaign of revenge that's equal parts physical and psychological terror.
Darryl's joy at having his daughter for Christmas turns into despair when he learns she'd rather be with her mom, and his attempt to dazzle her with Michael's kid-unfriendly "classy Christmas" party seems doomed to failure.
I liked the darkness. I like it when "The Office" aims for something non-comic, so long as it takes its characters seriously, which it did here. Even if we all assume that Holly is going to break up with AJ and walk off with Michael into the sunset, it shouldn't be easy for him, and it will feel so much sweeter if/when they get together because her return started off in such a bad place.
Even within the context of the episode, you can see that dynamic at work. Because Darryl's story has so much early despair, the fairly simple resolution - that Jada is dazzled by the vending machines Darryl takes for granted, and gets abundant joy simply from buying one of everything and handing it out to the staff - feels much more resonant than if it had been a goof from the start. And because Michael is feeling so hopeless about Holly, the little tidbits he learns - that she's planning an ultimatum to AJ, and that she lies to AJ about what happened to Woody - are enough of a Christmas present for now.
And as for Jim and Dwight... wow. Mindy Kaling (who wrote the script, which was wonderfully directed by Rainn Wilson in his second time behind the director's chair on the show) has an evil, evil mind, and it was simultaneously refreshing, hilarious, scary and fascinating to see a storyline in which Dwight's triumph is so cruel and absolute. No, the penalty doesn't fit the crime, even if Jim probably should have apologized, but John Krasinski played Jim's growing panic and misery so, so well(**), the variety of Dwight's schemes (the mini-catapult, the Pam wig) was impressive, topped by that amazing horror movie-style scene with all the snowmen in the parking lot.
(**) As we saw in last year's episode where Jim found out Michael was sleeping with Pam's mom, and again in the birth episode, Krasinski's actually kind of fantastic at playing a panicked, utterly non-snarky Jim. It's a well the writers can't go to that often, but it's always fun when they do.
Not a ton of laugh-out-loud moments in this one, but absolutely worth of "The Office" Christmas tradition.
Some other thoughts:
• Though the writers have kind of lost the thread with Erin this year, I did enjoy her being a surrogate for the audience members who don't see what the big deal is about Holly. And it also fit in with the idea that she views Michael as a surrogate dad, and would therefore be suspicious of any potential new stepmother.
• Oscar's gaydar pinging on Angela's boyfriend? At first I thought he was reading too much into it, but HRG did, indeed, turn to check out Ryan's butt.
• Pam's comic book was a fantastic gift for Jim, and I'm glad they played his reaction as such.
• One of the nice things about these hour-long episodes is that they give everyone in the sprawling ensemble something to do. Toby's trying to leverage his presence on the Scranton Strangler jury to become more popular, Stanley is in turn envious of people on jury duty ("To sit in an air-conditioned room, downtown, judging people while my lunch is paid for?"), Creed remembers Holly as "One sassy black lady," Gabe is obsessed with the idea of giving everyone a blanket, Kevin (who already has reason to not like Holly due to her thinking he was retarded) is bitter that Holly ate most of the maple candy, etc.
• Speaking of misremembering, interesting that Holly recalls Jim and Dwight as being best friends when she was at the branch. At first I wondered if "Customer Survey," where the two of them team up to find out who was plotting against them, happened on her watch, but that was actually the first episode after Holly went to Nashua. Perhaps that's the first seed being planted in the "Holly doesn't remember her time in Scranton as well as we do, and will slowly remember just how crazy she was for Michael" tree?
What did everybody else think?
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