Smile Politely

Hot or Not: Last Week’s The Office

As predicted, last week was a good week for TV.

Last Sunday’s NFL play-off games sent the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years. The new episode of Top Chef included a dark whispery reality show love scene that caused me to shield my eyes and throw up in my mouth. Massive amounts of Inaugural coverage made me realize how much I actively dislike Wolf Blitzer. (I actually watched the Inauguration in a high school library on the old Channel One TVs with about 90 mostly quiet teenagers and many other random school employees, including the principal and some lunchroom ladies. … It was a moment, for sure.) Speaking of Channel One and CNN, I’m not so fond of Anderson Cooper, either. And I don’t really like Larry King! Begs the question why I automatically turn on CNN for my big news needs. Hmmm.

Regardless, the season premiere of Lost was expertly rehashed by my Smile Politely cohort Adam Fein, and American Idol is back on! (I’m not ashamed, I will be referring to American Idol in these pages until a new American Idol is crowned in June or whenever. So much new stuff to watch, but it was last week’s episode of The Office that stuck with me. Not only was it one of those great ensemble episodes where every character got a chance to shine, it was also an epically funny-sad commentary on working, on the economy, on the ethics of doing business in America and on the question of Hillary Swank’s hotness.

Right off the bat, let me say that I like the American version of The Office better than the British original. I don’t know if that’s a hugely controversial statement among TV nerds anymore, as the American Office has proven that it’s obviously just plain good. I loved Ricky Gervais, truly I did, but more seasons, excellent acting and a nicer brand of humor have allowed Steve Carell and crew to create a show that I think holds up among the greatest on TV. Michael Scott’s eff-ups are still horrible, mean, uncomfortable and squirmy, just like Gervais’ David Brent, but the redemption is just a bit more merciful. I’m sorry! I’m American! I need mercy in my humor! Still, they’re both great shows, and if you watch The Office now and haven’t seen the BBC version, then I’m sure you’ve heard the following a million times: “What is wrong with you? You really need to get on that!”

Regarding this week’s masterful episode: getting Michael and Dwight out of the office on a ridiculous quest works every time. This time they’re given the task of collecting intel on a small private paper company a few towns away, and they take this quest very seriously, needling and feeding off each other like only Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson can. When Dwight postulates that the owner of Prince Family Paper might have a beautiful daughter they will have to seduce in order to get the company secrets, Michael insists that he will be doing the seducing.

Dwight: You’ll fall in love with her.

Michael: Yeah, so what if I did. That would take precedence, and I would expect your support.

The Prince Family ends up being totally nice, naively giving up their top client list and business info to Michael, pretending to be a local business owner. (“Laughter is my job. Tears are my game. Law is my profession.”) They even help fix Michael’s car. All that niceness makes Michael feel extra guilty about running them out of business. Dwight, of course, has no such compunction.

Everyone else stayed at the office pondering that gut thing known as hotness. (I’ll admit, this storyline was not extremely merciful, because Hillary Swank is pretty hot, and if you are saying that Hillary Swank is not hot, then you are saying that I’m not hot, because obviously, I am not as hot as Hillary Swank.) With the office’s opinion split evenly on the hotness of Hillary Swank, they stage a trial, with every employee giving impassioned depositions. Kelly ran from the room, screaming the prior parenthetical aside (and I agree with her). Kevin was confused and disheartened by Boys Don’t Cry. Oscar explained the scientific theories behind facial symmetry that can make or break one’s hotness. (“Yes, she’s attractive, but she’s not hot.”) I totally loved seeing who fell on either side of the argument — I really thought that Toby would’ve fallen in the hot category — and it allowed each ensemble character to have a moment, which always adds greatness to this already great show.

In the end, sadness accrues and business goes on. Michael realizes he’s not a shark, but he ends up calling corporate with the information, and Prince Family Paper will most likely be run out of business. Mercifully, though, he also breaks the Hillary Swank stalemate. (Oh, she’s hot.)

There’s more new stuff to watch this week, too, and we cap it all off with Superbowl Sunday. And my new New Year’s resolution is to avoid Wolf Blitzer at all costs.

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