Not to get too ahead of ourselves, but how will The Office recover from losing Amy Ryan? The Oscar-nominated and beloved former Wire star has only, well, four episodes left as the daffily cheesy HR rep Holly Flax, and we already miss her. (Only Ryan could make us dread the return of the once-perfect deadpan, sad-sack Charlie Brown that is Toby.) Ryan’s unexpectedly screwball — she’s got a little Carol Burnett in her — but, more crucially, she’s brilliant at furiously sketching in an imaginary backstory on the fly without breaking a sweat.
During last night’s episode, she mentions that she was an unpopular but “ethical” hall monitor in high school, obsessing over the slightest misdemeanor. Putting it lightly, this is not something that jibes with her character; it’s actually a cheapish way to drive a (brief) wedge between her and Michael. But Ryan’s so good at shifting gears that you don’t even notice the shorthand.
Thus, the scene in which Holly tells Michael the worst thing he could possibly hear — “It’s not a family, it’s a workplace” — has legitimate impact that it might not have necessarily deserved. (Steve Carell’s straight-faced implosion was perfect too; his quietly hurt reaction shots are always a bit more fun than his conference-room stand-up acts — though “Let’s Get Ethical” with headbands was an inspired touch.) In just three episodes, Carell and Ryan have created an empathetic couple that’ll be depressing to see inevitably part. That takes most shows, and most actors, years.
Meanwhile, Meredith gets her first-ever singular focus, nobody really cares about Jim and Pam’s engagement, and there’s a fun old-school Jim prank on Dwight. Perhaps most noteworthy? Other than the first scene in which she’s talking on speaker phone, there’s no Pam. As interesting as her New York story line might turn out to be, she’s missed. (Her absence might have contributed to the episode’s somewhat disposable feel.) Oh, and readers of Emily Nussbaum’s outstanding story in this week’s issue about integrated sponsorships in network programming will appreciate the episode’s last line, as the whole staff chows down on free Outback Steakhouse: “Keep those ribs coming!” Check, please!