This show’s supporting characters have always been one of its major charms. Whether it’s Toby’s haplessness, Stanley’s crustiness, or Creed’s creeping sadism, they populate the background with flavor and color without overly intruding on the foreground; they have their moments and otherwise stay out of the way. This time — oddly for the Christmas episode, which is usually momentous — two understudies, Meredith and Phyllis, get their chance in the spotlight. Unfortunately, neither they nor the show comes out ahead.
The main plot involves Meredith drunkenly setting her hair on fire and Michael — the one serving her all the drinks — performing an intervention, then forcibly driving her to a rehab center. This recipe for classic Office awkwardness doesn’t quite work — it feels kind of wrong and weird, even if the image of Michael dragging Meredith by her arms across the floor into the waiting room sounded funny. Everyone seemed to be trying too hard. Maybe an intervention scene just can’t be funny. Unless, of course, it’s on The Sopranos and ends with everyone punching each other.
Even more bothersome was the subplot: Phyllis, using her knowledge of Angela’s affair with Dwight, blackmailing Angela into doing menial chores for the holiday party. Phyllis is the nicest person in the office, but she has a steely reserve, one the show has used to great effect. But things cross the line when Phyllis, in a fit of pique, tells everyone about the affair, stunning them all into silence. (Everyone except for Dwight, of course, who smiles smugly.) This over-the-top behavior is highly unusual for Phyllis, and she doesn’t even get the quiet comeuppance characters usually receive when they do something actively mean. Her character was sacrificed at the altar of the plot, the Andy-Angela-Dwight triangle. In any case, the half-girl, half-unicorn, the hot holiday gift of the season, was borderline genius. “My horn can pierce the sky!” Yeah, we want one.