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The Office Recap: 9,986,000 Minutes

[Spoiler alert: This recap is going to end with us declaring this the best episode of the season. And it was written by Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the second best, “Classy Christmas.”] Award season is upon Scranton — time for the annual Dundies and the official passing of the mike from one host to another. On their way to deliver the nominations, Deangelo expressed anxiety over both the job and the process. “Is this an employee of ours?” he asked as Michael egged Toby’s house. And, upon approaching Meredith’s weather-beaten one-story, “This reminds me of Katrina.” A Katrina joke and a 9/11 reference in the same episode? Strangely bold, slightly awkward, but mostly effective. The unease in his voice kept him from sounding insensitive, which made us feel okay about laughing.

Last week, some commenters objected to Will Ferrell’s character, saying he was inconsistent. While we didn’t think that was the case then, we tend to agree now. Would someone who openly dissed a baby and laughed at a co-worker’s physical pain really endure the Dundies? He could have said it was stupid and called it a day. Thankfully, though, he didn’t, and the ceremony ended up being the perfect preamble to Michael’s good-bye.

At the office, Erin’s enthusiasm for the evening was adorable. Also, Michael assuming Larry King died? Classic. And Ryan attacking Pam for comparing breadsticks to crack — well, that just needed to happen: “I love when people say ‘like crack.’ They’ve obviously never done crack.” He advised her to stick to “her world” by likening breadsticks to scrapbooking. He’s awesome at being an asshole. There should be a Dundie for that. But the Dundies aren’t mean-spirited like the Golden Globes (Gervais-burn!).

Michael showed unusual patience with Deangelo while warming up for the big event — can’t you imagine him snapping at Dwight for similar comedy fails? In fact, this entire episode, you could almost see Steve Carell slowly stepping out of the Michael Scott costume and behaving like a departing cast member rather than a fully present character, which isn’t a criticism.

Anyway, Deangelo bombed his fake banter with Jim by asking him where he was on September 11. Have you ever watched an improv skit go off the rails because someone mentioned Nazis? People tend to go to dark places when they choke. One would have thought that Michael would be pleased his replacement couldn’t hold a candle to him. Instead, his instruction came across as affectionate and brotherly — hell, everyone’s going soft at this point, with only a few scenes left together.

Making fun of award ceremonies, unlike award ceremonies themselves, never really gets old even if the target is a little too easy. The prerecorded montage, Jim’s acceptance speech chiding Cece for staying up too late, Meredith pulling an Adrien Brody and kissing Michael — it went over so well, there’s almost nothing to say, except: How did Meredith win the award for Best Mom?! And after her walk of shame earlier in the day. Clearly, it was her turn. She was probably overlooked once for Most Promiscuous or Best Drunk. And that wasn’t nearly as big of an upset as Ryan losing Hottest in the Office, but we’ve said it before: Timothy Olyphant is that rare dude even straight men have a crush on.

Meanwhile, the B-plots coalesced seamlessly. During Erin’s speech for Cutest Redhead, she finally broke it off with Gabe (harsh — thank God for the keyboard crickets). And a still-seething Dwight literally trashed his award for Promising Assistant Manager. Eventually, the ceremony was cut short by the restaurant manager after Kevin, whose “special” act has really started to grate, colored on the linen tablecloth and Deangelo vomited in the bathroom. A sullen Michael: “I was hoping it would be like Godfather III and wrap up the whole franchise in an extremely satisfying way.”

It wasn’t until the ride back to the office that Michael picked up on Dwight’s frustration, which Dwight offloaded onto the Dundies: “The jokes are terrible, the fashion was boring.” But enough, we’re sure this will be addressed next week. Dwight couldn’t have tolerated the next scene anyway.

So, in the conference room, Andy accepted the award for Doobie Pothead Stoner of the Year, and when he turned to say, “We all actually want to thank you, Michael,” it looked as if the silliness could set in. Now, depending on how you feel about Rent and whether or not you still have the soundtrack on your iPod or a signed Playbill at home, the opening notes of “Seasons of Love” might not have put your heart in a vise grip. The tears might not have immediately flowed like they do when two sentimental pop-cultural moments collide. But nothing felt more appropriate for a sap like Michael. When he said, “Something is happening” — aw, Michael always loved it when something happened. Look, we’re already talking about him in the past tense.

Let’s reprint the replacement lyrics here: “9,986,000 minutes / We actually sat down and did the math / 9,986,000 minutes / That’s how many minutes that you worked here / In costumes / And impressions / In meetings and cups of coffee / In birthdays / More meetings / And e-mail forwards that you made us read / 9,986,000 minutes / That’s like watching Die Hard 80,000 times / ” — (nice!) — “You hit me with your car / You helped me get off drugs / I watch you in your sleep /” — (Creed, upstaging everyone) — “I forgive you for kissing me.” Finally, in place of “remember the love” is “remember to caallll.” Not to be too technical, but there should have been handclaps for the final chorus. Too much? At least everyone stood. And Deangelo, emerging from his stage fright, really stuck the landing.

It got us. This episode effectively ends the Kaling vs. Carell debate that started a few months ago — they’re both essential. A Rent gag has her fingerprints all over it: goofy, populist, nostalgic. And it really worked its magic on a teary Michael, who responded, “This is going to hurt like a motherfucker.” Or maybe that was just Steve Carell talking.

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC