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The Office Recap: I Do Think That I Could Surprise You

THE OFFICE -- "The Boat" Episode 907 -- Pictured: (l-r) Josh Groban as Walter Jr, Ed Helms as Andy Bernard

A live action version of The Simpsons would be a terrible idea. Just terrible. But if Hollywood demands it be so, then Brian Baumgartner is the clear choice to play Homer Simpson. Like Homer, Baumgartner's character Kevin Malone vacillates between a bit slow on the uptake to close enough to mentally handicapped that even Holly Flax was fooled. This inconsistency seems like a lazy way for the writers to always make sure there's a joke handy, but Baumgartner is so committed to the wide-eyed simpleton that he can almost always score a laugh.

Office showrunner and former Simpsons writer Greg Daniels recently pitched a pilot to ABC that will star Baumgartner, and damned if this episode didn't seem designed to demonstrate his range. Now, he didn't get to use his real voice or imply that his character could speak more than 50 words or whatever, but Baumgartner did get to hit notes of sweetness, frustration, and emotional confusion that normally get written for the topliners. That this was the single funniest episode of the show since Steve Carell left is proof of how underutilized The Office’s deep bench has been recently.

In the cold open Oscar takes the camera crew aside to ask them to please keep the entire schtupping Angela's husband thing to themselves. Kevin overhears, and is so shocked he drops his ice cream cone. Which he hilariously kneels down to pick up, still slack-jawed. (Someone didn't get the memo that the five-second rule thing is bogus.) Equally as hilarious was Oscar's precisely pained "why?"

The first hint that this was going to be a special episode was that the cold open was actually related to the episode's plot, which almost never happens, and that said main plot would revolve around the secondary characters, which also almost never happens. Angela, Kevin, Toby, Oscar, and the rest mostly exist to give the five (or so) top-billed actors someone to bounce off of, be it to create a frustration to annoy Jim or Pam or to look on disapprovingly at whatever Michael or Dwight are doing. They sometimes get to have a secondary plot line, but this is the rare time that the episode's main story revolved around a character like Kevin, and this is the first season where a secondary character, in this case Oscar, gets an ongoing plot line. Hey, it's the last season. Might as well, right?

Oscar begs Kevin to keep it silent. The look of fear and need on Oscar Martinez's face, especially when he says that he might be in love for "possibly the first time" (Poor Gil) was the sort of nuance these actors don't get to do very often, which is a shame. Someone get Martinez a development deal as well. Kevin, seemingly touched and concerned for his friend, says he will do his best to keep it a secret. "I really want to. Whatever happens, always remember that." But what can he be expected to do when Angela is saying things like The Senator is "pushing back as hard as he can" against his campaign rival but is so exhausted that last night he just "wanted a little Mexican brought in."

At one point Oscar is so nervous he tries to frame Kevin, but then changes his mind and rescinds his claims to Toby, who is still hung up on the Scranton Strangler case. By the time The Senator visits, Oscar is so racked with guilt that he freaks out at the merest pat on the shoulder. At this point, even Angela can tell something's wrong. Fortunately, Kevin saves the day by getting the office to give Senator Lipton a round of applause before his "election next week." (Thanks a lot, Sandy/NBC programming department.) This would seem to be one of those cases where Kevin is uncharacteristically competent and quick on his feet, but it turns out that he simply "forgot about the affair for a minute." He then proceeded to laugh hysterically for a minute, deservedly so, as this plot line is amazingly tense, and leading to what could be very well be one of the most awkward moments in this show's history. Or, as the episode's star said, "Yeah, Oscar's in big trouble."

What made this episode so great was that not only did every plot line work (rare for any episode of this show at this point), but every moment positively sang. (Rare even in its prime.) Andy's story picks up from where we left off, with his family in ruins. Andy's dad has run away with some floozy, leaving everyone penniless and kicked in the Nards. Fortunately, Andy is "crushing it" in between oddly efficient crying jags.

Andy's deep blue blood family is one of the more underutilized elements on the show. We can see how it turned him into the needy alpha dog he is today, but we've rarely gotten to truly see what damage his status-obsessed upbringing had on him. (And at the risk of being a backseat show runner, it also seems like an episode where Andy's family gets snooty about Erin and then gets its comeuppance would have been a can't-miss.) This episode fills in those blanks in an unexpected way. We learn that Andy always wanted to sail the family's boat, the Aspire II, but his dad would never let him do it. Now he's the head of the family and can sail the damn boat if he wants to, but he has to sell it to keep the family afloat.

When Erin's melon teeth fail to cheer him up and he rejects the offer of cupcakes at the Steamtown Mall, she eventually gets him to decide to visit the boat for one more quick sail before it's over. When they arrive Andy is menaced by the captain, played by an actor who probably answered an ad for a "Rob Huebel Type" hired to sail the boat to its new owners. The Captain coldly smacks Andy's hands away every time he tries to raise the sails, and eventually the misplaced anger boils over into a "fuck you Dad." An exasperated Ed Helms is always the funniest Ed Helms.

Once he's simmered down and had a nice picnic, Andy decides he'll sail the boat himself to the new owners in the Bahamas/BermudaWhatever. For his first mate, he picks his brother Walter Jr., fresh from rehab and getting that first relapse out of the way. (He's very thankful that Andy helped him out with that tricky stuck door.) By the end of the episode Andy's spirits are lifted and he's already jamming with his bro on his special chords. Which is great and all, unless you're an increasingly exasperated girlfriend that thought the idea of a three week long sailing trip (I guess Andy didn't learn his lesson from his last impromptu trip) sounded romantic and fun. Instead she's going to Poor Richards with Jake, which is probably a bad idea. Nothing good ever happens at that place. Again, I don't want to armchair show run here, but I hope something happens with these two while they're there. A guilty Erin trying to hide a secret would be a new twist on the character's ever-buoyant energy for Ellie Kemper to play with.

The final storyline was your standard Jim Pranks Dwight deal, in which Jim convinces Dwight that he's doing an on-air interview with a local business talk show. (He actually was going to do one, but it got cancelled.) But what set this apart was that this was the rare prank where we got to see several people conspire with Jim to pull it off, which is just fun to watch. I was especially fond of whatever accent Pam was going for. (Also, I guess she isn't mad at Jim this week?) Nellie attacks Dwight with faux gotcha journalism questions, but although he swears "they're not going to gotche me" it isn't long before he's believing that he's caused a massive stock meltdown and that CEO David Wallace has taken the mailman hostage. This plot line escalated to lunacy around the time Nellie convinced Dwight he had to take his shirt off so the microphone wouldn't catch the sound of his buttons, and stayed there until Dwight called Wallace, the show's most rational character and thus the ultimate foil. "I'm going to ask you to not call me on my cell anymore."

This was the funniest episode in a while and a high point in what is shaping up to be a surprisingly strong season overall. Much like Kevin, The Office still has some surprises in it.

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC