Before the American version of The Office could escape the shadow of the U.K. original and survive on its own terms, it first had to tweak how it used the Cringe-Inducing Moment. In the Ricky Gervais series, the Cringe Moment was used to underscore the point that life is mainly a series of embarrassing moments, and your relief will only come when someone else messes up so badly that everyone quits mocking you. In the U.S. version, the Cringe Moment is used to underline the point that life is sometimes embarrassing, but we’re all only human, so let’s just try to get through it together, even if we’d rather be doing something else.
It’s been a tricky balance to get right. When the writers have let the awkward, black humor part of itself go slack, we get wacky episodes where Michael Scott opens a Café Disco. When the writers have pushed the black humor too far, we get wacky episodes where Michael cuckolds some poor schlub.
“Suit Warehouse” had one of the more nicely balanced Cringe Moments in recent years. (Between Kelly’s face mugs making an appearance, a subplot reminiscent of the classic episode where Dwight hazed Ryan, and a cameo by Ben Silverman, this episode was filled with dog whistles intended to let longtime fans know the show still knows where it came from and can still do some of the old tricks.) Daryl goes to Philadelphia for an interview with the unfortunately titled Athlead. At first we get a fake-out Cringe when Daryl tries to back out, claiming that he’s just a warehouse manager. He’s talked out of it by the merciful company heads, which includes a former Home Shopping Network employee played by a former NBC executive that this website used to have quite a bit of fun with. Once he’s calmed down, Daryl nails the interview. He then decides to emphasize what a great job he did with a metaphorical flourish. But his slam dunk ends up knocking a light into an aquarium, resulting in a bunch of sad-looking, floating electrocuted fish and one heck of an “oh, noooo” face from Jim.
We get to watch Daryl stew in his humiliation for a while, but eventually Jim lets him know that despite his unusual approach to interviews, he got the job. We got the Cringe, but we also got to see that, in the end, it wasn’t so bad. (Between ruining the holiday party, getting forced to un-break-up with Val, and this embarrassment, we’ve seen a lot of flustered Daryl, which is always a funny Daryl. But now that he’s won this victory, I hope we can see a return to cool wise-ass Daryl soon.)
This show is in its final stretch of episodes, and I suspect we’re going to see a lot of the characters’ plotlines wrapped up in one way or another, with those characters that are destined to move on moving on. This show has developed such a gooey heart that I suspect everyone will more or less end up happy, or as happy as Angela could possibly be expected to be. We’ll probably learn that even Ryan ended up all right, as much as some fans might wish that he would die of a cocaine overdose. But there’s still a few bumps left before everyone gets their happy ending.
Pam decided to hitch a ride with Daryl, because it seems like Andy is never coming back. (He certainly had a lot of vacation time saved up.) At first she’s impressed by how her Gumby With Hair husband has Zuckerberg-ed up the joint. But thanks to an off-hand remark from one of the receptionists, it finally occurs to Pam that if things go well, Jim will expect her and the family to move to Philadelphia. Based on the consolation talk she gives to Daryl, and the subsequent dejected way she says, “I guess you have to move to Philly after all,” it would seem that she is not big on this idea. It’s a bit much that Pam would just now be realizing that Jim wants to move the family, but I guess the writers need to dole out the complications in this plot at a steady pace. Pam has lived in Scranton her whole life, and we’ve seen from her history that she is scared of change. And she is likely miffed, and rightly so, that her husband just assumes she would go along with it without ever sitting down and making a pitch to her as to why they should move. He’s clearly not done this, as Gumby has been rather mealymouthed about this entire thing, wanting the exciting change without having to do any of the difficult parts.
But one part of his old life he has no problem getting rid of is being the Handsome part of his and Dwight’s “Handsome & Stinky” family salesman duo. Luckily, Clark is finally back from his extended sex-cation with Jan (who makes love “like a swarm of bees — bees that just find something wrong with every hotel room”). Willing to do anything to make salesman, he goes along with Dwight’s father and son scam to land the Stone & Son suit warehouse account. Too bad he didn’t wear the suit-and-short-pants outfit. (Also, does David Wallace really send leads via instant message?)
This is one of the rare comedic setups that would truly only work in this particular season of The Office, and it works so well because Clark Duke and Rainn Wilson not only look related, but they fall into an easy “I can be more of a kiss-ass than you” rhythm with the elder Stone, which only gets better after Stone Sr. reveals that his son resents him. Clark Duke hasn’t been given a great deal to do on this show (his appearances have been so sporadic that I assume he’s more of an occasional guest star than anything), but watching him continue to suck up to Dwight even after “Dad” switches tactics and accused him of smoking a doobie in the parking lot (“Just like he taught me!”) was some truly impressive spinelessness. Following some fine father-and-son bickering and a truly gross monologue about feline fecal matter that I won’t quote from, the elder Stone reveals that it’s actually his son who is in charge of the company, and Clark steps up to make the sale and gets his “dad” to buy him a fine Italian suit in the process. But then, after his moment of victory, he has to spoil it by asking Dwight “all that really specific cat-turd business, that was about you, right?” which, perfectly understated bewilderment aside, was just a touch too cringe-inducing (and gross) for this show.
Everybody Gets Really Hyper on Coffee is one of the most stock sitcom plot premises around. Cartoons use it all the time. But I still laughed when the entire office got tweaked on the espresso machine that Clark brought as a gift. Sure, it’s a hoary and broad idea, and in real life, most people would just be really irritable after sampling eighteen different espressos instead of compelled to tear up a carpet, but it’s hard to hate any plot that leads to Kevin using Angela as a curling weight or Stanley seeming awake for once. Also, Oscar’s line to Meredith (“I apologize. I just assumed you would mispronounce it.”) might be the most Oscar thing Oscar has ever said. All this caffeine causes Erin to get super-hyper, which isn’t that much different than the way she always is. It also causes her guilt about liking Pete to go haywire. But while it’s nice to see Ellie Kemper get to shade Erin’s natural naïveté, we only have eleven or so episodes to go here, so she needs to actually do something to feel guilty about before we all get bored of this plotline.