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The Office Recap: ‘I Can’t Be Your Monkey’

THE OFFICE -- "Moving On" Episode 917 -- Pictured: (l-r) John Krasinski as Jim Halpert, Ben Silverman as Isaac, Jenna Fischer as Pam Halpert

The best hour-long episodes of The Office involve two separate main stories that flow together organically, with one leading in to the other like a bad office party leading to a night at Benihana. The less successful hour-longs just kind of merge two episodes in an arbitrary fashion. "Moving On" was something of a different breed: It felt like a half-hour story that had been stretched to fill an hour. It's well known among fans that the director's cut of every episode of The Office comes in about ten minutes longer than what airs; you can usually find the deleted scenes at NBC.com. Now, I have no idea what really happened and maybe it was just a matter of a loosey-goosey script, but this certainly felt like NBC asked for another hour-long episode after it became clear that 1600 Penn wasn't getting it done, and the producers threw in every cut scene and came up with a quick Toby plot just to make it work.

About the Toby plot: His obsessing over the Scranton Strangler became Toby's weird go-to-gag for several years once him longing for Pam or getting ignored by everyone else got old. It was a nice bit, but it didn't need to culminate in him actually visiting the Scranton Strangler, as funny as the sight of him nodding in pain was. Perhaps I'm just mad that my theory that Gabe was the Strangler didn't work out, or maybe I'm just annoyed that this show seems determined to make Nellie and Toby a thing before this series wraps up.

But while each of the three main plots were stretched out too much (Pam's job interview would have been twice as funny if it had been half as long), each were strong enough at their core and pushed the overall arcs along enough to keep this episode from being a complete mess.

"Is she moving on a little fast or am I being a total psycho?" asks Andy, and clearly the answer is psycho. Total psycho. But hey, it's not a bad look for him. This is the best Ed Helms has been on the show in forever. After ignoring Erin for months, Andy can't deal with the fact that she dumped him and moved on. Clearly, the man only wants what he can't have. His Brozone meeting with Clarker Posey and Plop doesn't make him feel any better. And no, Zero Clark Thirty, he can't just enjoy the single life. ("I ordered pizza by myself and ate it over the sink like a rat." It took Ed Helms a while before he was allowed to be as deadpan as everyone else on this show, but I'm glad he's there now.) Eventually Andy can't help himself and sneaks a peek at Erin's phone. Should have used Gchat, Erin. This one's partly on you.

Judging by, uh, how hot things have gotten with Erin and Pete ("I saw Pete's butt. It's sick." I'm glad the writers are no longer writing her like a naive child), those texts were probably pretty upsetting for Andy. (Daryl can understand. Same thing happened to his ex-wife when she went through his e-mail.) He now knows that the reason Erin doesn't seem upset, other than the fact that she had months to fall out of love with him for his selfish behavior, is because she's dating some guy named Pete. The good news for Pete is that Andy has been calling him Plop so long he doesn't know his real name. The bad news is that apparently he puts his name on his lunch bag. The shot where Andy pulls the bag out of the fridge and looks in the camera while Pete, in the background, slinks below his monitor was totally worth whatever it took to bring Jon Favreau in.

Andy can't deal with Erin leaving him. He can't fire Pete over a grudge. He's lucky he didn't get fired. (It's a shame we never saw David Wallace go off on Michael Scott the way he went off in this episode. Who knew Andy Buckley could get mean like that?) And he damn sure isn't going to let Pete and Erin tell him to let it go and move on. Looking angrier than we've ever seen him (even when he learned his fiancée was cheating on him or Nellie stole his office), Andy snarls that sometimes life offers lemons and "you gotta eat 'em, rinds and all. If you don't want to eat them your ex-girlfriend will shove them down your throat with the help of her hunky new boyfriend. So that's fun."

Pete has largely been a cypher in this series. We know that he likes Die Hard and is nice to Erin. We learned a little bit more about him here: he wanted to be a physical education teacher in college, he drank a lot, and he likes all kinds of music. But more important, we learned a little more about the type of man he is. He isn't afraid to stand up to his boss and tell him to quite acting so immaturely.

But he tipped his hand too much when he told Andy he's still Facebook friends with his ex-girlfriend from college, a marketing consultant named Alice. Whom Andy petulantly but hilariously immediately hires. (Wallace is going to love that.) But that's not the only ex he hired, as Erin quickly realized. Her look of total, complete dread was amazing, and completely appropriate. Yep, freaking Gabe is back. (Wallace is really going to love that.) I always thought this character was a one-joke cartoon weirdo, and I too thought his voice sounded like the squawk of an ugly pelican. Though to his credit Zach Woods always committed to the lunacy. He capably played Gabe as so oblivious to his horrendousness it almost made him as innocent as Erin, and hating a character designed to be hatable is, I guess, the ultimate compliment.  Gabe was back on his creep grind from the moment he appeared ("hey, beautiful") and immediately demanded Erin touch his warm pumpkin of a butt.

By the end of the episode, Erin and Pete are sparring with their exes while Andy looks on with malevolent glee. "Does making Erin and Pete feel bad make me feel better? Yeah, yeah. It does," he says with a wide grin. This show will probably push Andy to some sort of redemption before May 16, but I doubt it will be as fun as this heel turn. Andy never worked as the center of this show, but all of a sudden he's making a great villain.

Dwight and Angela's story was simple, but effective. Big City Dwight needs her to help him clean his Aunt Shirley and her flaps. The plot was overall probably designed to get Dwight and Angela in a story again after keeping them apart for a while, but I think the real reason was for the sight of Angela Kinsey struggling to hold a fire hose. Eventually Angela tames and cleans Aunt Shirley ("loose braids reflect a loose character") while Dwight looks on, pleased.

As they are leaving, Dwight kisses her and suggests they take things back to the slaughterhouse. He even calls her monkey, for old times' sake. But she resists. "I can't be your monkey, Dwight." He digs deep, and says something he should have said a while ago: "We have wasted too much of our lives ignoring the fact that we belong together. In the 80 or 90 years that I have left in this life, I want to spend with you."

Sure, this is very obviously a case of the writers setting these two up to walk off in the sunset together, but Rainn Wilson and Kinsey played this so strongly that I didn't mind that we've gone around and around with these two a million times before. I especially liked the look of stubborn respect he gave her when she said she couldn't betray the Senator like that, though I smell an Oscar and Dwight team coming soon.

Pam's story line suffered the most from the lengthy running time. The main idea was solid enough: Pam interviews for a job in Philadelphia with a Michael Scott doppelgänger played by the immortal Bob "Saul Goodman" Odenkirk, who clumsily drops 5 million different pop culture references within a minute of meeting her. At least he's nicer than the boss he used to play on How I Met Your Mother. After years of working with Scott, she knows how to placate him (she raised her hands and said "it was upside down" when he pretended he couldn't read her résumé), but ultimately realized that after almost a decade she couldn't regress to the person she used to be. Especially if that meant taking a job that was "like a receptionist, but we call you an office manager because it's less demeaning."

It was an amusing bit of The Office parodying itself, and perhaps slightly winking that they've been guilty of trying to clone Michael Scott for a while now. But while it was the point of his character, the near-constant parade of pop-culture references ("Don't hire Jamie Foxx to kill me. Django!") became tiring after a while, and I felt like a poor sap who refused to chillax on time. But to Odenkirk's credit he was completely game to play a total schmuck. (Unlike his Mr. Show cohort, Odenkirk doesn't have the bad habit of acting like he's too cool all the time.)

At the end of the episode, Pam joins Jim for a dinner that was meant to be a celebration until she tells him she didn't get the job, and she's not sure she even wants a Philadelphia job. Pam tells Jim, "I liked our life in Scranton."

"And I have started a business in Philadelphia," he replies.

They finish the meal in silence. It's to the writers credit that they took their time building this story piece by piece, and despite whatever mistakes Jim might have made, neither character truly seems to be in the wrong, even as the gap between them grows. Things just aren't getting better for these two. But according to the last shot of the episode, they can soon look forward to the premiere of "The Office: An American Workplace. Ten years in the making, a look at the lives and loves of an average American small business office." Hopefully they'll still be together by May.

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC