‘The Office’ Curbs Our Enthusiasm

The Office

Dinner Party
Season 4 Episode 9

There aren’t many of us out here, but some souls actually prefer the American Office to the original British version. We’re a self-conscious sort; we’re the ones defensive enough to feel like we have to keep comparing this version to Ricky Gervais’ four seasons in, long past the time the rest of the world has accepted that they’re two different shows and moved on.

We tends to be saps: The reason we enjoy the American version more is because it’s sweeter, lighter on its feet. Deep down, these are nice people; flawed, ego-driven people, yes, but ones who ultimately mean well. We revel in the surreal touches — the Schrutes’ playing Olympic-level Ping-Pong, Andy’s floating downriver wearing a sumo-wrestling costume — but it’s all tethered to a planet Earth on which social mores exist. Larry David does not live in Scranton.

Which is why last night’s episode, in which Michael and Jan host the world’s most excruciating dinner party, felt oddly tone-deaf to the show’s appeal. It is one thing for Michael to, offhand, mumble, “I’m in hell. I’m hurting. Help me.” It is quite another for the police to come after Jan and Michael scream at each other, Judy Davis and Sydney Pollack Husbands And Wives style, with Dundies being thrown against the wall. There was just so much yelling. The episode tried to skirt that line between tragedy and mild discomfort but kept crossing it. At certain points, it felt like you were watching a couple’s-therapy session that desperately needed a therapist … or, more accurately, a ringside cut man.

It might be time to lose Jan’s character. Her shrill fragility once disguised a woman who never quite understood that what works in the boardroom doesn’t always work in the bedroom; now she’s just become a monster, and not a particularly believable one. And she’s turning the selfish but ultimately sympathetic Michael into an emblem of cuckolded rage; we need to like Michael, despite himself. And right now, we don’t. —Will Leitch

‘The Office’ Curbs Our Enthusiasm