“Jump to the right and you shake that hand / Jump to the left and you shake that hand / You meet new friends / Tie that yarn / And that’s how you do the Scarn.”
So admittedly this song got stuck in our heads for about ten minutes, but that was probably the only thing about last night’s episode that qualified as memorable. We found ourselves so thoroughly unamused that we wonder what we might have missed — and we trust you to tell us.
Some of you might recall waaayyy back in season two when Pam found a script for Michael’s movie, Threat Level Midnight. We didn’t. We Googled. After eleven years of work, the film is finally ready for the big screen, i.e., the Dunder Mifflin conference room, which seemed like a gift not to Steve Carell but rather to Michael Scott on the eve of his still unannounced departure. Apparently, this was his lifelong dream. “It’s your dream? You never even mentioned it before,” said Holly. Exactly. It’s not clear why this needed to happen. Sure, the chance to make a referential spoof must have chuffed up smart-aleck-y writer B.J. Novak (who scripted this episode), but what do you get when you let a buffoon who was inspired by Woody Allen (but only by Antz, which he didn’t even like as much as A Bug’s Life) direct a movie? An awful movie. And not in a good way.
We’ll forgo the usual recap style seeing as this type of episode doesn’t really demand it. Instead, let’s talk about some of the great details. For starters: Toby being cast as an animal rapist and having his head blown off by Michael. Theirs is a rivalry that will truly be missed. Then, there was Andy as the trusty working-class bartender and Creed as the sensei/mentor/spiritual guide Cherokee Jack whose unorthodox training methods lead to greatness (kind of). There was the training montage itself, though that was more noteworthy for its acknowledgment of the cliché than for the scene itself. Also: The ill-fitting Billy Joel theme music presumably chosen for its title, “Running on Ice,” the Dave Barry page-a-day calendar, Stanley’s Morgan Freeman–style narration (later revealed to be Michael), and Michael ineffectively bobbling his head to make it look like he was driving recklessly. And, of course, Scarn’s character, whose chief accomplishment seems to be preventing all-star games from blowing up until the day he failed to rescue the WNBA (which earned both a “ha” and a “hey!”). Last but not least, there was the office, past and present.
But what wasted potential! The thrill of Threat Level Midnight was seeing Jan, Karen, Todd Packer, Roy, and possibly Ryan’s hobbit friend from New York, but those turned out to be cameos for cameos’ sake. There was no nuance to their roles and so no sense of nostalgia as, scene by scene, Michael cycled through the people who populated different periods of his life. Karen and Jim, Pam and Ray — those relationships were the source of so much earlier drama. We didn’t understand the point of bringing those actors back just to squander them as random characters. Also, we found it hard to believe that Kelly didn’t demand a speaking part. She was practically overlooked as a hostage.
Basically, the problem here was that the episode was cute, not smart. It was Bourne, Bond, Bauer, Bruce, and maybe a little John Woo, but so what? Those are just references and this definitely wasn’t Hot Fuzz–level parody. It fit Michael — the childish, wacky version more than the lovable goofball — but it didn’t need the amount of screen time it got.
The tension, if you could call it that, came when Holly clearly didn’t appreciate the film. And that was a little unusual, given their shared sensibilities. She struggled to find a compliment and settled on something about how nice it must have been for everyone to work together, which didn’t satisfy Michael at all: “This isn’t like Ocean’s Eleven where you get together with all your friends and you just have fun and you don’t care how it turns out.” It isn’t? On a serious note, he continued: “If I don’t have this, what do I have? Nothing.” From this, we understand how important this project was, which Pam already intuited when she instructed the staff to be supportive; that everyone obliged her was kind of surprising. But, hey, eleven years is a long time. The man earned some respect.
Again, though, while Michael’s ambition was interesting and his disappointment reasonable, the significance of this film seemed very sudden. Our sense was that The Office was saying, “Boom! Guess what? We’re going to give you Threat Level Midnight!!!” And our response was: Wait, what’s that again?