Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Office: #24 -- "The Deposition"

24) "The Deposition"
Season 4, Episode 12
Every Thursday during the final season of The Office, I'll be counting down the best episodes of the series' previous eight seasons. Follow me on Twitter @StiglitzMovies to see my thoughts on the ninth and final season. 

Pre-Title Sequence:

Pam explains that Michael once received a message while he was in a meeting and told Pam that he’d call them back. Since then, Michael has always wanted to relive that moment, so he tells Pam to interrupt him whenever he’s in a meeting with a note so he can say, “I’ll call them right back.” Pam explains that he doesn’t get that many calls, so we get a montage of her bringing Michael random messages on post-it notes (my favorite being the little impressed look Jan gives the camera) until we see the plan backfire when Michael is in a meeting with super jerkass, VP Ryan, and when he tells Pam he’ll call the fake person back (this time in the guise of hot dog saying “hi buddy”), Ryan insists he takes the call. Cold Opens often have nothing to do with the main storyline and feel like little bits the writers pitch and love but struggle to find a place for, and this was a perfect example of one those amusing bits. 


Act 1:

The A-story concerns Michael having to memorize his lines for a deposition concerning Jan’s lawsuit against Dunder-Mifflin. It’s a low-key storyline involving Michael that begins with the typical will-he-won’t-he make a fool of himself when he’s asked to act a certain way or say a certain thing in front of a group of people. In this case, it’s the people Michael most seeks approval from: corporate. During the deposition, it comes to light that even though Michael does say everything Jan has coached him to say, he can’t resist letting slip that the two had relations prior to their signing a consent form with the company. The first act ends with a great moment of Michael trying to get out of an uncomfortable situation by asking Jan for his “line.”

The B-story is a lightweight one but one of my favorites: Jim and Darryl play ping pong in the warehouse while Kelly talks trash (or smack, as she explains in a hilarious talking head) to Pam about how horrible Jim is. So, she sets up a makeshift table in the conference room and recruits Kevin (whose “oh, awesome!” reaction always makes me laugh) and Dwight (more on that later) to help Jim get good enough to beat Darryl (and ultimately shut up Kelly). Short, sweet, and the kind of small storyline that doesn’t detract from the A-story that The Office was so good at telling.

Act 2:

Jan reveals that she has brought along Michael’s diary as a backup plan to prove that even though they kissed and went to Jamaica together, Michael states in his diary that Jane made it clear that their time together did not mean they were in a relationship. Michael feels betrayed by Jan that she would so willingly reveal his private thoughts. Copies of the diary are distributed to everyone sitting in on the deposition and leads to everyone reading Michael’s thoughts about Jan, and more embarrassingly, Ryan – who the lawyers mistake as another woman (which results in a laugh from Toby that is one of Paul Lieberstein’s best moments on the show). Corporate tries to convince Michael, through Jan’s old performance reviews on him, that she lacks character and good judgment. This sets-up the ultimate dilemma for Michael: keep going along with Jan or agree with corporate that her lawsuit holds no ground.

Over in the B-story Jim continues practicing ping pong so he can beat Darryl. Dwight gets suspicious of all the people going in and out of the conference room (we only see Kevin and Meredith) and inquires to what is actually going on. When Jim sees Dwight enter, he quickly gives him a cover story (I love the way Krasinski delivers the line, “Dwight! Thank god you’re here.”) about needing to practice because one of their biggest clients is a ping pong master, and he has to play him tomorrow and win or he may lose the account. It’s the perfect kind of prank that is harmless enough (I always enjoy the pranks that draw Dwight into Jim’s time-wasting). Jim is shocked to see that Dwight is really good at ping pong. Dwight then explains in a talking head that all of his favorite athletes are table tennis champions, and he lists a series of names that, if I had to guess knowing these writers, are probably real table tennis champions.

Act 3:

The episode ends with Jan’s lawyers and Dunder-Mifflin’s legal team trying to appeal to Michael to blame one over the other. What finally does it for Michael is when the stenographer reads back CFO David Wallace’s deposition. In what should be a triumphant moment for Jan and Michael due to what Wallace has said (that Michael was never a serious contender for the corporate job, but that he’s a “nice guy”) in his deposition, it turns into a rare moment of lucidity for Michael as ultimately sides with corporate because Jan had brought the diary when he didn’t think it was necessary (and without his knowledge). At episode’s end, he has one of those great Michael moments when he says that “you expect to get screwed over by your company…you don’t expect to get screwed by your girlfriend.”  The last time we see Jan and Michael is in the car on their way back to Scranton. It’s one of those brilliant, melancholy endings The Office was so good at doing as the two debate about where to eat. Jan wants Chinese. Michael wants something cheaper to save money. I love Jan’s exasperated response: “That was my cheap suggestion. Chinese was my cheap suggestion.” So sad yet so funny (especially within the context of the episode that follows, “Dinner Party,” but we’ll get to that one eventually).

The B-story ends with Jim trying to impress Pam with his “spin serve” and Dwight nonchalantly smashing it back for a point (while he’s checking his cell phone). Pam yells at Jim that he’ll never beat Darryl if he doesn’t get better, and at this point Dwight leaves in disgust as he tells Jim, “No, no, no dumbass. Darryl works here.” Brilliant. Jim and Darryl eventually play again but not before Kelly partakes in more trash talk (again, after she specifically stated in her talking head that she’s all about the smack talk); it isn’t long before Pam has had enough and the two begin playing to see whose boyfriend is better. However, the two can’t get past the P-I-N-G stage to see who serves first. While the two struggle to get their game going, Jim calmly looks over to Darryl and asks if he wants to go play on the table upstairs.


Mose! Anytime Mose (series writer Michael Schur) shows up, I’m happy. The stinger is one of the greats: Dwight and Mose (and a little help from CGI, I’m assuming) playing ping pong at rapid speed in the warehouse. A short, wordless stinger that never fails to make me chuckle.

Favorite Joke: The stenographer deadpanning the read-back of Michael’s “that’s what she said.”

Favorite Moment: Two moments of un-strained, nonchalant acting: Michael calmly knocking Toby’s tray off the table in the cafeteria; the other is Dwight’s simultaneous texting and ping pong playing.

Favorite Michael Scott Line: It was toss-up between Michael’s bizarre memorization tricks and his delivery of the line, “line.” I prefer the opening scene in Jan’s car, though, because of this: “my friend in-a-pro drives a Prius with his be-hind neighbor.” (I also love Melora Hardin’s response, “does that actually work?”)

Favorite Non-Michael Scott Line: Jim’s response to Dwight being really good at ping pong: “The hell, Dwight!”

Favorite “Aw, shucks” Moment: We almost get one when Michael has nowhere to sit in the cafeteria at Dunder Mifflin (seemingly everyone is reading the copies of his diary), so he sits with Toby. Toby begins to tell him about when he was a kid and had to choose between which of his parents he would live with. It seems like the scene is heading down an “aw shucks” type path (especially considering Michael grew up in a similar situation) where Toby and Michael can finally connect through having gone through similar situations, but instead Michael just calmly knocks Toby’s tray full of food off the table.  I love Michael’s irrational hatred of Toby.

Favorite Talking Head: The Dwight talking head where he runs down a list of his heroes who all happen to be table tennis champions.

Favorite Conference Room Joke: The only one that really works here is when Pam sets up the ping pong table in the conference room. So even though I’m tempted to go with “not applicable,” I will choose Dwight’s awesome reaction finding out that Jim was practicing for Darryl – and then thinking that instead of Jim just goofing around, he really did think that Jim was selling paper to Darryl.

Final Thoughts:

“The Deposition” was the last episode for what ended up being the longest strike-affected hiatus of any show on TV (Carell and others refused to cross the WGA picket line to make the show). Had it been the season’s final episode, the melancholy tone along with Michael’s sort-of epiphany at the end would have made for a pretty good season finale. Luckily, the season wasn’t truncated and continued to deliver some great episodes (especially the follow up to this episode) that furthered the evolution of Michael (he becomes a lot more aware of his place within the company and where he stands with Jan) as a man-child who becomes more cognizant of the world around him. I go back to the ending with Michael and Jan in the car, and it’s easy to see the seeds that the writers were planting for the rest of the series in terms of the fragile relationship between Jan and Michael. Michael is happily aloof as long as Jan keeps her augmented breasts (her “courageous” augmentation, as Michael puts it during the deposition) as we saw earlier in this season fours “Money.” 

It’s also episodes like this that made it easier and easier to put up with Michael’s ridiculousness (at times) because we see that deep down, he’s just a man that wants to be liked. His final conversation with David Wallace where he says, “hey, David, I think you’re nice, too” says it all. It’s all at once sad (and kind of pathetic) and optimistic in that all Michael heard out of Wallace’s deposition – which essentially said that Michael was fine where he was but would never be given more responsibility – was that David thought he was nice. Promotions aren’t that big of a deal to Michael – all he wants is to be respected by his boss. This again plants the seeds for what is the shows greatest story arc, The Michael Scott Paper Company, as Michael feeling like he’s not being respected (compensation is never the catalyst for Michael), quits his job (trust me, we’ll talk about those episodes later).

“The Deposition” was also a great reminder of why television shows don’t need to keep romantic interests separated in order for them to be interesting. Alan Sepinwall constantly wrote in his reviews during the first three seasons of The Office that the age-old Unresolved Sexual Tension (UST) angle has killed the interest of so many characters in so many shows. He states that Cheers got it right (as did News Radio) as proof that a show could quickly put two main characters together in a romantic relationship and still find plenty of comedic situations to mine from them being together. However, most showrunners think that in order to keep people coming back to their show, they have to keep characters apart for excruciating amounts of time (How I Met Your Mother has been using this gimmick for far too long now). 

Luckily, the writers of The Office quickly (by most standards) got Jim and Pam together by the end of season three. They struggled a bit with how to deal with their relationship (and then struggled some more when they decided they needed to split them up again by her going off to art school), but this middle part of season four was a great example of Jim and Pam as a couple and still being charming and interesting and sweet. Their ping pong subplot in this episode reminded me of their season two, time-wasting charms in “Office Olympics” (I just wish we could have seen the matches Jim had with Kevin and Meredith). In the “The Deposition,” they aren’t coming off as smarmy which they often did in later episodes (I’ll never forget the episode where they showed up drunk to work), and it’s a nice reminder of just how great (and central to the show’s successes) John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer were. The melancholy tome of the A-story melded with the light-hearted wackiness of the B-story is the kind of storytelling The Office pulled off so effortlessly on a regular basis and made it so much fun to watch.


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