Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Office: #23 -- "A Benihana Christmas"

23) "A Benihana Christmas"
Season 3, Episode 10

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. Below are links to previous entries in this retrospective.

Pre-Title Sequence:

Dwight brings in a dead goose declaring it a “Christmas miracle.” Toby’s reaction (“Dwight, we’ve talked about this…”) is great, and I’m always a fan of Dwight when he’s trying to do something nice for the office but remains socially inept as he’s completely unaware of how ridiculous (or in this case, kind of disgusting) his nice gesture comes across as.

Act 1:

Because this was the first jumbo-sized episode (“Casino Night” was more of an extended episode, not a full hour long), “A Benihana Christmas” has the space for two A-stories. In these stories, Carol (played by Carell’s wife Nancy Walls) breaks up with Michael (always bad news for the office when Michael is sad) after he does a totally Michael thing: photoshops himself into a picture of Carol’s family, swapping her ex-husband’s face for his own. In typical Michael fashion, he’s so giddy about his relationship with Carol that he oversteps boundaries even further by trying to settle Carol down by inviting her to an “all inclusive” trip to Sandals Resort in Jamaica (I love when Carell holds up the tickets and so giddily sings Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise.” Carol doesn’t know what to think of this and decides to break up with him. A bummed-out Michael announces that Christmas is canceled and spends the rest of the day moping around the office. In the second A-story, Pam and Karen decide to form their own party planning committee which naturally rifles Angela. Pam and Karen create a fun party with margaritas and karaoke while Angela’s theme is “A Nutcracker Christmas.” In what I guess could be called a C-story, Toby has his Dunder-Mifflin Christmas present (a robe) taken away because the office were shorted one robe; Toby’s reaction to Dwight taking his robe is one of my all-time favorite Toby moments.

Act 2:

Michael mopes around the office (in one of my favorite moments, he lays behind Pam’s desk and tells her that Carol and him did things in bed that were “foreign and scary”) until Dwight tells him he needs to get rid of all the things that remind him of her (one of my favorite jokes is when Dwight flips through Michael’s condo agreement and explains that Carol was really good at her job and saved him over $2,000 – of course Dwight would be impressed by this). Meanwhile, Andy – still on Michael’s good side since this has only been the third episode after Stamford and Scranton merged – explains that Michael needs some “bro” time and suggests they go get something to eat. Michael wants to go to Hooters, of course, but Andy suggests Benihanas (“Asian Hooters”). Meanwhile, Jim intervenes (he’s now the office number two) in the rivaling parties by creating his own committee: the committee to determine the validity of other committees (which results in my favorite Dwight moment of the episode when he tries to get on Jim’s validity committee and is disappointed when Jim denies his request; Dwight is at his best when he seriously takes Jim’s obvious shenanigans). Jim says that the new party stays, and so the office is torn (especially Kevin in a great talking head where he talks about the opportunity cost of double fudge brownies at Angela’s party). Finally, Toby continues his envy of other people’s robes when he sees Kevin in the breakroom and pats him on the back, keeping his hand on his back just a tad too long. It’s another great piece of acting by Lieberstein.

Act 3:

Michael, Andy, Jim, and Dwight go to Benihanas. Dwight gets separated from the group and has to sit at the end of the table (resulting in many funny gags – my favorite being when Dwight explains how to correctly butcher a goose). Michael and Andy come back with two of the waitresses. As the parties get going, Angela “invites” (threatens) people to her party at the same time that Pam and Karen open their party up to everyone. In a really funny moment, Stanley, of all people, is the one that breaks the ice by choosing Pam and Karen’s party. Karen and Pam’s party is sabotaged by Angela because she is upset that almost everyone in the office (sans Hannah, Kevin, and Phyllis) is at the other party. At this point, Michael, Andy, Jim, and Dwight return to the office and in the best part of the episode, Michael forgets which waitress he brought back (Jim’s reaction to realizing that Michael has mixed up the two girls is hilarious) and eventually the waitresses leave the party bumming Michael out even further. Karen and Pam decide to end the Committee to Plan Parties and merge both parties. At this point, everyone gets their happy ending as Jim explains to Michael things will be okay because the waitress was a “fun distraction” and not “the one” as Michael suggests (of course, Michael takes things to the extreme by thinking the waitress was the one), Jim makes Pam happy by accepting her gift and pranking Dwight by giving him an assignment from the CIA, both parties are merged and people sing all the songs they want to sing (the most cringe-inducing is Andy and Michael singing John Mayer’s “Your Body is a Wonderland”), and everyone has a merry Christmas – especially Toby who gets a corporate robe from Pam.


Dwight just being wacky: thinking he’s on assignment from the CIA, going up to the roof so that a helicopter can pick him up, and finally destroying his phone as Pam and Jim bring the prank to its conclusion by texting him and saying he’s been compromised.

Favorite Joke: Ryan rattling off a list of excuses for why he can’t go to Benihanas with Michael (“look alive, Halpert”)

Favorite Moment: The entire Christmas party montage at the end involving all the various people singing Karaoke.

Favorite Michael Scott Line: (With his voice breaking) “Jim, take New Year’s away from Stanley.”

Favorite Non-Michael Scott Line: Ryan discussing the two rival parties in the office: “I miss the days when there was only one party I didn’t want to go to.”

Favorite “Aw, shucks” Moment: Pam giving the robe to Toby.

Favorite Talking Head: Easily the aforementioned bit where Kevin weighs the pros and cons of Angela’s party: “Double fudge…Angela…double fudge…Angela”

Favorite Conference Room Joke: Darryl’s response to Angela’s party in the conference room is the only one that really qualifies, but it’s a good one: “Hey, when you guys are done with your, uh, meeting, there’s a party in the breakroom.”

Final Thoughts:

I love the Christmas episodes. They always have that perfect blend of ridiculousness (anything with Dwight) and really sharp jokes; in addition to the comedy, the writers usually find a way (usually through a gift-giving, carol-singing montage) to punctuate the episode with just the right amount of sweetness (a common thread amongst my picks for the best episodes). “A Benihana Christmas” is one of my favorites of the post-merger episodes as the writers were finally figuring out how to use Rashida Jones and Ed Helms in conjunction with the other vets of the show.

In the continuing evolution of Jim’s character post-merger (when he is made Michael’s #2), he declines Pam’s gift in a heartbreaking scene (poor Pam: she breaks off the engagement with Roy only to find that Jim has found someone else in Stamford) that shows Jim just trying to move on from the old Jim. He uses his new management position as an excuse for not accepting Pam’s gift – stating that he probably shouldn’t do things like that anymore – but as we see in scenes at Benihana, it’s just not true. Jim still loves pranking Dwight. His talking head after Pam offers up her present for him is telling: “I feel like there’s a chance for me to start over, and if I fall back into the same things I used to do…” Jim isn’t averse to still pranking Dwight (I love the scene at Benihanas when he convinces Dwight that the waitress is suffering from narcolepsy, and then gets him to tell the waitress how to correctly butcher a goose); it’s more that he’s averse to falling back into the same patterns with Pam. Yes, Jim does want to take his promotion seriously, but he still isn’t at the point yet where he sees himself doing this for the rest of his life.

Eventually, Jim acquiesces (only after seeing Pam and Roy hug at the end of the episode), and accepts her gift resulting in a hilarious stinger involving Dwight on the roof of Dunder-Mifflin. The only thing I didn’t like about the post-merger episodes – and it’s a small nit to pick – was that the writers were so obviously bringing Jim and Pam together by the end of the season. No one ever saw Karen as something more than a red herring, and it’s too bad because Rashida Jones is amazing as Karen. The character is awesome, too, and I think they found themselves in a bit of a bind at times this season in trying to make Karen someone that the audience should root against. But it’s hard to root against her in this episode when she says things like “I don’t think we’ve taken things far enough” in regards to their party-planning tactics. Anyway, it’s a small thing that nagged at me throughout this season – really the only thing that bugged me considering I think season three is the best of the seasons – because even though all of my friends (and most of America) were wanting Jim and Pam to get together, I was perfectly happy watching the Karen and Jim together. Jones and Krasinski are always funny together, and their romance – until the writers sabotage it by making Karen clingy – is perfectly sweet.

On the flip side, you have Michael. Michael post-breakup or in search of love is always funny in that cringe-inducing way that The Office specializes in, but it also is almost played up as Michael genuinely thinking he’s in love or genuinely trying to search for companionship (I couldn’t find a place for it in my top 50, but I love the earnestness of Michael’s quest for love in “Chair Model”). Of course it’s ridiculous that he thinks the Benihana waitress is into him (and that she’s “the one” as he suggests); but that’s what we’ve come to expect from Michael. The ebb and flow of Michael’s emotions in this episode is a great opportunity for Carell to showcase just how good he started to become at playing Michael at just the right note. Whether it’s Michael singing Eddie Money as he’s giddy as can be at the prospects of going to Sandals with Carol (“All inclusive…that’s all inclusive”), lying behind Pam’s desk talking about all the weird positions he and Carol tried, sadly singing along to 30-second I-Tunes samples (by the way, can someone help me out here: what was that song Michael was listening to over and over?), hitting on the waitresses, giving the waitress his bike, mixing the waitresses up (and subsequently marking “his” waitress), and then coming to the conclusion that the waitress wasn’t the one for him (followed by his phone call to Jan). Michael runs the gamut in this episode, and it’s just one of many brilliant performances from Carell.  

These longer episodes are both a blessing and a curse. Most of them just didn’t work (“Fun Run” comes to mind), but when they did work, they were great. One of the all-timers is “Casino Night,” more of an “extended” episode than anything, but that showed the possibilities of what the writers and supporting actors could do if they were given just a little bit more time on screen. And that’s why I like “A Benihana Christmas” so much. I don’t know that it’s better than Season Two’s Christmas episode, but the extended length (this was the first of the 40 minute episodes) allowed for great jokes and bits from actors that normally aren’t given the time in a 20 minute episode. Because of the extended length, we get the short-but-hilarious little mini-plot of Toby’s quest to get himself a Dunder-Mifflin robe. We get multiple office members singing Karaoke – My favorites being Dwight singing Styx (and Kevin walking by and giving him a high-five), Kevin singing “You Oughta Know” (with Jim giving him a high-five in a nice call back to Season Two’s “E-mail Surveillance”), Andy and Michael creepily singing/whispering John Mayer’s “Your Body is a Wonderland”, and Creed (!). You also get the sweet moment at the end – yes even Angela gets a sweet moment – where Dwight holds the microphone for Angela while she ever-so-properly sings “Little Drummer Boy.”

You also get nice little moments like Kevin’s brilliant talking head (because of the length it allows Brian Baumgartner to really milk the whole “Double Fudge…Angela” bit); Karen not understanding the backstory of Pam and Roy when she suggests that Pam should ask Roy out; Dwight discussing the knives with the Benihana chef; Stanley drinking a margarita (“Fruity and delicious”); Michael getting all broken up about how it’s bros before hos, yet he’s sad because Carol is his “ho-no-mo;” perhaps Angela’s most vitriolic line when one of the waitresses takes something from the breakroom, and Angela accosts her saying “I don’t walk into your house and steal your Hello Kitty backpack;”or a myriad of other little gems that always pop up when these guys get together and have a party. It was one of only a few super-sized episodes to work, but it’s a dandy. 


  1. Correct me if I'm wrong, but effectively the final sound we hear from the party is Dwight's rum-pum-pum-pumming for Angela, as captured in that great shot above (Michael on a call in the background, suggesting the party as a long affair of ups and downs, never stopping). I always loved the sound of his isolated rum-pum-pum-pumming -- there's such commitment to his voice, back when Dwight took all the wrong things too seriously but hadn't entirely exploded into a beat-farming crazy.

    I'm also fond of the prank. Dwight tossing his phone ranks up there with the best moment of Season 1, when Dwight is revealed giving an interview talking about alliances, having been conned into bleaching his hair. Genius.

  2. You are correct, Jason. And, yes, I love this screengrab because of everything that is happening within the frame; it's telling of what we just saw unfold in the episode. You know, after just watching the latest episode last night, it's funny how everything that used to make Dwight funny is now annoyingly awful. He already was a caricature of a kiss ass, and that's what made him so great. His world was the office and his job was to protect everyone within that world (especially Michael, and even his enemies like Jim -- thinking of when he maced Roy -- because when he's at work, that's what he's supposed to do). Work is serious stuff to Dwight (it's why he's such a good salesman when those kinds of character traits mattered to this show), and so to have him be severely bummed by the fact that he can't join Jim's fake committee is perfect because he respects Jim's authority in that situation because it's work related.

    Also, I'm with ya on "The Alliance." Probably one of only two Season One episodes that I really love. One of my other favorite Dwight gags was when he was looking for the flasher, and he looks at the "artist's sketch" in the mirror. His reaction to that is great, although I'm not sure if he gets that the joke was on him or that he thinks he was the flasher. At that point in the series, it was hard to tell with Dwight. I suppose he kind of became like Michael in regards to my Homer Simpson analogy from my introductory piece: depending on the writer, you never know which version of the character you're going to get.

    Thanks for the comment, Jason! Also, your comment on THE MASTER was much appreciated. I need some more time to figure out how to respond to it. It probably won't be until Sunday since my brother and I are taking my dad up to the Duck game in Seattle this weekend for his 60th birthday. So, I won't have time to respond on the blog for a couple of days, and right now I'm at work and feeling rushed (and I don't want my response to your comments to feel rushed). Sooooo, I'll get to THE MASTER on Sunday. Thanks again.