Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Office: #22 -- "The Surplus"

22) The Surplus
Season 5, 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:

In the cold open – which ties in with the A-story –Oscar tries to explain to Michael about an office surplus that must be spent at the end of the day or it will be deducted from next year’s budget. Michael, not sure how this actually works (Carell does a great job of looking totally confused), asks Oscar to explain it to him as if he were eight years old. When Michael still doesn’t get it, he asks Oscar to explain it to him as if he were five. Oscar tries to convince Michael that the office needs a new copy machine, but Michael remains confused about the surplus.


Act 1:

Michael announces that the office has a surplus of $4300 and that they will use it buy a new copy machine. However, he doesn’t quite get the reaction he was hoping for, so he opens it up to the office to offer up something better. Pam wants new chairs while Oscar maintains that copier is what they really need (and Toby chimes in with using the money for Radon detection because it’s the silent killer; his response after being shot down – “you’ll see” – is brilliant. I love Toby.) . The office splits into two groups which puts Jim (team copy machine) at odds with Pam (team chairs) for the first time since they’ve dated (Jim’s talking head about his reasoning for wanting the copier and about how him and Pam don’t have to agree on everything is pretty great). This leaves the decision up to Michael as the other people in the office try to suck up to Michael to get what they want. Pam threatens Jim (in the episode’s second best moment) that he’s on dangerous ground with his decision. However, Oscar and Jim up the ante by inviting Michael to go to lunch with them (appealing to his nature of always wanting to be the guy that’s invited to things; that belongs to something). In the B-story (not a particularly strong one, but more on that later), Andy and Angela speak to Dwight about the arrangements for their wedding at Schrute Farms.

Act 2:

Pam is seen putting on lipstick and shaking her hair to impress Michael. The guys come back from lunch laughing (Jim and Oscar obviously faking it; the look of defeat that Pam gives the camera is great) while Jim tries to make peace with Pam by bringing her some Tiramisu. Pam coldly throws it in the garbage (a great bit of acting by Fischer) and enters Michael’s office to begin her plot of sucking up (getting a similarly great reaction that says “oh crap” from Jim). Pam explains her reasoning for wanting the chairs instead of the copier and compliments Michael as “hot tie guy” after he explains he got his tie for four dollars at TJ Max. Everyone in the office gets in the spirit of things by happily greeting Michael (I love Stanley’s “Hey boss!” as he opens the door to the break room for Michael) and sucking up to him. Unsure of what to do – and not wanting to disappoint anyone – Michael brings in Hank, the building security guard, and asks for his opinion and that whatever Hank decides will be the final decision. Hank simply stalls because the office is nice and warm (I love the way he tries to seriously approach the dilemma) before Michael kicks him out. Michael calls David Wallace for advice on what to do about the surplus so that he doesn’t have to be the bad guy. Wallace informs him that if he doesn’t spend the surplus, and instead returns it, that he gets 15% of the surplus back as a bonus. Michael decides to take the bonus because of his love of Burlington Coat Factory and the act ends in one of the best selfish-Michael talking heads: he comes to his decision because he “hates disappointing one person,” and he “really hates disappointing a lot of people,” but he “loves Burlington Coat Factory. You go in there with $645 you are literally a king.”

Angela and Andy continue negotiating with Dwight in the wacky B-story that ultimately leads to Angela – unbeknownst to her – marrying Dwight in a “mock wedding” (so Andy can see what it will look like) after he has a German Mennonite marry them (with Andy as the witness).

Act 3:

Michael announces his decision to the office that they don’t need a new copier because it works just fine (showing the original as proof) and that the chairs are “urkelnomically correct” (this line results in another great Krasinski reaction) and don’t need to be replaced (as he sinks lower and lower in the chair in a great sight gag). Oscar asks Michael whether or not “he knows,” referring to the surplus. Michael lets slip that he knows what 15% of $4300 is (Kevin calls him a genius and then asks him what 394x5,012 is in a great bit). Michael begins to devise a plan to keep the money without having the whole office hate him by forcing the office to make a decision or he’ll take the bonus (“a classic management tactic” as he calls it). The office foils Michael’s plan by coming to an agreement and deciding on the chairs. This results in what is one of the all-time great edits in Office history as Michael begins to yell “Motherf…” and then it smash cuts to Michael wearing a fur coat talking about how he’s learned that because of him, his team is faster at making decisions now. But he’s also learned that you should never pay for a fur coat with a credit card if you don’t have the money – especially considering that people think it’s funny to throw buckets of fake blood on you as you come out of Burlington Coat Factory (in a great shot, the camera starts tight on Michael like any talking head and then slowly pans back to reveal the fake blood). Oh, Michael.


In a nice piece of symmetry (the stinger and cold open tie in nicely with the A-story), Jim calls a truce with Pam, but not before he ends his moratorium on Pam making him copies. Jim does the same close-talking threat that Pam did in Act One after pretending that he was just joking about Pam having to make copies. Pam gives the camera a final look of horror. A great ending.

Favorite Joke: Michael eating the Tiramisu and choking on the chocolate powder…twice (and then having to throw his hands up as if to say “no more” when he goes in for a third bite; a great piece of physical acting from Carell). 

Favorite Moment: The smash cut between Michael saying “Motherf...” and him wearing the fur coat. A close second is the great tracking shot of Michael going from his office to the break room and everyone along the way sucking up to him (including a smiling Stanley opening the door for him!). 

Favorite Michael Scott Line: “Motherf…”

Favorite Non-Michael Scott Line: Creed commending Jim for having a different opinion than Pam: “The balls on you, man.” 

Favorite “Aw, shucks” Moment: Not Applicable in an episode that's purely comic

Favorite Talking Head: Jim’s shuddering when threatened by Pam

Favorite Conference Room Joke: Not Applicable

Final Thoughts: 

I’ve never worked in an office, but I imagine little debates like the one found in “The Surplus” are highlights (and really important) for people who have to deal with the daily minutiae of working for a company like Dunder-Mifflin. One of the best things about “The Surplus” is its incredibly hilarious A-story that does enough of the heavy lifting to make the somewhat forgettable B-story (I was never a huge fan of Andy the Cuckold) not be too terribly distracting. The whole idea of Michael not wanting to disappoint anyone in the office is an incredibly rich comedic field to mine, and I love the way that the writers and actors – who at this point really know their characters – know exactly how to win over Michael: make him feel a part of the team. However, since the guys (I love the joy that Carell expresses as Michael when he sees that not just Oscar but also Jim – the cool guy in the office – wants to take him to lunch) come up with the idea to take him out to lunch, Pam is left with only one trick left that she knows will work for Michael: get all dolled-up and over-compliment him (the bit with her complimenting his butt – “aw, don’t take it away.” – is one of my favorite Pam moments). The battle between both sides – and the fact that they have to bring Hank the security guard in to break the tie (but he’s only interested in spending as much time as possible in the warm office) – is one of those micro-stories that The Office does brilliantly (I’m also reminded of the episode “Prince Family Paper” – also from season 5 – and the whole hot or not debate surrounding Hilary Swank) and can pull off as an A-story.

John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer were really finding their stride as Jim and Pam: The Couple in this season. In this episode particularly, they are just on-point with all of their reaction shots, fake sucking up to Michael, and playful threats to one another. It’s a reminder of why fans of The Office were so invested in this relationship to begin with. Unfortunately, outside of Oscar, Jim, Pam, and Michael, there’s not a lot of stuff for the other office members to do in this episode (that is, those that stay in the office), but all of the supporting cast makes the most of their brief moments: Stanley has a few moments like opening the door for Michael, Toby has his one line that always makes me laugh, Meredith and Creed each get in a good line in reply to Jim’s disagreement with Pam. The B-story – and the characters involved in it – doesn’t do anything for me as I hated Angela, Andy, and Dwight during this whole ridiculous love triangle subplot. I’m glad they put an end to that in the next episode (“Moroccan Christmas”).

The A-story is focused and one of the best The Office ever produced. It’s enough to compensate for the banal B-story, and I love that every part of the episode – from the cold open to the stinger (I realize it’s not a legitimate stinger, but it’s better than calling it “pre post credit sequence…”) – ties together. The Office is at its best when it’s telling coherent, engaging stories rather than just being a collection of amusing bits that never adhere to a story we feel like the characters care about (an example would be Andy stepping in manure in Dwight’s kitchen; funny on its own, and Helms pulls it off well, but in the grand scheme of this episode a joke like that falls completely flat). For most people, the debate about whether to get a copy machine or chairs may seem silly, but you get the sense that this issue – no matter how silly – is important to these people. That’s what I love most about The Office; the palpable feeling of these people’s mundane lives. The way the show invites us into their little world and allows us to humorously observe something so silly without it coming off as taking potshots – without being mean spirited – at how silly and stupid these people’s lives are because they go through all of this trouble for a copier or new chairs. I know a lot of people don’t like Season 5 of The Office, but “The Surplus” is a primary reason for people to reconsider their feelings.  


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