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Despite humorous anecdotes, Season Five of “The Office” needs some tough love

Mary France Popit | Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why is NBC’s comedy “The Office” so popular among Notre Dame students? Perhaps because of the parallels between the two worlds. Take, the end of last season, for instance. The office temp-turned-executive Ryan Howard (B.J. Novak) commits fraud and is sent to the real world’s version of Res Life. The old-timer boss, Michael Scott (Steve Carell), is given a chance to pursue a senior/freshman romance when he meets the charming but unassuming newcomer Holly (Amy Ryan). He also finds out that his ex-girlfriend Jan Levinson (Melora Hardin) is pregnant, courtesy of a sperm bank. Dunder Mifflin’s receptionist, Pam Beasley (Jenna Fischer), is accepted into the Pratt School of Design for the summer, yet she fails to get her ring-by-spring from Jim (John Krasinski).However, accountant Angela Martin (Angela Kinsey) gets her ring, albeit without enthusiasm, from her admirer, salesman Andy Bernanrd (Ed Helms). Finally, the show shocked viewers when Angela and her secret interest Dwight (Rainn Wilson) are caught in the office breaking a certain rule of du Lac.If these parallels seem interesting, yet overwhelming, then you would be on the right track. The writers of The Office need to take the advice of one of their characters, Michael Scott, and K.I.S.S. – that is, Keep It Simple, Stupid. Last year’s writer’s strike has been worse for the writers than Michael has been for Dunder Mifflin. It forced them to create plot lines but also tie up loose ends within the final six episodes, producing entire installments that were akin to work at the Scranton paper company – lazy and uninspiring. Hopefully, executive producer Greg Daniels in the recent past yelled to his fellow writers “Conference room – now!” Here’s what was likely discussed in this emergency meeting:

1. Keep “The Office” within the world of Dunder Mifflin. The brilliance of the show has been its portrayal of simplistic office life. Seasons two and three struck a healthy balance, giving us hints of the world outside of Dunder Mifflin, especially with episodes such as “The Dundies” and “Diwali.” However, this world exposed itself too much (much like a man did to Phyllis) in season four, with nearly every episode containing major plot lines outside of the Dunder-Mifflin offices.

2. Keep “The Office” to a half hour. As much as NBC hypes up longer versions of the show, the hour-longs recently have had disastrous consequences (“Dunder Mifflin Infinity” is an example). A Dwight/Michael antic is only funny for so long. Leave the hour-longs for the season finales and maybe the season premieres.

3. Bring in Ricky Gervais as a guest star for some major resuscitation. The British comedian, who played regional manager David Brent in the original U.K. version, receives the gold yogurt lid for playing most disturbing boss. Surely he could make an appearance as David Brent, coming to America to sell office supplies, perhaps?

4. Make this season the last one. If you love someone (or something), you need to know when to let him or her (or it) go. This applies to the writers and fans of “The Office.” Season four was evidence that despite great performances by the actors, the writers are running out of fresh ideas to keep NBC’s hit series going.

Season five, with its first two episodes entitled “Weight Loss” and “Business Ethics,” has great potential to gain what season four lacked. The show deserves to receive the kind of treatment Michael Scott wishes for himself in one his talking-head appearances: “I swore to myself if I ever got to walk around the room as manager, people would laugh as they saw me coming, and they’d applaud as I walked away.” Notre Dame, get ready to laugh and applaud once again.