Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Office, Season 8 Episode 5 – "Spooked"

There's something of a schism down the middle of The Office's latest Halloween episode, "Spooked." If you look at it strictly as Erin's story, it's pretty good. Though the writers always seemed to have more trouble pinning down her exact intelligence and neuroses levels than with any other character (eventually settling on extremely naive), I've liked Erin pretty much since the first moment she stepped into Dunder Mifflin, mostly thanks to the sheer enthusiasm with which Ellie Kemper throws herself into the role.

As for everything outside of Erin, the episode was something of a scattershot mess. Not to say that little snatches of it weren't amusing (namely Kevin's fear of mummies), but of the many teeny tiny subplots they tossed out, there were more misses than solid hits. Jim not wanting to dress as Chris Bosh, the continued Pam vs. Angela pregnancy rivalry, Dwight bonding with Robert California's son – none of this was particularly funny (although the last was at least given a little time to breathe and be somewhat believable).

And, to the surprise of absolutely no one, the grand prize for least funny part of the episode has to go to Jim and Pam, this time arguing about the existence of ghosts. They're boring when they're lovey dovey and, as this episode proves, they're still boring when locked in dispute. I was as invested in Jim and Pam as anyone else during the glory days of season two, but the magic has petered out so hard. I'm not sure what The Office can do to fix them other than just look at TV comedy's funniest married couple – April and Andy on Parks and Recreation – and try desperately to capture a little slice of what that show does.

Robert California was probably the best part of the episode outside of Erin, at least when he announced his entry with the hilarious line to Andy, "And you, on this day of fantasy, are... a laborer." His smugly stating that he's never uncomfortable was also great. But still, while James Spader is doing good work in the part, some of what's stuck in his mouth isn't so great. His final fear monologue would have been charming if it'd been a playful thing for the office to smile, laugh, and goodheartedly go along with (think the Office Olympics back in the day), but playing it as if everyone was actually scared just made it stupid.

But, with that negativity out of the way, back to the positive: This was probably Erin's biggest spotlight since "Secretary's Day" a couple years ago (an episode that actually went too far with Erin's neurotic nature in the restaurant scene), and Ellie Kemper tore into it as well as she pretty much always does. She never lets a single punchline escape her, and, although I remain less than entirely invested in Erin and Andy as a couple, she also sold her heartbreak at Andy's girlfriend reveal in a way that made you feel for her. A solid character showcase, just as "Lotto" was for Darryl.

The one part of her story that didn't quite work was her presentation of Gabe's "cinema of the unsettling." It was a scene that rammed up against the simple limits of what you're allowed to show on television: If the video had actually been gross and upsetting, the characters' reactions would have made sense and their discomfort would have been funny. As is, it wasn't and they weren't. However, this was followed immediately by the funniest moment of the entire episode, which makes up for it. And hey, speak of the devil!

Funniest Moment: A desperate Erin presenting Pecker Poker, "The game of cards that gets you haaard." Brilliant line delivery by Kemper, and the lone gut laugh of the episode.

Final Grade: C+

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