Posts Tagged ‘The Office


A Very Nerdy Christmas

Next year, Erin and I will finally celebrate our first Christmas together. I couldn’t be more excited, and I know she’s already making certain plans in terms of traditions and decorations and the like.

However, over the years I’ve assembled a small but — I think — amusing collection of Christmas ornaments of my own. Many of them have been given to me as gifts, the rest have mostly been the result of Hallmark’s after-Christmas clearance sales. It never seemed sensible to spend a ton of money on decorations until I had someone to decorate with. So while I’m sure next year the two of us will bring together all her ornaments and all my ornaments and probably a bunch of new ornaments, today I thought I’d share with you guys my collection as it stands today, such as it is.

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

Charlie Brown Christmas Tree

First up is my Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. While not technically an ornament, it’s one of my most prized Christmas decorations and also will serve as the model for most of the upcoming pictures. Erin gave me this tree a few years ago and I love it. I actually wound up getting a second tree to place in my classroom at school, knowing that this tree was far too precious to risk in a room full of high school students.

“Oh come on, Blake,” you’re saying. “They’re in eleventh grade. Surely they can be trusted to be in proximity to a decoration with just a single ornament without worrying about them breaking it.”

Heh. It’s cute that you think that.

Doctor Who TARDIS

Doctor Who: The TARDIS

Next up is my TARDIS decoration. You may or may not know (except if you know anything about me at all, in which case you absolutely know) that I’m a bit of a Doctor Who fan. This particular glass ornament was given to me by my buddy and frequent Showcase co-host, Kenny. Thanks, pal! I know that Erin will want to be certain it gets a place of honor next Christmas.

Donald Duck Wakeup Hallmark

Donald’s Wake-Up Cup

I love Disney and I love Christmas, so it’s not surprising that many of my decorations are Disney characters. Of course, as I’ve done most of my shopping in the clearance sales, my selection is particularly eclectic. I’d grab whatever looked like it was worth the money, and the deeper the discount the lower that threshold would become. For example, here’s Donald Duck, having just rolled out of bed, drinking a cup of coffee. Probably because I got it for pennies.

Mickey Mouse Ears

Mickey Mouse Ears

From the “My parents went to Disney World and all I got was this…” line. A few years ago, my parents took a trip to Disney World and brought this personalized set of mini-Mouse Ears to me. (That’s “Mini” as in “small,” not “Minnie” as in “Mickey’s girlfriend.”) They brought an identical pair of ears for Erin. Hers are currently dangling from the rear view mirror in her car.

Scrooge McDuck from "Mickey's Christmas Carol"

Scrooge McDuck from “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”

Another Hallmark Keepsake ornament, this one depicts my favorite Disney Character — Scrooge McDuck — as he appeared in the classic 1983 animated feature Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Hey, speaking of A Christmas Carol, have you guys been following my Reel to Reel movie blog? All this month, leading up to Christmas I’m reviewing and analyzing different versions of Charles Dickens’s classic novel. All of your favorites are there — Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, Mr. Magoo… go on, check it out.

Disney Vinylmation 2012

Disney Vinylmation 2012

My brother and sister are big fans of Disney’s Vinylmation figures — a series of toys all set in the same Mickey Mouse-shaped mold and decorated in an infinite number of ways. I’ve got a lot of them too, but I’ve been a bit more selective in my Vinylmation purchases than them. This one came out last year — it’s a regular Vinylmation figure with an ornament loop on the head. This one depicts Donald Duck trapped in a snow globe, presumably the work of a genie or his nephews or something.

Vinylmation Hot Chocolate

Vinylmation Hot Chocolate

Another Vinylmation figure-slash-ornament, this one depicts a chocolate bar in the shape of Mickey Mouse. As you can tell, whoever got this bar in his stocking eats his Mickey chocolate the same way everybody eats their Easter rabbits — he bites the ears first. This figure also smells like hot chocolate. Well… the box says it’s hot chocolate. There’s a definite cocoa flavor to the aroma, but I don’t know if I’d go that far.

Perry Christmas from Phineas and Ferb

Perry Christmas from Phineas and Ferb

Phineas and Ferb is without question, the best cartoon for kids in decades. I dare you to find anything that’s even remotely as entertaining. You need to go back to the 90s heyday of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. These kids rock.

Also, this was the last picture I took. I thought I was finished, I put my Charlie Brown tree in its place of honor (which is rather high up and out of reach of cats and three-year-old nieces), and when I realized I missed this one I just said the hell with it and took the picture on the table.

Dooby dooby doo-wah, A! GENT! P!

Dooby dooby doo-wah, A! GENT! P!

Courtesy of Target, here’s Phineas and Ferb’s best pal Perry the Platypus in his other identity: Agent P of the OWCA (Organization Without a Cool Acronym). I like to imagine here that he’s just stumbled into an insidious yuletide trap set by his arch-nemesis, Dr. Doofinshmirtz. Don’t worry, guys, Doof isn’t really that big a threat. And he actually doesn’t hate Christmas anyway, he has a burning indifference.

Prep and Landing Hallmark

Prep and Landing: Wayne and Lanny

A few years ago Disney introduced these guys, Wayne and Lanny, members of Santa Claus’s special Prep and Landing task force. These are the elves that scout ahead of Santa Claus to make sure the house is ready, the children are nestled all snug in their beds, and not a creature is stirring. If you have a Merry Christmas morning, it’s because Wayne and Lanny did their job right so that Santa could come behind them and do his.

Muppets Kermit Target

Kermit the Very Shiny Frog

This one is a Target find rather than Hallmark. Erin picked it up for me last Thanksgiving when we were shopping. This was either a few days before or a few days after I asked her to marry me, I don’t remember which, and it doesn’t matter. It’s special anyway. And yes, that’s a reflection of me and my phone in Kermit’s face. You try hiding your reflection when taking a picture of a shiny glass amphibian. It’s not that easy.

Peanuts-Erins Snoopy

Snoopy and Woodstock go for a drive

Snoopy and Woodstock here were a gift from Erin. She found it for me at work and included it in a stocking full of candy and little gifts last year. The girl knows me all too well, doesn’t she?

Peanuts on Ice

Peanuts on Ice

This is actually four separate ornaments put together. The “Peanuts on Ice” figures from Hallmark each have a magnet in the base, allowing you to connect them. I’m not sure how many there were in the series, but I know how many I got. Four. I got four.

You’ll notice that Sally, Charlie Brown’s sister, has no magnet and therefore is not connected to the rest of the Peanuts gang. I like to imagine that Linus, sick and tired of her years of sexual harassment, disabled the magnet in her base in the hopes that she would slide away and suffer a tragic mishap in the ice. Wow, that took a dark turn.

The Flash

The Flash

Another Hallmark ornament, here we have Barry Allen, the Flash. (How do I know it’s Barry Allen and not Wally West? Because Wally’s belt always came to a point in the front, only Barry wore the straight belt for his entire career in the Pre-Crisis era. Yes, I’m THAT kind of nerd.) Barry here, if I’m not mistaken, is actually the oldest ornament in my collection. I’m pretty sure I’ve had him since high school, and I don’t even remember when I got him.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern

Hal Jordan. Green Lantern of Space Sector 2814. Current leader of the Green Lantern Corps. Another Hallmark keepsake ornament. Are you sensing a pattern here?

Golden Age Superman

Golden Age Superman

I’ve got a few different Superman ornaments. Try not to be surprised.

This Hallmark ornament is actually two in one. In the front we have the Golden Age Superman, the way he first appeared in 1938. In the background is the second ornament, the cover of Action Comics #1, in which he made his first appearance. Actually, now that I look at it, the figure isn’t exactly right for that comic. His “S”-symbol, at that point, was actually just a yellow shield with the letter drawn in it, not the stylized version it would later become, and his boots hadn’t yet evolved to what we see here either. Wow, now I’m furious at the inaccuracy of my ornament. Christmas is RUINED.

Modern Superman

Modern Superman

This more modern Superman is a one-piece ornament, with the Man of Steel bursting out of the cover of a comic book. And this actually is a comic book, you can open that sucker up and read it. There aren’t any credits, but I think the short re-telling of his origin story was drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, a classic DC Comics artist who contributed a lot of art for various DC merchandise over the years. I told you, I’m that kind of nerd.

Superman Luxor

Lenox China Superman

I think I’ve shown this one off before but I don’t mind doing it again. This Lenox China Superman figure has the trademarks of that elegant line of decorations — the white glass is used in his cape, and the Lenox gold lines the figure in several places. This, too, is a gift from Erin, which should be obvious because those Lenox ornaments are pretty expensive for a guy that, until now, got most of his Christmas decorations from Hallmark’s 20% off table.

Dwight Schrute: Talking Bobblehead

Dwight Schrute: Talking Bobblehead

From The Office, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Assistant to the Regional Manager Dwight Schrute. This ornament is actually based on the Valentine’s Day episode in which his girlfriend gave him a bobblehead doll of himself. The ornament is a working bobblehead, plus, it talks when you push that little button in the front. I briefly considered shooting a short video demonstrating these features, but then I realized that would require way more of a commitment than I was ready to put into this little article.

Elise's Ornament

Elise’s Ornament

Now we’re getting into the ornaments that have an actual emotional connection for me. This one, for example, was a gift from Erin’s niece Elise last Christmas. Hey — I guess that means she’s going to be my niece too. Cool.

For Erin's teacher

For Erin’s teacher

Another Erin find. This “For My Teacher” apple came to her at work and she brought it home to me. Go ahead: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaw…”

Engagement Encounter: Be Joyful

Engagement Encounter: Be Joyful

And finally, probably the most meaningful ornament on the list is this little Cross. Last summer, Erin and I attended an engagement encounter at a monastery in Pittsburgh. We wanted a keepsake of the weekend, and decided on this Christmas ornament. The message, I think, was just right.


An Office without Michael Scott

Tonight is going to see a pretty big change for one of my favorite TV shows, NBC’s The Office. After seven seasons, Steve Carell is leaving the show and taking his character with him. Michael Scott, of course, has been the star of The Office since its inception: the American analogue to Rickey Gervais’s David Brent, the boss of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company’s Scranton, PA office.

Carell wasn’t a big name seven years ago when the show launched. Since then, he’s gone on to make a slew of movies that include some real hits (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), some major flops (Evan Almighty) and some quirky indy flicks that got him acclaim for his acting chops (Little Miss Sunshine). So now the time has come, he decides, to set out and pursue films full-time. We all, of course, remember how brilliantly Shelly Long’s career took off when she left Cheers, and the rising star of a post-NYPD Blue David Caruso. (To be fair, though, I guess I should point out that George Clooney walked away from ER and has since done pretty well for himself.)

Once it was confirmed that Carell was leaving the show, the question immediately arose: Should NBC end The Office with Michael’s swan song? Frankly, this was never going to happen. While The Office has never been a ratings juggernaut, it’s still one of the most reliable sources of ratings for the struggling network, so as long as it’s outperforming such gems as The Paul Reiser Show, expect them to cling to it like grim death. And it’s not like the departure of a star is an automatic death-knell for a series. The aforementioned Cheers, NYPD Blue and ER all lasted many years after the loss of one of their signature stars. And to use another favorite of mine as an example, The CW’s Smallville lost both Kristen Kreuk (Lana Lang) and Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) — the primary love interest and the main villain — at the same time. And just between you and me, I think the show has been way, way better since they left.

So the question is not if The Office should continue, but rather how the show will have to evolve. Even when the storylines were not Michael-centric (such as the long-running Jim/Pam romance in the first few seasons) he was still the center of the storm, the axis around which everything else would turn. With him gone, I think the most important thing is to find the new center of the show, and quickly. And I don’t think that new center necessarily has to be the new boss. NBC is still tight-lipped about who, exactly, will be in charge after the departure of Carell and four-episode guest star Will Ferrel. We don’t even know if it’ll be a new character or if someone on the show will be promoted to Boss status. But that doesn’t mean the center of the show has to be the boss. None of the boss candidates from the current cast really has the right qualifies to center the show around, and any new character that they tried to put in that role would feel too much like Michael Scott Redux.

I submit to you that the right candidate to be the show’s core is still there, and in fact has been there since the first episode: Jenna Fisher’s character, Pam Beasley. Pam has undeniably showed the most growth, depth, and change out of any character in the series over the past seven years. When we first met her, she was a rather put-upon receptionist, ignored by her co-workers (when she wasn’t being actively taken advantage of) and trapped in an engagement with a creep who appreciated her even less than the co-workers who harangued her to get their copies made. Over the next few years she was jolted out of her comfort zone by the realization that her best friend Jim Halpert (played smartly by John Kraczynski) was in love with her. This started her on a journey that led her to break away from her unhappy relationship, pursue her own interest as an artist, and gain much-needed self-confidence. The change has been fairly realistic though — even now, with a fairly settled life, we see her have episodes where her confidence is shaken and she needs some sort of affirmation, either from Jim or someone else. But she perseveres. Pam has grown.

What’s more, she’s in a position to interact with everyone in the office that nobody else short of the boss himself could have. (Except maybe the new receptionist, Ellie Kemper’s character Erin, but she’s not the sort of character you can hang a series on.) Pam, in the last year, has managed to finagle a promotion to “office manager,” which includes the terribly boring tasks of seeing to maintenance, supplies, and what have you, but also puts her in a position where she can be involved with anybody in the cast easily and without having to resort to any convoluted or ridiculous circumstances. Plus, outside of Michael himself, she’s got the most heart and soul of anyone on the show.

It’d be a change, and very different from what has happened with those other shows when a star left, but the writers of The Office have proven themselves able to avoid the obvious. Again, I point to the Jim/Pam relationship. In most shows, when the characters with the sexual tension get together, the writers suddenly don’t know what to do with them anymore. This often leads to a contrived breakup, followed by a tedious “will they or won’t” they back-and-forth until the series ends. Even great shows (Friends and Newsradio immediately spring to mind) have suffered from this, and far more mediocre shows have done the same thing. Once Pam and Jim got together, though, they writers have kept them together, unquestionably, and allowed their relationship to grow and mature in a real way. It was gutsy, and for the most part, it has worked. They can apply that same courage to the new center of the show.

So consider this my open letter to the writers of The Office, Season Eight. Next year, no matter who is sitting in the boss’s office, make Pam the center of things. It’s your best bet.

As for the other show losing a star this season, sorry, writers of Two and a Half Men. You guys are screwed.


A trio of Christmas episodes online

Y’know, once websites like and Netflix can start streaming shows the day of their broadcast, nobody will have any reason to watch network television anymore. I say that specifically as a message to the people at NBC’s New Orleans affiliate who preempted last night’s episode of Community so they could show the same three talking heads rambling on about a court case for an hour and a half without saying anything original or insightful. Fortunately, Hulu saved me. But before that, let’s look at a couple of other of Yuletide offerings you can now watch online.

Last year, you may recall, I reviewed the first Christmas special in many years produced by the Walt Disney Corporation and Shadow Government, a delightful half-hour special called Prep and Landing, all about the elves whose job it is to prepare a house for Santa Claus’s visit. The special was successful enough that Disney is working on a sequel for Christmas 2011, but to tide us over, they produced a new 7-minute short called Operation: Secret Santa. Wayne (Dave Foley) and Lanny (Derek Richardson) are back for a new top-secret mission… steal a special box from Santa’s office and deliver it to Mrs. Claus (voiced by that up-and-coming future superstar Betty White).

This is a cute follow-up to last year’s special, if you take it for what it is. For one thing, the first special gets the lauded honor of being Disney’s first Christmas special in years and (I think) the first ever CGI TV special by Disney Proper. It also did the job of world- and character-creation for this franchise, leaving little of that for this new short. But there are several solid laughs that lead into a wonderful, heartwarming, Christmasy conclusion. If I know Disney (and I think I do) they’re probably planning a DVD/Blu-Ray release of both of these shorts, along with with next year’s special, that will hit stores immediately after the third cartoon airs. I’m looking forward to that — these specials have definitely earned a spot on my shelf near Rudolph, Charlie Brown, Clark Griswold and Jack Skellington. You can watch both the original special and this year’s new short over at’s Prep and Landing Mini-Site.

For the past two years, I’ve reviewed the new Christmas episodes of one of my favorite shows, NBC’s The Office, which you can view for a limited time over at This year’s episode is Classy Christmas, and is online in two parts. When Michael Scott finds out his ex-girlfriend Holly (guest star Amy Ryan) is coming back to the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin for a while, he decides to throw the classiest Christmas party of all time in an effort to win her back. Meanwhile, Angela brings in her new boyfriend, Darryl tries to get his daughter to want to spend Christmas with him, Pam seeks advice on the greatest Christmas present ever, and Jim and Dwight enter into a snowball fight of truly epic proportions. I’m really glad this was an hour-long episode, because there was way too much going on to even think about fitting it into 30 minutes. Condensing this would have meant cheating some plotlines and throwing others out entirely. Instead, the story fit the 60 minute running time nicely. This, of course, is Steve Carrell’s last season on the show, and there’s been much speculation that his departure would somehow involve the return of Holly, the only woman who’s ever really been right for him. This episode certainly feels like it’s setting things up for the second half of the season, while at the same time fulfilling its promise as a Christmas episode. It wasn’t a perfect episode — I’m not really crazy about how terrified Jim was of Dwight’s snowball onslaught, or about how two HR reps somehow missed the fact that Jim had blood on his shirt, but despite those few caveats, I think this may have been one of The Office‘s best Christmas episodes.

I’ve saved the best for last. If you’re not watching Community, it’s the best show you’re not watching. If you are watching it, it’s the best show you’re watching. The show follows a group of students (and, frequently, faculty members) at Greendale Community College. The show began as a sort of standard “group of misfits” comedy, but has transformed into one of the smartest shows on TV, offering up pointed satire of all forms of motion pictures while still crafting fully-developed, engaging characters. It’s already a Christmas miracle. Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas begins with the highly genre-aware Abed seeing himself and his friends in a classic stop-motion animation style on the last day of classes before Christmas. As the group tries to figure out why Abed is hallucinating, they wind up on a journey through a Winter Wonderland to find the true meaning of Christmas.

As always, the show lampoons virtually every facet of Christmas specials, up to and including the frequent musical numbers the cast breaks into. But they never do it in a mean or cruel way — instead there’s a nudge and a wink that makes you understand that just because they’re poking a little fun at the classics doesn’t mean they don’t also love them as much as the rest of us. The dedication to the story is incredible here, with the entire running time of the episode done in some of the best stop motion animation television has produced in decades. And the story manages to develop many of the characters on top of that — we learn something really important about Abed’s family life and psyche, we get another little tease about the bizarre relationship between Jeff and Annie, and we see Chevy Chase walking around as a snarky little teddy bear. And the song at the end makes it pretty clear, even to the most cynical among us, that yes — they really do know the true meaning of Christmas.

And it’s a beautiful thing.


2 in 1 Showcase Episode 192: TV Talk 2010

The fall television season is about a month old, so the boys discuss the new slate of TV shows. What do they like? What are the surprise hits? And what shows have they given up on entirely? Some spoilers await herein. In the picks this week, Kenny loved Action Comics #893, Daniel has an… interesting time talking about The Royal Historian of Oz #2, and Blake is still in love with I, Zombie (specifically issue six). Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp!

Music provided by the Music Alley from Mevio.

Episode 192: TV Talk 2010

Inside This Episode:


The Office: Secret Santa

As I’ve mentioned on this blog once or twice before, NBC’s The Office is one of my favorite TV shows. Now in its sixth season, this is the fourth time we’ve been treated to a Christmas party with the staff of Dunder-Mifflin Scranton. (The first season didn’t begin until the spring, and season four was shortened due to the writer’s strike.) It’s been a rough year for our favorite paper company. Sure, Jim and Pam are married and expecting, and Jim has been promoted to Michael’s co-manager, but the promotion won’t meant much if the company’s financial difficulties aren’t resolved. But it’s not all bad. This year, Phyllis is finally living her dream — playing Santa Claus for the office party, and everyone is happy… except Michael. As he revolts against the cross-dressing Santa, he places a call to CEO David Wallace that may make the whole thing moot.

I re-watched the episode before I sat down to review it, and I was astonished when I realized just how much is going on in this one. Besides the Phyllis vs. Mike Santa Claus controversy and the ongoing Dunder-Mifflin financial crisis, there are a good half-dozen stories going on here, both continuing and one-shots. The “Secret Santa” gift exchange makes a surprisingly good backdrop for multiple stories. We’ve got Dwight, who is receiving a mysterious mechanical gift one part at a time. Andy is hoping to keep Erin from learning that he’s her Secret Santa, after some of his gifts… um… injured her. Pam decides she’s going to play matchmaker for Oscar, and Dwight even touches briefly upon his “diabolical scheme” to out Jim from his new position of authority.

But Michael is really the core of this episode. His childish attitude towards Phyllis leads him to a discovery that has a pretty profound effect that ultimately leads to some really tender moments. That’s the key to Michael’s character. He’s often selfish, thoughtless, and immature, but at his heart he’s a decent guy who genuinely cares for the people in his office, at least all the ones who aren’t named “Toby.” This episode allows us to see that.

I’m not sure when the next new episode of the show will be. In fact, even checking on, there doesn’t seem to be a schedule yet. I suspect we’re going to have one of those situations where, when we return from the hiatus, a lot of things will have changed. This episode certainly leaves one big ball up in the air for our characters. But taken on its own, this may be the best Christmas episode of The Office yet. If you missed it, pop on over to and check it out.

And speaking of checking out…

Don’t forget!

I’ve got some Christmas stories of my own out there waiting for you! If you’re a fan of the audio book/podcast format, check out Blake M. Petit’s Evercast, in which I serialize novels, present short stories, and give lots of other great content. This December, I’m presenting my Christmas-themed novella A Long November.

If you’d rather read your words than have them read to you, you can also get A Long November and eight other short stories in a totally free (until January) eBook edition, suitable for reading on the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, Stanza Reader, PDA, any number of other devices, or even the very computer upon which you’re reading this blog! Check out the eBook at!

And finally, my friends, I’d just like to ask you to pass these links along to anyone you know who may like the stories. I’m not making a dime out of this, I’m doing it to spread the word and build an audience, and any help you could provide would be a huge help to me.

Thanks a lot, and have a Merry Christmas!


A little bit of everything

I’ll be heading out in a few minutes for another one of Carl’s Lenten Seafood Feasts (plus poker night), so I’ll just throw a few random tidbits at you on my way out the door.

School Stuff

I had a bit of the Awesome yesterday morning. I was standing around on duty (which basically means I’ve got to get to work a half-hour early, stand in the midst of 1,200 teenagers, and hope nobody starts a fight), when a girl I taught two years ago came up to me out of the blue and told me that my class was her favorite that year and one of the best classes she’s ever had. There’s no reason for her to tell me this — I’m not her teacher anymore and, unless I get bumped to 12th grade next year (damn unlikely) I won’t be again. Plus, she was the kind of kid who was so quiet I was never really sure if she was engaged in the class or not. And to top it off, since she was in my class two years ago, that means she was part of my first class ever, and let me tell you, nobody ever know what the hell they’re doing their first year teaching. Take all the classes you want, it won’t prepare you. You’ve just got to survive that first year and learn from it.

So hearing that just about made my day.

Comic Stuff

The first issues of Boom! Studios’ Incredibles and Muppet Show comics are hitting stores next week. I’m really glad they priced the comics at $2.99. Most Boom! comics are at the $3.99 price point, which is where I have drawn the line, and therefore, I don’t get any of them. With these — books I reallywant — they’ve given me a break. Expect me to review ’em both at Comixtreme.

Book Stuff

So I’m currently reading Neil Gaiman‘s Newberry Award-winning novel The Graveyard Book. As I’ve come to expect from him, it’s a wonderfully imaginative, inventive novel that has totally captured my attention in a way few other books are doing these days. Glad to know the Newberries still stand for quality.

TV Stuff

So who watched The Office last night? Holy crap, huh? Talk about an ending I didn’t see coming. I’m sure this sets up the final run of the season, but I’ve got no idea where the writers are going with this one. And speaking of writing…

Writing Stuff

Work continues on Summer Love. I managed to get over  700 words written today (which, sadly, is above average lately), and I’ve gotten over a couple of the stumbling blocks I think were slowing me down. It’ll still take me some time to finish, but getting that train moving again was the important part at this stage. Plus, the week after next is Standardized Testing Week, which requires me to read instructions for two minutes then sit down for an hour doing essentially nothing. I got a ton of writing done that week last year. In fact, that’s when I began Summer Love, so I’m hoping to get a big chunk of the conclusion done this time around. In the meantime, who read Chapter One of Lost in Silver? What’d you think of it?

The Office: Moroccan Christmas

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here before or not (cough), but The Office is one of my favorite TV shows. It’s smart, funny, full of great characters and (in its best moments) is pretty true-to-life. The Office has twice before blessed us with Christmas episodes, with “Christmas Party” (Season Two) and “A Benihana Christmas” (Season Three). With season four cut short by the unfortunate writer’s strike, there was no Christmas episode that year, but the gang from Dunder-Mifflin Scranton was back last night with “Moroccan Christmas.”

Phyllis, who has taken over the Party Planning Christmas with a coup against Angela, has decided the theme of this year’s office party will be “Nights in Morocco.” As Angela goes into meltdown over the decidedly non-traditional theme, Dwight corners the local market on Princess Unicorn, the season’s hottest toy, planning to sell them to desperate parents for an enormous markup. Michael, serving as bartender, whips up his own new beverages (for example, he makes Jim the unheard of concoction of vodka and orange juice), and Meredith finally goes a little too far with her drinking, inspiring some of her co-workers to stage a what turns out to be the worst (and funniest) intervention in history.

The whole “intervention” plot is kind of dark for a Christmas episode, but The Office has always been the sort of show that would take that kind of chance, and it pays off here. Meredith’s alcoholism has been a source of frequent jokes over the past few seasons, to the point where it has been almost disturbing. Seeing it actually addressed as a real problem is a good way to deal with it. The character — while still entertaining — has started to straddle the border of being a caricature instead of a real person. While she still doesn’t come across very well here, at least the problem isn’t being swept under the rug, The rest of the cast, meanwhile, comes off a little better for demonstrating real concern about her.

The episode is actually pretty light on Jim and Pam, who have been the heart of the series since its inception, but that’s okay. There are enough other characters that they can take a back seat once in a while, and the few moments they do get in this episode (such as the cute-as-a-button “I knew it!” conversation at the end) are sweet and satisfying for their fans. Like me.

One of the season’s ongoing subplots also takes a major turn here, but it’s not something I can discuss without spoiling a great moment. I was really happy with this episode. It worked as a “Christmas special,” while at the same time, it had a lot of plot progression and the show was advanced. While not the best episode of the season, it’s a good one.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. You can watch the whole episode online, for free, at


What I’m Watching: The Office (Seasons 1-4)

Now that I’m back online, how about something that has almost nothing to do with Gustav for a change? One of the few things that’s been nice about the hurricane evacuation (crap) is that my sister brought along the first three seasons of The Office on DVD. This is, as I’ve mentioned here before, one of our favorite TV shows, but my Uncle Wally has never seen it before. So, in the long hours after we got power back, we’ve been having a bit of a marathon. We watched the first three seasons, finishing up early yesterday. Then — lo and behold! — Erin informed me that season four was released on DVD this week, and not next week as we expected.

So Heather, Will and I sought out an open Circuit City here on the north shore last night, snagged season four, and started watching that with Wally too.

Now why, you may be asking, are we so nuts for this show? Why did Uncle Wally, when we reached the season 2 cliffhanger at 1 a.m., tell Heather to throw the next disc into the DVD player instead of waiting for morning? Why did Heather bring the DVDs with her on a hurricane evacuation, and why did we seek out the next one even in this state? Because, frankly, it’s one of the funniest shows ever to come to television.

Based on an excellent British sitcom of the same name, I initially dismissed the American version of The Office on the assumption that it, like every other American translation of a British sitcom, would suck. Then, somehow, I caught an early season 2 episode, and it was pretty darn good. And I went back and found season 1. And I started watching each and every episode as they went. And I set the DVR to record every new episode to make sure I didn’t miss a second, something I’m usually only so adamant about with more dramatic fare like Lost or 24. I fell in love with this show almost instantly.

There are several reasons for this, but the two most important ones are the writers and the cast. The writers of the show have perfectly captured the tedious, mundane agony of working in a typical white-collar office, and they present this tedium in a way that is brilliantly funny, ridiculing inane board meetings, incompetent bosses and ludicrous corporate policies in a way that anyone who has ever worked in such an office can relate to. However, they’ve managed to layer the show with deep, rich characters and compelling storylines. Everyone fell in love with Jim and Pam right away, and like so many of the great couples of TV history, people were rooting for them to get together. Then came the fear: if they did get together, what if they got boring? What if, like Sam and Diane, Ross and Rachel, once they were a couple the writers wouldn’t know what to do with them, and forced an illogical and totally hated break-up on the viewers?

Well, season four answered that question. Not only did they not break up, but we see each of them beginning to grow and change not just as characters, but as real people.

Much of the credit also has to go to the actors as well. As wonderfully-written as Pam and Jim are, they wouldn’t be nearly as effective if not for the funny, touching and truly meaningful performances of Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski. (And yes, since I know Erin will point this out, I’ve got a major celebrity crush on Jenna Fischer, but that’s fair, because Erin is still in love with James Marsters.) Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Shrute began as a character that you loved to hate, but has evolved into someone who — no matter how annoying he can be — you genuinely care about, root for, and want to see succeed. Even Steve Carell as Michael Scott is a wonderfully round character. As a boss, he’s stupid, incompetent, and has no business running his office. But the writers also take care to show us that he is good at a lot of things. He’s good with kids. He’s good at ice-skating. And most importantly, he was a fantastic salesman, which is how he got the manager job in the first place. Michael Scott is a character who was promoted out of the position in which he thrived.

What’s more, episodes like “Business School,” (season three, in which he is the only person from the office to go to Pam’s first art show, except for a rather snarky cameo by Oscar) show us that while he is, yes, stupid and ignorant, and often even selfish, he is never an unkind person. At least, not unless the person in question deserves it. (This, of course, leads to Michael’s absurd hatred of poor HR Representative Toby Flenderson, played wonderfully by show writer Paul Lieberstein. Although we never seen any reason for Michael to hate Toby so much, and in fact, it is likely that Toby never did anything to deserve it, in Michael’s mind he does deserve it. While we may never understand his reason, it’s clear that he has a reason for hating Toby, preserving his basic good-nature while still affording him someone to be really nasty to when the show needs a laugh.)

The show works because we all know someone frustrating like Michael or Dwight, a little twerp who gets too big for his britches like Ryan, a girl with the wrong guy like Pam, a guy in love with the girl with the wrong guy like Jim, and virtually every other wonderful character on this show. It’s a show that works, at its best, because of just how plain real it is.

Season five starts in just a few weeks. So if you haven’t watched it before, you’ve got a little time to track down the DVDs and check it out. I just hope we’ve got power at home again before the new season begins…

Dang. I knew I couldn’t stop from slipping in a Gustav reference.


Three More Years of ‘The Office’

NBC announced today that Steve Carell has signed a deal to star in three more seasons of The Office. This, of course, fills me with glee. That’ll be a good seven years of this show, and assuming the next three are as good as the previous four, it’ll go down as one of the all-time greatest TV shows. The writers are top-notch, the cast is incredible talented and…

…waitaminute, this show has already been on the air for four seasons?

Man, it still feels like a new show to me, like something that has come out of nowhere to claim a place on my must-watch list. Has it really been four full seasons of antics from Dwight and Michael, of the sweet romance of Jim and Pam, of the insane ravings of Creed or bitter jealousy of Kelly? Well… okay, it hasn’t actually been four full seasons. The first year it was a mid-season replacement with a mere six episodes, and season four was severely truncated, a victim of the writer’s strike.


I remember once when Tim Allen signed a deal to extend his Home Improvement contract for three seasons, and ABC starting running ads like wild proclaiming the fact. Three whole seasons! It seemed like an eternity then. Now the best place to see Home Improvement is Nick at Nite.

TV has become quite the indicator of just how quickly time really does zip by. I’ll enjoy every minute of the next three years of The Office, but man, can’t somebody slow it down a bit?

Oh, and dig that YouTube video I dug up of great moments from the show. Especially if you’ve never seen it.


What I’m Reading: The Office and Philosophy

I’m a big fan of the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series, a line of books that use the ancient art of philosophy to shed light on various TV shows, movies, and other things from the world of entertainment. Previous volumes have included dissertations on everything from The Matrix, 24, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, South Park, The Simpsons, and the bands Metallica and the Beatles. By now they’ve got the formula pretty much down-pat.

This book focuses on one of my favorite shows, The Office (both the current American version and the original British version, as evidenced by the cover photos of Steve Carrell and Ricky Gervais, respectively). The way this series works, if you’ve never read one of the books, is several noted professors and authors each write a short chapter detailing how some facet of the show (or movie or band or whatever the subject is) relates to a different idea or theory of academic philosophy. For example, different chapters in this book deal with how the Jim and Pam relationship illustrates the concept of workplace romance (and romance in general), how Michael Scott’s inability to accept the death of his former boss relates to the basic human fear of mortality, how the show reflects progress (or lack thereof) in racial and gender equality, and even a chapter about a 30-second joke from the British series, in which Gareth keeps talking to Tim through a wall of boxes even after he realizes that Tim has left, and how that relates to the very concept of sanity.

The book, like most books in this series, has its ups and downs. The best chapters are those in which the writers use the characters and situations from the show to reflect a philosophical concept or ideal, and use those examples to explain them, or vice-versa. There are a few chapters, however, that seem somewhat arbitrary — the writer seems to pick a pet topic (affirmative action, for example) and then discusses the basic philosophy behind that topic. He uses characters from the show as an example, but purely hypothetically — instead of using things Kelly or Creed actually did to make his point, he says if Kelly were to do this, if Creed were to do that — and in so doing, he sucks away any true relevance to the TV show that got the reader to pick up this book in the first place.

Fortunately these chapters are outnumbered by the good chapters in the book. It’s not a light read, exactly, but it’s certainly lighter than a typical philosophy textbook. If you’re a fan of The Office, and enjoy talking about the deeper layers of the show (of which there are many), you could certainly do worse than to pick this book up.

This week’s reviews:

Each week I write a slew of reviews for I shall endeavor to share those with you here each weekend, just in case anyone is interested. Here are my reviews for the week of June 1-7.

May 2023

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