'The Office': Kathy Bates carries a Sabre

kathy-bates-the-office-320.jpgThat's more like it, "The Office." The show has had an up-and-down season this year, and if I'm being really honest it's probably more down than up. But another corporate shakeup has, at least for this episode, appeared to re-energize the show some. "Sabre" was a strong effort through and through.

Why? Because Michael was playing the somewhat more grown-up version of himself. Because Jim and Pam had their bubble popped a little. Because the show continued to play out my current favorite non-romance between Erin and Andy. So:

Michael Scott, this could be your life

We learn that the company that bailed out Dunder Mifflin is called Sabre (not "Sab-ray"), and their primary business is selling printers. And printers need paper, so ... OK, yeah, that just sounds like really bad synergy. But that's not important yet. The company comes on all new age-y and caring in the video it plays for the staff (featuring Christian Slater -- and kudos to him for embracing the ridiculousness of the cameo and playing it totally straight -- spouting nonsense like "Have you ever tasted a rainbow? At Sabre, you will"). Here's the video, also featuring folksy CEO Kathy Bates.



The CEO, however, turns out to be not so much folksy as she is a hardass, and when Michael complains to the Sabre flunkie about the blocking of web sites, snatching away of vacation days and the corporate-issued metal water bottles that eliminate waste and trips to the cooler -- she basically tells him, get on board by the end of the day or say goodbye.

That sends him running to his erstwhile mentor, David Wallace, but what he encounters there is frightening even to someone as thick as Michael. It's become clear that even before Dunder Mifflin went into the toilet, its upper management was pretty pathetic -- presumably if Wallace were good at his job, his company wouldn't have been on the verge of collapse. So it's fitting to see David floating around his house like he's on a combination of denial and Zoloft, kicking around half-baked ideas for toy vacuums while sitting in his hot tub (Michael keeping his T-shirt on in said hot tub was also a fine visual joke).

So Michael drives back to Scranton, swallows hard and welcomes his new corporate overlords and their metallic water bottles ("Eeeghh -- that's like drinking a battery"). While Michael's story didn't produce a ton of huge laughs (though the staff constantly interrupting and critiquing his toast was pretty great), there was a good deal of truth in it, and it felt like the creative juices were flowing. That makes me happy.

Jim and Pam vs. non-locking bathroom doors

Meanwhile, Jim and Pam are checking out a potentially perfect day-care spot and hoping to secure a spot for their yet-to-be-born child (Jim: "Turns out, a lot of parents want the very best for their children"). The place looks great, and they're super-excited ... until Jim pokes his head in the kids' bathroom and catches the adminstrator mid-potty.

That sends Jim into one of his crazy-awkward tailspins, and while he pulls it together for much of the interview, Mr. Administator (whom you may know as friend to The Single Guy, or perhaps Haladki) doesn't really seem to be feeling it. "You didn't consider the fact that it's not going super well because it's not going super well?" the guy asks. "Nope -- because we're really nice people and you don't seem to like us," Pam responds. "Did you ever consider that you might not be as charming as you think you are?"

Oh, how that last line made me smile. Because, look: I love PB&J. I think they're one of the best TV couples around, and "The Office" has played their romance just about perfectly all the way down the line. But they're often so much in their little Jim-and-Pam world that they can come off as smug. So it's great to see them brought down to earth once in a while. And I suspect there are other decent day-care options in Scranton, so I'm not worried for the Wee Halpert.

Andy and Erin

Part of me really, really wants these two ideally matched goofballs just to get together already. But part of me hopes their horrible ability to read one another persists for a while, because it's comedy gold. Their dueling talking heads ("I can't wait to see how he tops the drumline"/"The ball's totally in her court after the drumline thing") were brilliant, and the scene where Andy tries to get Erin to ask him out was a marvel of mutual denseness.

It's been said elsewhere that Andy and Erin are essentially the anti-Jim and Pam: Everyone can see they're great for each other, but the only obstacle in their way is themselves. It's working brilliantly so far; keep it up, Ed Helms, Ellie Kemper and "Office" writers.

Notes and quotes from "Sabre":

  • John Krasinski directed the episode (his first TV helming gig), and I thought he did a fine job. "The Office" is not really a place for show-offy directorial stunts, but he seemed to have a good eye for picking out the absurd moments the documentary crew captures.
  • Liked the brief bit we saw of Kathy Bates as the Sabre CEO. I think she'll be an excellent foil for Michael and probably Jim too.
  • Creed moment of the week, offering advice to Pam and Oscar about repacking the box from Sabre HQ: "Have you tried making everything smaller?"
  • Best critique of Michael's toast, from Kevin: "Just 'cause you have liquid, that doesn't make it a toast."

What did you think of "Sabre," and of the possibilities it presents for the show?

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Photo credit: NBC

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