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Michael’s Last Dundies

I haven’t written about NBC’s Thursday night line-up this year, but only out of laziness. I think it goes without saying that 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and, of course, The Office have been a consistent string of shows for the past few months, even the past year. Last night’s episodes of 30 Rock and The Office stood out to me in that they both tried to do the same thing – use a behind-the-scenes, real life event as a plot device – but only one show succeeded.

30 Rock‘s big milestone was their 100th episode, a day I’m sure many executives at NBC never saw coming. They celebrated with a one-hour special written by Tina Fey. Rather than choose between airing a clip show or writing new material, Fey did both, and the result was a disappointment. Ryan McGee at The A.V. Club admits he “was fairly burned out on meta-nostalgia by the end of 30 Rock’s hour-long episode,” and I have to agree. Flashbacks are one thing, but you can’t expect your audience to tag along for an hour’s worth of fairly lengthly clip sequences for every major character.

The episode centres on the 100th episode of TGS, which would have made for an eventful enough episode, and would have provided more than enough “meta-nostalgia” without all the tiresome clips. An awkward plot involving a gas leak does reach a reasonable conclusion, but it just feels like too much work. It’s kind of like watching kids put on a play: I’m sure they had a lot of fun making it, but don’t they realize how tedious it is for the adults? (Ed. note: I am not an adult. Just to be clear.)

The Office, on the other hand, absolutely nailed it. In an episode called “Michael’s Last Dundies,” the writers use the awards show to comment on Steve Carell’s departure from the show and replacement by Will Ferrell.  (Full disclosure: the Season Two premiere, “The Dundies,” is one of my favourite episodes, so I was pumped from the start for this one.) This has to be one of the show’s best episodes. They really demonstrated how to do meta right, mostly by keeping it light enough so the self-reflexive moments don’t weigh the show down. The meta-jokes start early and don’t let up: after Erin plays down her excitement about the Dundies, Michael tells her, “You are getting so funny.” It’s true: the earnest, kind-of-dumb-but-really-sweet Erin is becoming one of the show’s most reliable source of laughs.

Then Michael launches into the first of many comments on his feelings about being replaced: “The Dundies are like my baby, and they need to go on. When Larry King died, they didn’t just cancel his show. They got Piers Morgan to come on and do his show, and that way, Larry lives on.” It’s not easy to write this clever while sticking so closely to character. And being really really funny. (Side salad à la my roommate: how funny was it to watch Will Ferrell try to not be funny?) Some other key moments:

– Michael and Deangelo’s rip-off of The King’s Speech.

Jim leaving the car after Erin tells Pam she doesn’t want to be with Gabe anymore. His reason: “I’m sorry, that just wasn’t interesting to me.” I read his “typical guy” response to the situation as an ironic comment on stupid “this is the difference between chick humour and guy humour” bits. Tina Fey says it better than I could.

– The opening segment of the Dundies, in which Michael plays different people from the office. (Again, my roommate pointed out that everyone – including Stanley – laughs at this bit, which is an important moment for Michael and helps his character achieve closure before leaving.)

– The bit where Deangelo sees himself as Michael in the mirror, and then Oscar says: “The analytical part in me wants to examine it, but I know it has no content.” Again, another ironic comment on the significance that viewers and critics are frantically searching for in every moment that Ferrell and Carell share together on the show.

– Erin breaking up with Gabe as her acceptance speech, and his brilliantly awkward handling of the situation.

– Toby getting the Extreme Repulsiveness Award (and zero respect from Michael, even at the very end.)

– Michael comparing the end of the Dundies to the first Godfather movie (as opposed to the third, which in his opinion wrapped the series up quite nicely.)

– Finally, the cast – ahem, office – rallying together after being kicked out of the restaurant to give Michael a more fitting ending: a hilarious and incredibly moving rendition of “Seasons of Love,” which must have been a surprise for Steve Carell. Either that or he’s an incredible actor, but I’m willing to bet his emotional reaction was the ultimate meta-moment of the night. Those tears must have been in honour of his tenure on The Office. There is no way this show would have made it this far without him. I don’t know what the next season will be like without him, but regardless, he will be greatly missed.

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