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Review: ‘The Office’ – ‘Garage Sale’: More than decent proposal

A review of last night’s “The Office” coming up just as soon as I have my neon guy take a look…

“No, I am not going to be proposed to in the break room! That is not going to be our story. Shoulda burned this place down when I had a chance!” -Michael

Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Michael Scott got it exactly right, and so did “The Office.”

“Garage Sale” was not only the highlight to date of the Steve Carell victory lap season, not only an episode that was instantly one of my favorite “Office” episodes ever, but an episode I may just move into the pantheon of all-time great romantic sitcom episodes. 

There are times when “The Office” can struggle with the shifts between Michael the socially clumsy man who drives so much of the show’s comedy and Michael the sweet guy who just wants to get love, and a family. Not here. Both aspects of the character were very much on display and flowed easily into one another, as exemplified by the hilarious scene where Michael tried to light the parking lot on fire eventually morphing into Pam showing him a way to use fire in a (mostly) safe but still incredibly romantic way in the actual proposal.

In a way, I almost wish that “Garage Sale” was Carell’s actual last episode. I’m sure there’s going to be some funny stuff with Will Ferrell coming up, but this episode was so much the culmination of everything Michael has been through, and wanted, for seven seasons, that it’s hard to imagine the next 90 minutes being as emotionally (and comically) satisfying as the 30 minutes last night were.

I just think of that scene in the conference room, and how Pam told Michael that she believes the office should be a family and be very involved in everyone’s personal life – words that validate every belief Michael has ever had about this place. And obviously some of that is just Pam trying very hard to keep Michael from A)screwing the proposal up, B)going to jail, and C)killing all of them in the process. But I think in a way that Pam really has come around to Michael’s way of thinking over the last seven years, and the affection of everyone in that room seemed so genuine – even d-bag Ryan – just as it did as Michael and Holly were walking the gauntlet, and then as everyone watched the propsal through the window to the annex.(*) These people have reluctantly developed real feelings for this doofus, and they wanted him to get his happy ending, and they all seemed legitimately shocked and sad about the news that he’s leaving.

(*) Carell directed last night, and he and the rest of the crew did an amazing job with that whole sequence. The candles in the annex, and then the way more light came in as the gang opened the blinds to watch, was absolutely gorgeous.

And because most of their affection was genuine, it allowed the show to go to a comic well that’s been among the series’ most reliable in these later seasons: Pam and company trying desperately to help Michael get out of his own way. In the early years, because the characters quite understandably hated Michael, those sorts of scenes where he’d run through one horrible idea after another could be among the show’s most uncomfortable (if still often funny). But scenes like Michael wanting to throw a corpse off the roof, or, a few years back, Pam and Ryan trying to keep Michael on message in the negotiations for Dunder-Mifflin to buy the Michael Scott Paper Company, have found a way to ditch the awkwardness, stay true to the characters and still be screamingly funny.

And I loved the scene in the break room where Holly tells him about Colorado, not just because it featured the return of Michael saying “Shut it!,” but because of the way they played Michael’s reaction to the news. He’s not petulant that something is upstaging his proposal plans – in fact, until Holly tries to propose to him, the subject barely even seems on his mind. He is completely, 100% concerned for her and her problem and interested in doing whatever he can to help to help this person he cares so deeply about. And that is not something that Michael Scott was once capable of doing.(**) Carell and Amy Ryan were terrific in that scene – so warm and natural – and even better as Michael took Holly on the walking tour of all their greatest moments (virtually all of them from actual episodes).

(**) I think back to the season 2 episode where it’s Michael’s birthday and everyone is mainly concerned that Kevin might have skin cancer, and Michael has to make it all – even, to an extent, his show of relief that Kevin is okay – be about him. This Michael is not that Michael.

So Michael Scott gets his happy ending. He gets the woman that he loves, and who loves him and is perfect for him. And he finally gets demonstrable evidence that the office has really become the kind of surrogate family he always dreamed of. And that knowledge, and his love of Holly, gives him the strength to finally leave the job, and the office, that for so long he let define every aspect of his life.

Like I said, perfect.

Some other thoughts:

• This could have easily become an entire half-hour about Michael, Holly and the proposal, and it would have worked and I doubt anyone would have complained. But among the many impressive feats of “Garage Sale” was the way it was also able to work two separate, funny subplots – Dwight’s impressive bartering skills being undermined by one of Jim’s best-executed pranks in a long time, and Andy, Darryl and Kevin playing the “Dallas” board game – in, and also through the Dwight the trader gag add good jokes for most of the regulars.

• The Dwight/Jim “miracle legumes” gag worked in part because of Jim’s quiet committment to it, but also because it was an inherently harmless prank – Jim taking advantage of Dwight’s belief in supernatural forces, but never really hurting him (other than depriving him of an expensive telescope he had conned his way into) and never seeming especially cruel or arrogant in how he did it, which has been a problem with some recent Jim pranks. And Rainn Wilson was so funny in playing Dwight’s attempt to justify a decision that he instantly knew was horrible.

• Dig the way Ryan’s attention shot right up the moment Dwight said, “I’m not James Franco!” Heh. Of course Ryan would desperately want to do everything Franco might do. (Though hopefully this won’t mean he dresses up like Marilyn Monroe.)

• The “Dallas” story was just the right length: didn’t get in the way of the proposal story, got some quick, amusing mileage out of Andy and Darryl’s exaggerated Texas accents, gave Kevin a rare win (“And that… is ‘Dallas'”), and then got the heck out.

• As some of you know, Phyllis Smith wound up on this show practically by accident. She wasn’t an actress (though in her younger years she was a dancer), but rather was one of the show’s casting people, and pilot director Ken Kwapis enjoyed the way she read with the auditioning actors so much that he suggested putting her on the show as one of the then-anonymous Dunder-Mifflin employees. Like the other background players (some of them actors, some of them show writers, some of them… Creed), she’s gotten far more to do over the years, and I was really impressed with the scene where Phyllis gave Holly advice on dealing with aging, infirm parents. She may not have started out as an actress, but she’s definitely become one.

• In addition to the trip down Michael and Holly’s memory lane, I liked Michael and Oscar’s amused reaction to Jim’s own proposal. We saw it, and we know how perfect and sweet it was for the two of them, but when you describe it the way they do here, of course it would sound kind of lame to those who weren’t there.

• Because it can’t be stated enough: Jenna Fischer is so, so funny whenever she plays a scene where Pam is afraid for what Michael is about to do, and when you up the stakes in terms of both a proposal and arson, she is incredibly funny.

What did everybody else think?

By Alan Sepinwall – Michael pops the question in a warm, wonderful, hilarious episode

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