After the prerequisite break for the holidays, The Office returned Thursday sandwiched between that new sitcom about Bill Pullman as President. This episode, entitled "Lice," brought us into 2013, the last calendar year of The Office. The focal point of "Lice" was exemplified in the shortened opening credits, as all we saw was Jim and Pam. Indeed, they and their relationship has in many ways been the crux of this final season, with good season, especially since Andy sailed off with Josh Groban. Andy isn't even mentioned in this episode. He was missed zero percent.
Although, while I call this a Jim and Pam episode, it is mostly a Pam episode, with Jim just serving as a humorous counterpoint to the plight of poor Pam Halpert. That is, after the cold open, which focused on Jim and was a bit of well-observed delving into the minutiae of life, the kind of thing The Office still does well from time to time, particularly in cold opens. While Jim, Darryl, and Kevin are discuss hoops and the Sixers, he bites his lip. He then proceeds to continue accidentally biting that new wound, until he gets so fed up he storms out and leaves work. It was pretty ideal for a cold open, in terms of scope and timing and what have you. Although, this episode also suffered a bit from when it was filmed, as when talking about the 76ers the dominance of Andrew Bynum is brought up. He has yet to play this season due to injuries in both of his legs. Foiled! I could give further examples of problems with their basketball talk, but that's not what this is about.
Jim is working part-time in Philly, and presumably staying in Philly while he's working there, and that leaves Pam home alone with her two young children, and it is wearing on her. This gave Jenna Fischer the chance to engage in some well-done physical humor, and "Lice" is probably her best showcase in a while. When she shows up to work all frazzled, she suffers her first indignity when Erin mistakes her for Meredith.
Pam and Meredith are tied together for the rest of this episode. It all begins when Pam realizes that some of the lice her daughter had, lice she spent all night trying to destroy, has probably stuck with her. Pam has, in all likelihood, brought head lice into the office. This is an excellent premise for an episode of The Office. Far too often, the show has delved into ridiculous, occasionally downright stupid storylines. Things that have no plausibility and barely have anything to do with the inter-workings of an office. This, on the other hand, is reasonable but also serious enough to create some genuine drama and, through that, perhaps hilarity will ensue.
Of course, when lice are found in the office, everybody blames Meredith, what with the way she lives her life, and Pam is reticent to accept the blame, especially when everybody gets so angry at Meredith. Also, evidently Erin is an expert on lice, due to her sad childhood and all. Erin has become the reverse Kevin it would seem. She's just getting smarter and smarter. It's kind of a bummer. I wish they could have found a happy medium with her. Most of the gang have lice, and the ones who don't head down to the warehouse to work.
Except Dwight, who naturally spearheads the cleaning process alongside Erin. Of course, Dwight's plan involves a hazmat suit and a bullhorn and lye. Erin goes with mayonnaise. A helpful tip for those of you at home. Also, Meredith shaved her head, much to the chagrin of everybody else, particularly Pam. Kate Flannery has suffered many an indignity as Meredith, but this was even notable for her. Pretty funny too, for a mere sight gag.
Pam's plight gets worse when she's stuck with Creed as her mayonnaise buddy. Oscar is with Angela, who takes the opportunity to treat him poorly, and naturally Pete is with Erin so they can have fun with mayo in their hair and have one of the more sensual hair washing scenes I have ever seen in a network sitcom. Their relationship seems to have taken a step back from the Christmas episode. I still don't really care. Anyway, Creed, mayo applied, ditches Pam before returning the favor, leaving Pam to apply her own mayo. This was not only another sad moment for her, but it also left her hands covered in mayo when her phone rang. Thus, she had to put it on speaker phone, and, naturally, it's her mom calling, saying that Cece still has lice. The truth is out!
Now, in many ways, Pam has become Meredith. It's like a David Cronenberg film! Everybody is angry, Pam is sorry and her hair is all frizzy and filled with mayonnaise. This may be a new low for her. Also, Dwight had a couple of cartoony moments, although they were both funny. Having ripped a hole in his hazmat suit, he has taken up in Andy's office, hey nobody else needs it, and he intends to bug bomb the whole office. Then, he drops the bomb, and it explodes in a white cloud of poison. This led to Dwight getting drugged, but naturally he was OK. It was done about as well as it could be, given the sort of ridiculous nature of it. At least it was a nice sight gag. It was called back when Dwight dropped another bomb in his car.
However, when Meredith overhears Pam leaving a sad message to Jim's voicemail, Meredith offers to go with her to a bar. They share a drink and connect, and Pam realizes just how hard Meredith has had it as a single mom. Meredith is doing pretty well even with her shaved head too. It's a bit of a cop out, admittedly. Everything sort of works out, but this is the last season of The Office. It's a farewell tour in a way. I'll let them undercut anything somber if they so choose. Plus, in the tag of this episode Pam and Meredith awkwardly, but happily, stumble through "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" doing karaoke and it was awesome and one of my favorite episode tags in a good, long while. Simple yet joyous.
As for Jim, he has the exact opposite of a day. He takes a limo to go meet Dr. J and shoot hoops on a business meeting. So, things are great for him while everything is falling apart for Pam. It's like that episode of Seinfeld where things go well for George while Elaine's life falls to pieces. It just serves as juxtaposition to Pam's problems, to heighten things both comedically and emotionally.
This was an excellent Pam episode, led by Fischer's performance. It was a strong "A" story in general. It was a great story idea that was well-executed. It had a lot of funny jokes. I don't really have any complains about it, which has been rare recently. I don't know if it was great, necessarily, but it was really good. Perhaps focusing on a well-established character like Pam, and a reasonable character like Pam, helped.
In the "B" story, Darryl has convinced Val to break up with him through a two-part plan that mostly involves gaining a lot of weight. He's happy, but he also misuses his breakup to get sympathy and foodstuffs from his coworkers. This leads Phyllis, Kevin, and Nellie, the three others who don't have lice, to try and convince Val to take Darryl back. It gave us a really funny Nellie speech in which she warns Val about being middle-aged and single. When Kevin hits on Val, she realizes where she stands, and takes Darryl back. Which is, of course, not what he wanted. He's hoisted on his own petard! It was good.
"Lice" was a nice return episode for The Office. It was really good throughout, one of the strongest of the season. After a few episodes, it seems clear to me the absence of Andy is really helping, and so far the Pam and Jim dynamic has been handled quite well for the first time in a long time. I really feel like they can carry the main storylines both in terms of comedy and drama. Throw in a little Dwight and Erin and friends and it's a nice recipe. The Office has undeniably had struggles in recent seasons, but episode like "Lice" clearly show that they can still craft good storylines and tell really funny jokes. Hopefully they can carry this level of quality into the series finale.