A Case of the…. Thursday Night TV – The Office & ER

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my Tuesday night television lineup, and this week I’m going to do the same for my Thursday night (excluding Smallville, which typically has its own column). That leaves two NBC staples, The Office and ER.

I’m pretty fresh into my viewing of The Office, as I only sporadically watched last season. I always enjoyed the show, but there always seemed to be a scheduling conflict. This year, however, I’m a loyal viewer and an absolute fan. A lot of people are saying that they prefer the half hour installments, but I must say, I whole-heartedly enjoyed the full hour episodes. The overall assessment of those who prefer the half hour episodes seems to be that when the show was a full hour it lacked constant laughs. My view, as odd as it sounds, is that the show isn’t supposed to be constant laughs. The comedy, for the most part, is very dry with the intention of appearing adlibbed and true to life. And aside from a few exceptions, the characters aren’t supposed to be “cartoony” or outlandish. Again, they’re supposed to be relatable and true to life. With that in mind, I don’t think it can be fairly compared to, say, Seinfeld or even Curb Your Enthusiasm, where the intention is to have you rolling on the floor laughing every second.

Again, I know that sounds backwards and counterproductive to a comedy series, but I truly believe that the funny parts are hysterical, and the rest of the show is simply enjoyable. Surprisingly, that equation makes the show just as humorous, if not more so, than any other traditional comedy out there. So, again, I prefer the hour-long episodes.

This past week was hilarious, of course, with Michael being shunned by Ryan for a camping trip (made only worse because Toby was invited), so he compensates by going on a wilderness survival venture of his own. Unbeknownst to him, Dwight is watching from afar to ensure that Michael doesn’t do anything to hurt himself. This of course presented us with the highlight of the episode, having Dwight watch Michael through the scope of his rifle, and ensuring the cameraman that the safety is on, as he sets it at that very moment. Honorable mention goes to Michael cutting off the legs of his pants for no particular reason, only to have to tape them back on because it was colder than he expected.

Back at the office, Jim is left in command of the ship during Michael’s absence. He makes the bold decision to combine everybody’s birthday that month into one party, with disastrous results. This provided one of the rare instances where we understand that Michael isn’t as completely inept as he is usually presented. His closing moment with Jim at the party was surprisingly sweet as well.

I’ve really enjoyed ER for the past few seasons, and I absolutely love the fact that John F’N Stamos resurrected this show. I mean, the guy who everybody will forever remember, for better or worse, as Uncle Jesse arguably saved the once number one show on the once number one network. Amazing. Awesome. Good for him.

That said, I was a little disappointed with this past week’s showing. Let me preface this by saying that I am probably one of the few people who absolutely loves Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Moretti. It’s about time the show gives us a realistic portrayal of the “boss of the hospital” who’s primary concern is to ensure that everything is done efficiently, correctly, legally, and carefully. I loved it last season when he reamed the entire staff for not properly taking a patient’s history. I thought his idea of having a doctor and nurse on duty in the waiting room doing basic check ups for people waiting was genius.

I also like that his character isn’t one-dimensional. He’s tough and strict, and he’s clearly not there to coddle his subordinates, but he’s not unfeeling. He showed leniency to Pratt when he had to study for his boards and he commended Gates for his good work at the ICU. He’s also not overly stubborn. When Pratt and Morris were drinking before being called back to work, he rightly pulled them from dealing with patients. When provided with proof that they weren’t drunk, he let them return to work without any conflict.

I understand that most of the characters don’t like him, as he’s the big bad mean boss, but it’s a bit disappointing that nobody seems to recognize (aside from fleeting moments) that he’s a good department head, and that he appears to be a good enough person.

With that (long) preface out of the way, I was really, really, really disappointed that the writers made the decision to have him sleep with Abby. I understand why it happened, from a plot standpoint, as the viewers really needed to understand how far she had fallen, and short of her killing somebody or herself in a drunken stumper, this was the best way to do that. She needed to do something unforgivable and out of character, and this accomplished that, but I feel like it was a needless use of Moretti as a character. In a lot of ways, I feel like he should be kept away from their personal lives, and here he was placed right dab in the middle of it.

All of that said, I always think its funny when women referred to themselves as “assholes” (since that’s primarily an insult reserved for the males), so when Abby apologetically called herself one, it did make me laugh. As did the awkwardness between the two characters when the scene was made inadvertently romantic, due to their suddenly candlelit surrounding.

One thing I don’t get, though, is that apparently not one person on staff knows that Abby is an alcoholic. I realize that she wouldn’t be wearing a t-shirt stating such, but it seems to me that these people who have been working with her for years, many of which are her close friends, would know about this fairly major aspect of her life. At the very least I expected Neela, who is supposed to be one of Abby’s best friends, or Chuny, who has been there forever (I mean, she had just talked about how she was around when Greene and Ross were still there), would know. I mean Carter had an exceptionally brief drug tryst and everybody seemed to have known about that.

Another thing I’ve noticed about this season is how there has been a seemingly conscious effort to make the staff more friendly and personable with one another. Back in the era of Greene and Ross, the staff definitely shared closer relationships that weren’t restricted to romance. Greene and Ross were best friends, Benton and Carter had a professional bond, Greene and Hathaway were always really close, as were Benton and Corday. The examples go on. The most striking example of this is with Pratt and Morris, who are suddenly now best friends. I find this to be a very positive thing, as the show was at its best when the characters were individually strong, but shared a close connection to one another. It was a really powerful moment when, say, Greene died. Compare that to when Ray’s legs got amputated, and it was barely touched upon. This year, when Neela’s life was in danger or when Abby’s son was in an accident, you could definitely sense a newfound closeness amongst the staff.

This upcoming week Luka returns from Croatia. It’ll be interesting whether or not Abby tells him about her one night affair or how he reacts to her relapse. It’s been an enjoyable season, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.