Jamie Poniewozik's take on last night's episode of The Office was so right on.
Like me, he enjoyed it — especially the second half, which was amazingly accurate in its portrayal of what it's like when someone hands you a freaky alien-headed newborn, especially compared to most TV shows. The bottle-pushing nurse; the handsy lactation consultant; the mood swings from confident diapering to radical sleep deprivation: The show managed to avoid most sitcom clichés, because they skipped the birth and went right to the far more original subject of the recovery ward.
Now, I'm sure there were people who were bored or annoyed by this stuff — especially the nursing jokes — but I thought it was subtly funny and very touching.
But as Poniewozik points out, the bigger issue with the show is not this episode, but the season around it, and the show's growing difficulty balancing sweetness and darkness. As he writes:
For me, the problem has been that this season hasn't been depressing enough. Let me explain. Yes, The Office is a comedy. At it's best, it's very, very funny — but it's very, very funny about things that are real, that are bittersweet, or sad, or, when you think about them, depressing. The Michael Scott Paper Company, say, or Michael's breakup with Holly, or his abusive relationship with Jan. The plots are funny, sometimes awkward-funny, sometimes slapstick-hilarious, but they always worked on a bigger level because there were real stakes and change.
This season, they've tiptoed near some of these changes, like the recession and Jim's rise to management, then dropped them. Jim and Pam as parents offer an opportunity for plenty of darkness, as anyone who has ever been through the early months with a newborn can attest. (The only show I've ever seen get into some of these subjects is Scrubs, which had a really alarming stretch dealing with Carla's postpartum depression.) If they can get into some of that material without choking on sentiment, without losing the office setting, they'll win some sitcom hall of fame award. Fingers crossed.