Rating: ★★★☆☆

“Tallahassee” was a good exercise in recognizing what works and leaning hard on it while leaving the rest as much in the dark as possible.  Now that Dwight, Jim, Ryan, Erin, Stanley, and Kathy are all working on the Sabre retail store chain project in Florida, there’s a division that I think both groups benefit from because they each now have room to breathe. Ironically, part of the challenge The Office has struggled with since the fifth season is simultaneously one of its best assets, its large ensemble cast and how best to utilize its members in ways that don’t feel forced. The solution offered in “Tallahassee” felt reminiscent of episodes in the first two seasons where the cameras really followed just a few characters throughout the episode letting others chime in only when relevant or especially effective. The result is a less claustrophobic episode which lets the strengths of the more active characters shine through proper.

For an example of why you showcase “the money beets”, just look at this episode’s opening. Dwight’s extremely personal early morning wake-up calls, which took into account 90 minutes for Ryan’s morning ecstasy and 50 for Jim to do his hair, and included a Pretzel Day reference, was a well structured scene that provided one of the better pranks of the season, one that could even be considered slight foreshadowing of Kathy’s destructive intention to seduce Jim.

Thankfully this plot thread was virtually nonexistent in “Tallahassee” as it’s hard to imagine it doing anything innovative (although the next episode is called “After Hours” so I guess we’ll see). Instead we were reintroduced to not only the infamous Todd Packer, whom apparently did quite well with Jim and Dwight’s prank last season which sent him down to Florida to accept a fictitious job, and Nellie Bertram, played impeccably well by Catherine Tate, now the president of special projects at Sabre. I couldn’t help but notice both of these characters spoke of their “huge whopping penis”. Dwight spends the majority of the episode fighting through Jim’s poison a nasty bout of appendicitis, even coming back to the orientation immediately after surgery to impress Nellie whom appears to fulfill the requirement that all Sabre executives be more than just merely eccentric. This is the Dwight we all know and love – the man who wouldn’t let a car accident which caused a concussion stop him from dominating all he foresees. Ultimately, despite Dwight’s creative revising of his group’s dementia-ridden presentation and comments regarding consumer shopping habits and women’s menstrual cycles, remarks I thought would rub Nellie the wrong way more so, especially after her absurdly self-centered confession that she bought 13 pianos to quell her disappointment of not being hired as branch manager of Scranton, Nellie acknowledged that Dwight and Packer were essentially in the running for the open vice president position.

Meanwhile, back in Scranton it’s so quiet you can’t hear a pin drop and Creed’s written 12 plays, all of which I may want to include examinations of in a future literary doctorate thesis. Because Pam refuses to answer the phone, Andy takes over as receptionist and really takes to it, even enjoying himself and finally appearing to have found his place – that is until Pam and Daryl call Andy out for it, something I really don’t understand (why do they care so much about Andy not being happy doing work?), but fortunately it didn’t seem to matter because this extremely minor plot lasted for a total of what felt like no more than five minutes.

So whereas the Scranton scenes offered next to nothing in terms of laughs (except Creed) or emotion (oh, Andy reminds us he misses Erin – whatever), the Tallahassee scenes provided a surplus of story development, laughter and even a bit of emotional resonance, not the least of which came from Pirate Stanley who’s traded in his surly attitude and crosswords for rum, headphones, and a rented sports car which made Jim realize that where once he wished to never become like Stanley, now he admirably wonders if he could handle it. I also was absolutely in love with Dwight when he made an audio recording to Phillip, his (probably) son with Angela, bequeathing Schrute Farms and commanding him to kill Mose, followed by a considerate “heads up” to Mose. Notice how well this episode worked without any love triangle garbage or appearances from Robert California? “Tallahassee” was so enjoyable (for the most part) that these next few episodes look to be the excitement and focused momentum we’ve been waiting for all season. If subsequent Florida based episodes are as entertaining I’ll start a campaigning NBC to not only bring back Community, but to cancel The Office in favor of the Dwight spin-off.

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This article was first posted on February 17, 2012