The Office: Fundamentals

In the wake of last week's wedding extravaganza, The Office got back to its roots this week in a great way, proving that this ensemble is so strong and the storytelling still so entertaining that it can produce a great episode with two of its key players out of the picture. Jim and Pam were on their honeymoon, but that didn't stop Michael from getting sucked into a vintage and slightly insane situation with Dwight and Andy riding shotgun. All in all, a solid ep.

"Mafia" started with a great cold open, featuring Michael breaking down the word "fundamentals" by highlighting the "mental." (His three-point sales plan was written out: handshakes, small talk, shut up and sell.)

The episode got rolling when Michael was visited by an imposing, Italian-sounding insurance salesman played by Mike Starr, who will forever be known to me for his work as the hitman in Dumb & Dumber. Writer Brent Forrester and director David Rogers worked a lot of great little jokes into the smaller moments of the episode, like when Michael told Erin to clear his schedule and she guilelessly replied that his morning was blocked for "creative space" while the afternoon just said "free play." Andy and Dwight didn't like the look of the salesman, and as soon as he left, they set about convincing Michael that the salesman was actually a member of the mafia trying to force Michael to buy protection for the company. As Dwight said, "Look at all the facts: He seems like a mobster." That's all the fuel an episode like this needs, and sure enough, it played out tight and funny the whole way.

The B plot was about Kevin falling in love with Jim's office, which he used to visit just to fart but has now come to enjoy as a hangout. He fields a call from a credit card company and pretends to be Jim, which winds up getting Jim's credit card canceled for the "unusual charges" the real Jim is accruing on his honeymoon. When he realizes what he's done, he meets the camera's gaze and utters a defeated, "Shoot." I love this guy.

The greatest sequence was when Michael took Andy and Dwight to meet with the salesman at a restaurant: Andy showed up wearing a mechanic's coveralls so that the tire iron he was wielding wouldn't raise suspicion. It was close to being too "wacky," as when Jim, Michael, and Dwight dressed up with fake mustaches to raid the Utica branch, but by having just Andy in disguise, and having Michael and Dwight confused and disgusted by his idiocy, the show stayed planted in an easy quasi-reality. (Andy was roped into a helping a woman jump her battery, but his botched attempt wound up ruining her engine, and his excuse -- "I've had kind of a long day at the mechanic store" -- was priceless.) Eventually Michael was able to scare off the salesman when Andy and Dwight "lied" to him that the guy was a real salesman and not a gangster. A cute, funny, tight little episode.

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