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The Office – Threat Level Midnight

"Threat Level Midnight", which finally revealed the film Michael's been working on for years, was a mixed bag. On one hand, most of the episode was taken up by the movie itself, which was generally hilarious and terrible without falling into too many standard terrible-movie cliches. On the other, some aspects of its production just didn't fit within the world of The Office, and the story around the movie wasn't very good. Still, it was fun to see so many old familiar faces again.

 Threat Level Midnight

Michael's big action movie has been mentioned on the show before, and finally seeing it was nice. I feel like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia might have had the right idea by keeping its version of Lethal Weapon 5 contained to a single segment, but The Office really went all out with their send up and none of it really felt like a waste. It's just that by spending so much time on the movie itself, there isn't much room to get into any character or story stuff in the real world, which makes it seem rushed and flimsy. The last time Michael showed anything from the movie, the office thought it was supposed to be a comedy, and he didn't react well to their amused reactions. Threat Level Midnight is supposed to be a serious film, and he went through years of reshoots to try to get it right. When he starts showing the movie this time, the office does its best to keep a straight face and applaud at the right moments, but Jim can't help but laugh at a scene, causing Michael to overreact and turn it off.

Later, when Holly can't think of something that was genuinely good about the movie, he complains about how it's his dream to get the movie right, and if he doesn't have working on it to look forward to, what does he have? Holly says he has her, but Michael gets angry at her and goes back to show the rest of the movie to the people he believes were actually enjoying it. But then in the last act Michael realizes that the movie really is pretty silly, and the whole office gets to enjoy it on a more honest level. The problem is that the real issue with Michael's defensiveness of the movie is brought up and then forgotten too quickly, and despite Michael's occasional obliviousness, I have a really hard time believing that he didn't know the movie was stupid in the first place.

The movie is basically every bad spy movie cliche with the stupidness pumped up to 11. The repeated non sequitur one liner of "clean-up on aisle five", the nonsense plot, it all felt more like parody rather than genuinely terrible film making. And while in truth it is parody, within the frame of The Office it isn't, so it just brings up some really weird issues. If it was filmed by an amateur on a shoestring budget, why is the quality of the picture and the lighting and everything so solid? If it was made over the course of several years with help from everyone Michael knows, which is basically an excuse to bring people like Rashida Jones back for a cameo, then why has this process not been mentioned at all on the show before? I appreciated that they avoided bad-movie standbys like poor in-camera editing, abrupt and unexplained casting changes, and fourth-wall breaking mistakes, but those actually would have been more believable problems for the movie to have. Also, if Darryl filmed his scenes as a black President before Obama was elected, why is he clean shaven when last week was the first time in the whole series that he didn't have a goatee?

I realize I'm thinking about this too much though, and I really did like the movie for the most part. The terrible staging and blocking in all the action scenes was funny, I loved the office cringing at the screenplay's occasional dips into really tasteless territory like unnecessary murder of innocents and the threat of necrophilia, and it was cool to spot people like Roy in the background of scenes. The elaborate Tobey-murdering scene was classic Michael, and the debate over Dwight's humanity was some of his best material all season long. Stanley as the narrator was a great touch, and Andy pouring his heart into the role of a Bostonian bartender was funny and kind of sad the way Andy always is.

My favorite thing of all though might have been the perfectly incomprehensible plot. The president calls in agent Michael Scarn for one last mission, to prevent the NHL All-Star Game (the All-Star Game obsession was another nice absurd touch) from being blown up by his old nemesis Goldenface, a personal matter for the president since he owns the arena. But the president is evil and actually wants the arena blown up. And there's no tickets left so close to the game, so Michael has to infiltrate it as a player. But why did the president contact him at all if he doesn't want his plan stopped? And how is it that three days before the game is too late to get a ticket, but not too late to go from total amateur to NHL-ready in a few training sessions? How is a non-professional being allowed to play more logical than the president just pulling some strings and getting him in the arena, a place where he shouldn't actually want him to be? Michael's affinity for shocking plot twists over a coherent narrative is just played perfectly. The episode definitely had some issues, but it was generally pretty great to finally see Michael's grand vision make it to the screen, in one of the show's biggest displays of fan-bait only a little while before some major changes happen.



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