For all the trophies showered on “30 Rock,” “The Office” remains not only NBC’s highest-rated comedy but its best and most consistent program, making its choice for the featured post-Super Bowl slot such a seeming no-brainer, it’s almost surprising the network recognized it. Yet despite a strong second half, this hourlong episode doesn’t rise to the suds-soaked occasion, trotting out gratuitous guest shots and playing so steadfastly within the show’s confines as to invite no one new in. Despite a few belly laughs, this splashy showcase falls short in the context of the game’s much-hyped paper chase.
It was NBC, notably, that finally gave up on using the Super Bowl to launch a new program and simply served up an hour of “Friends.” But that series fit better with the venue and embraced the idea of incorporating big-name guest stars to create a more-than-just-another-episode feel.
In contrast, “The Office” kisses off what amounts to a Jack Black-Cloris Leachman-Jessica Alba cameo by means of a movie within the show that’s considerably more juvenile and uninspired than the program’s best bits.
What’s left, then, is another extended episode, with the first half-hour dominated by the outrageous behavior of office nerd Dwight (Rainn Wilson) — which, while amusing, seems over the top even for him — before the second finds eager-to-please boss Michael (Steve Carell) arranging a roast of himself to buck up office morale. That latter part is quite good, but it also highlights how “The Office” is an awkward fit for the post-game assignment, inasmuch as most of the laughs are of the uncomfortable, squirmy sort (the episode was written by Paul Lieberstein) — not exactly the mood fostered by a day of yelling at the TV and gulping beer.
The hour does work in a nice subplot involving Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer), but again, you need to be an “Office” aficionado to fully appreciate that relationship’s ups and downs. In fact, only one joke about the curmudgeonly Stanley (the scene-stealing Leslie David Baker), too good to give away, acknowledges current events.
In short, “The Office” excels in part because of its subtlety, and that’s a rare commodity amid the U.S.’ annual celebration of TV gluttony. That said, at least give the Dunder-Mifflin gang credit for answering the call and working overtime.