An Open Letter to The Office

Dear The Office:

I am really sorry that it has come to this. But please stop being terrible.

Once upon a time, you were “must see TV.” After a rocky start in adapting a British program with a small but cultish American following, you found your voice and made the concept your own. You captured what it was like to work in an office: the often motley crew of coworkers that you are forced to interact with and with whom you spend more time with than your family; the hilarity in the monotony of everyday office life and the little pleasures that can be found in trying to make it through the day; the incompetent bosses.  You developed characters that we cared about and were invested in: Michael Scott – the ineffective, yet lovable boss who views his staff as the family he so desperately wants; Dwight Schrute – the odd and geeky coworker who loves rules and discipline (and beets); Creed – the creepy guy in the office who no one really knows what he does (including Creed); Ryan – the office temp, trying to survive the madness and Michael’s odd obsession with him to move on to bigger and better things; and of course Jim and Pam.

In Jim Halpert, the slacker salesman who is more interested in pranking Dwight than making a big sale, and Pam Beasley, the office receptionist stuck in a relationship with a lug that didn’t appreciate her, the show found its true heart. Amongst all the office hijinks, their budding relationship was what a lot of people tuned in for, myself included. You handled this relationship masterfully –the “will they or won’t they” was dragged out just long enough that it was believable and the obstacles in their way felt natural and not just a forced way to prolong the drama. You showed that getting a couple together would not ruin the show and that there was in fact comedy in a couple happily dating and working together.

But this was not just a show about office romance. Some of the greatest humor from the show had nothing to do with Jim and Pam directly, but instead derived the interactions of the staff and how they goofed off around the office. The pranks between Jim and Dwight were a particular source of comic gold:

A delicate balance was found where the show was both laugh out loud funny and sweet.

And really, how can you not love a show that introduced “that’s what she said” into the general lexicon.

And then something happened.

At first, it seemed like a few missteps. You went to the well too many times with interoffice relationships – the love triangle of Dwight, Angela and Andy was a poor man’s Jim, Pam and Roy. There was an occasional episode that just wasn’t funny. But then the ship would be righted with a string of amazing episodes, like the “Michael Scott Paper Company” story line or the introduction of Amy Ryan as Michael’s love interest Holly.

However, the problem became more than just momentary lapses. You didn’t know what to do with Jim – first he was promoted, which could have been funny, but the status quo was quickly restored before there was time to mine the comedic potential. Instead of awkward being funny, the show was just awkward. The prank wars seemed more mean spirited. Michael and Dwight became too cartoonish, to the point where you wondered how either one of them was still employed. You wasted appearances by great guest stars like Idris Elba and Timothy Olyphant. Jim and Pam started to seem kind of like smug jerks. And why were these documentary filmmakers still following these people around? There will still moments of the former show – Jim and Pam’s wedding was particularly outstanding – but great episodes were becoming few and far between.

When Steve Carell announced he was leaving The Office, it seemed like a golden opportunity to wrap the show up on an upswing. The final episodes with Carell were among the best that had been done in a while. Some of the original spirit returned. However, as one of the more popular shows on a struggling network, there was no way that The Office was going to end. Despite your track record, I was still hopeful that the introduction of a new boss would get your creative juices flowing, that it would provide the opportunity to reinvent and invigorate the show and get it out of its lackluster rut.

That didn’t happen.

The introduction of James Spader had real promise based on his brief appearance at the end of last season. But the character that returned was just bizarre and lacked the zen master qualities you originally gave him. Promoting Andy to be the new branch manager was inevitable – with the success of his film career, giving Ed Helms a bigger role was probably necessary – but instead of exploring a new dynamic, the personality of Andy was rebooted to basically become Michael 2.0. We once again have an office romance triangle. And it just doesn’t work. It just all seems lazy and rehashed.

And then the news broke yesterday that you are thinking of spinning off the Dwight character to his own show.

No. No. A thousand times no.

You need to fix the original – improve the writing, allow your characters to speak in their authentic voices and figure out how you want to use the cast before you take on new challenges. It shouldn’t look like you are figuring it out as you go along. There is far too much talent on this show for it to be continually wasted.

You used to a show I recommended. Now you are a show that I need to justify. And I can’t even really do that anymore.

In short, get your s&*t together.

Love, Heather

Hugo – A Review

When you hear the words “adapted from a children’s book,” the first name that pops into your head is probably not Martin Scorsese.

Not that Marin Scorsese is anything but a gifted filmmaker. He has the Oscar to prove that and his style and technique are legendary and easily recognizable. However his trademark long tracking shots are often used to portray brutal violence in films like The Departed, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and Casino. What was R rated Marty doing directing in a PG world?

Based on the interviews I saw with him, he wanted to make a movie that his daughter could see and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick was one of her favorite books. At least I think that is what he said – Scorsese is also famous for speaking very, very quickly. That makes sense, since at twelve years old most of her father’s catalogue would not be suitable for her consumption.

But what I think also attracted him to the project is that while the story is about an orphan boy who sets the clocks in a Paris train station, it is also the story of the lost magic of early film making. Similar to The Artist, Hugo is also a bit of a love letter to the pioneers of early cinema – the trail blazers who experimented with the medium during the early 1900s. Hugo is as much a tribute to real-life filmmaker Georges Méliès as it is about the journey of the title character – except it does take a while to get there.

Hugo has been billed as a “tribute to film making,” but it takes until 30 minutes into the film for the first reference to movies to be made. Up to that point, the movie is the story of Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who spends his days making sure that all the clocks in the station are properly wound, avoiding capture by the Station Inspector (played by Sacha Baron Cohen, in a departure from his roles as Borat and Ali G), and stealing what he needs to get by from the shops in the station. It is during a foiled theft that he meets the owner of the station toy shop (Ben Kingsley), a hardened man who has no sympathy for young Hugo and who takes Hugo’s most cherished possession as punishment. In his quest to regain his treasure, Hugo is befriended by the toy shop owner’s ward Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz, aka “Hit-Girl” from Kick-Ass) and the two of them stumble upon a secret past that the toy shop owner has been hiding.

The movie is beautifully shot and I imagine is even more spectacular in 3-D. I saw the movie in 2-D and it was easy to imagine the places there Scorsese would have used 3-D technology to enhance the story. The scenes of Hugo scurrying through the inner workings of the clocks are particularly breathtaking and probably benefited the most from the 3-D upgrade. The acting is uniformly good, including a quick appearance by Jude Law, and Sacha Baron Cohen provides some comic relief with the slapstick of the Inspector.

Overall, Hugo is quite charming. Scorsese handled his first foray into family fare with aplomb. It is not the type of movie that I would typically seek out (nor am I probably the target audience) but I did enjoy it. I did not walk out the cinema feeling like I had just seen the year’s Best Picture, but I do understand why it appealed to members of the Academy with it romanticizing of the birth of film making. While I found parts of the story lacking, it is worth checking out simply for the beauty of the cinematography.

GRADE: B+

We Now Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

And……..we’re back.

About three years ago I dipped my toe into the world of blogging. As someone who loves to write, it seemed like a natural outlet to channel some of my creative energy. I enjoyed doing it and the four people who read my posts were complimentary. But then I took an “All Star break” and just never picked it up again. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision – I was actually in the middle of a series of hard hitting posts where I ran down the best looking players on each Major League Baseball team – but days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months and I lost the momentum that I had.

In retrospect, I realize part of the problem was that my previous blog lacked focus. I originally started it as a way to keep up with friends and to chronicle my life. But Facebook made the former less relevant and I was always weary about how much of my personal life I actually wanted to put on-line. What to share and what not to share started to get complicated. The end result was I was bebopping all over the place, jumping from topic to topic and writing posts that were just too long. It was too overwhelming.

But the itch to write didn’t completely disappear. Resurrecting the blog in some form was an idea that I kept coming back to.  First I had to calibrate my scope and expectations. In the words of Steve Jobs, I had to “find what I love.”

And what I love is pop culture.

Movies, TV, sports and books – I can’t get enough of them. I view with suspicion anyone who doesn’t own a television. I’ve found the greatest ice breaker in any situation is to talk about what people are reading or watching.  Entertainment Weekly is my bible; movie quotes rattle around constantly in my brain. I know more about Seinfeld than I do about most members of my extended family. I plan vacations around when and where the New York Yankees will be playing. Had I known that one could make a legitimate living writing about this stuff, my life would have probably taken a very different career trajectory. Or at least would have had a career trajectory.

So we’ll give this a spin and see how this works out. I’ll attempt to document my life as a pop culture connoisseur  – what’s on my DVR and my Kindle, what I’m seeing in the cinema and whatever pop culture goodness I discover along the way. Follow me down the rabbit hole of all things entertainment.