The Office, NBC, Airs Thursdays 9/8c

Episode: “Stress Relief” (Season 5, Episode 13)

Synopsis: After Dwight (Rainn Wilson) fumbles a fire safety test, the Scranton gang has to find a way to relax. They end up finding the root of their frustration, Michael Scott (Steve Carell).

Review: On a night when we witnessed one of the greatest Super Bowls of all-time, it’s only fitting that one of the greatest television comedies of all-time would bring their A game as well. The opening sequence of Stress Relief will go down as one of the funniest moments in The Office ever. It also perfectly illustrated how truly unorganized and foolish the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin is. The extended sequence felt like an excellent bit of improvisational theater, and the shot selection helped orchestrate the cocktail of idiocy and anxiety flowing through the room.

In a moment of panic, we truly witness the character of those around us, and the passion of Dunder Mifflin’s best bared to the bone. For Angela, it was cats. For Kevin, it was food. To see the extremes this group would go to for the things they love had me coughing from laughing so hard. The piece with Angela and her cat was the most superb bit of cat-tossing I have seen since Steve Martin in The Jerk. Now, that’s saying something.

The other 37 minutes weren’t half bad either. In fact, they were downright fantastic. With Michael Scott, our Pied Paper Piper, holding the bricks of humor together by leading his blind employees, the show was able to keep us entertained for the entirety. That isn’t always the case with hour-long episodes of The Office. The lesson learned is that , like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the sum of the ensemble is greater than the individual parts. Watch The Rocker with Rainn Wilson if you don’t believe me. I mean that in the kindest way possible, Rainn. Unlike the Steelers, however, The Office didn’t even need bad officiating to make this episode a victory. Zing!

Stress Relief worked because, as we have discussed before, it followed a recipe for success that has carried the show for years. It brought the funny for the majority of the show before showing us emotional sides of the characters. The imperfections of the workers at Dunder Mifflin are the reason we care about them. So we have to see them fall before we’re willing to pick them back up. In Michael’s case, we might offer him knee pads after all these years, and snicker, but deep down we care. Carell’s reaction to the roast his character received was moving and reminds us of the range he showed in Little Miss Sunshine.

Was I the only one who was skiddish about Jessica Alba and Jack Black making guest appearances? Too many NBC comedies have, I can’t think of a nicer way of saying this, whored themselves out to capitalize on America’s awareness of “it” actors. Props to the show for finding a way to use the celebrities in a way that didn’t compromise the familiarity of the regulars on the show. There would have been nothing I would have hated more than to see Alba or Black show up an intern or delivery guy for the episode, only to disappear and never be heard from again. Choosing actors that we see and say, “holy shit, that’s [insert name here],” disconnects us from the story. Think of Samuel L. Jackson in the Star Wars prequel and I think you’ll get what I mean. and who isn’t tired of seeing Cloris Leachman in tabloids these days? I kid, but The Office chose the high road and get bonus points for playing “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates during the process. That song cracks me up.

Forgive me for my Jeff Foxworthy or Angela (Angela Kinsey) impersonation, but you know you’re watching a great episode of The Office when the show mixes situations you’ve been in and can relate to with iconic moments in pop culture.Watch the CPR training scene of this episode when Dwight does his best Hannibal Lecter for the Scranton gang and you’ll know just what I mean.

When they’re at their best, the cast elevates itself to a level of post-modern funniness that very few shows can keep up with. And any show that can laugh at itself is great in my book, as The Office did in the closing moments of the episode. They get my laughter and my applause for offering an episode that ranks as one of the best I have seen since the second season.

Up Next Week: Michael gets sent around to the other branches to explain how the Scranton branch has become so successful. Meanwhile, the new heads of the party planning committee, Jim and Dwight, forget a birthday and get hell for it. And Andy finds a new crush.

Read More: Office Recaps

Did you watch the special post-Superbowl episode? If so, what did you think?

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