It’s time for another review of a classic (i.e. not new) episode of The Office, and since “The Convention” was just on TBS, it gets the call. As such, cast your mind back to the beginning of season three, of which this was the second episode. Jim has just transferred to Stamford, Pam is newly single, and Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” was sweeping the nation.
This episode, as you might expect, takes place at an office supply convention, with this particular event being held in Philadelphia. Michael and Dwight are there representing the Scranton branch, while Josh and Jim are there for Stamford. Michael is, of course, happy to see Jim, with Jim not quite reciprocating to the same level. Then, when Michael sees Jim and Josh getting along swimmingly, he obviously gets quite jealous. Let us not forget how Michael acted in the season two episode “The Secret” once he got it in his head that he and Jim were friends. Michael will not let some other manager take his place in Jim’s heart.
However, Michael’s not just trying to make Jim like him more than Josh. He also has plans for a wild and crazy party, the kind office supply conventions are known for, and he has the “fun jeans” to prove it. He also has quite a bit of liquor and a dart board, the two key elements of any party. When Jim and Josh stop by Michael’s room before they head downstairs for a meeting there is a rather awkward moment where the two Stamford men share an inside joke and Michael decides to laugh along with it. Then, when told its an inside joke, Michael proclaims his love for them and his desire to be a part of one some day. There’s a tangible desperation to Steve Carell’s delivery of that line which makes it resonate that much more.
Most of this episode, or the “A” story at least, is about Michael trying to impress Jim at Josh’s expense. He receives fake text messages, gets fake phone calls, and insists on the two of them taking part in a paper plane throwing contest, where Michael fails horribly. Even the laws of aerodynamics don’t want Michael and Jim to be together! Finally, Michael gives up on Jim, disowning him as a friend in a talking head interview before it is revealed that a representative from Hammermill is in the room with him. He gives Michael a “That is so true” before heading into his spiel about their products. Now there’s a professional salesperson. The two actually do strike up a deal which reminds us that, for all his failures outside the world of business (such as his failures as a human being) Michael is actually a very good salesman and can be good at aspects of his job.
Now that the hours of business are over, it’s party time! Ah, but as you might expect, Michael’s party is a failure, with only one person showing up around the start of the party. However, he takes a quick look around, notices nobody else, and leaves. Later, we follow Jim as he heads toward the techno music blaring out of Michael’s room. We are treated to the sad, inglorious visage of Michael sitting in a dark room by himself with a strobe light flashing. It doesn’t quite create quite as good of an image as the neon beer sign over the dinner table in “Dinner Party” but it was quite the sight nevertheless.
Despite his vowing to swear off Jim earlier in the episode, Michael reluctantly lets him in and fixes him a Cosmopolitan before breaking into a last ditch effort to make Jim choose him over Josh. It is at this point Jim realizes why Michael has been acting so strange (even for Michael) and informs him that it is because of Pam that he left Scranton for Stamford. Once again, as Jim bares his soul to Michael their friendship is fixed, with all the burden that brings on Jim. After all, when he found out the truth Michael promised to put in a good word for Jim with Pam, and then advised he talk to Roy since he’s going through the same thing at the moment. The Hammermill representative and a friend of his then show up to the party where Jim mentions that he and Michael are friends, a triumphant moment for Michael Scott. He then, of course, proceeds to proclaim them best friends, which does not please Jim, and would not please Dwight.
The main storyline of this episode was driven by one of the main, if not the main, themes of the show, which is Michael’s desire to be liked by everybody. Additionally, his desire to be liked by Jim is extra strong, and since he already perceived the two of them as friends the notion that Josh replaced him really sent him into a tizzy. Maybe my perception is off, but I don’t feel like they’ve done an episode this slowburning and understated in a while. Not that I’m complaining about the last season, and sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who isn’t, but this sort of tone really served the show well, with plenty of time for awkward dead air space. It was a simple “A” story but a great one.
There were some other good moments to the “A” story. Michael telling Jan that nothing can happen between the two of them because he’s seeing Carol. Jan’s cold, annoyed dismissal of Michael right after that. Michael jokingly trying to push the buttons on a phone mascot much to the mascot’s annoyance. Angela showing up at the convention and Jim, after getting a key to Dwight’s room, mistaking her for a prostitute (or hooker, in the parlance of our times). Also, an appearance from Jerome Bettis! Why a man synonymous with the Steelers of Pittsburgh would be at a Philadelphia office convention I don’t know, but I suppose there was money to be had. He wasn’t asked to do much, and nor should he have been, but it was a brief funny scene nonetheless, with Michael asking Bettis to come to his party and Bettis trying his best to get out of the situation without hurting Michael’s feelings. Then, Dwight asked Michael why they call him The Bus, with Michael saying it is because he’s afraid to fly which is, of course, not true. It also certainly has nothing to do with his being from Detroit, a city where public transportation is frowned upon.
In the “B” story Pam is going on her first date since breaking it off with Roy, and her first opening date in nine years. The man is a neighbor of Kelly’s who is a cartoonist, which of course appeals to Pam and her interest in drawing. She goes on the date, with Ryan and Kelly finishing out the group, sparks don’t fly, bad cartoons are drawn, and in the end they politely saw their goodbyes. I really appreciated the way the show handled this scenario. They didn’t go with the route of her meeting her (perceived) dream man, and they didn’t go with a nightmare date either. She simply went out, had a nice dinner with a guy, and decided he wasn’t for her. The comedy from the date scene came from Kelly and Ryan, with Kelly more or less force feeding Ryan fries while insisting he loves ketchup. This was, of course, before Ryan started treating her awfully, but they were still the power couple in terms of dysfunctionality, and also the funniest couple on the show. Long like Kelly and Ryan!
However, the funniest thing to emerge from Pam being back in the dating scene was the beginning of Toby’s unrequited feelings for Pam. This episode saw him try to wave at Pam and fail, and then saw him interrupted at her desk by a phone call which led to him decided to pretend to forget what he was going to say to her. Toby’s countless sad, occasionally pathetic, attempts to make passes at Pam were always tremendous, and they began here in all their glory.
As for the cold opening and the cold close, they were both decent but nothing special. The opener saw Michael proclaim his desire to adopt a Chinese baby a la Angelina Jolie, before Pam is able to quickly end his plans by pointing out how expensive it is and how long it takes. Then, the two make a pact to have a kid if neither of them has had one in 30 years. Since this would leave Michael in his 70s, it was a shrewd move from Pam. The cold close was very brief, and it involved Michael turning on a black light in his hotel room to find traces of some kind of contaminants all over his bed.
“The Convention” took us out of the office for the “A” story, but kept us in the world of business. It had rivalry, reconciliation, former NFL running backs, and a man looking unhappy with french fries sticking out of his mouth. That’s a power half hour of television right there. Additionally, it brought a few of the main characters back together for an episode as we all got used to the Scranton/Stamford dichotomy, while, of course, keeping Jim and Pam apart. It wasn’t an uproarious episode, but it was a very good one. Final Verdict: 9/10