This week’s classic episode to be reviewed is kicking it particularly old school, as it hails from all the way back in the middle of season two. That episode would be “Booze Cruise” which was a portion of the The Office block on TBS this week. I found it rather jarring to watch an episode this old at this point in the shows run. That isn’t to say that it has lost any of its humorousness, at least not any more than repeated viewing usually does to a show. It’s just that, unlike a show such as The Simpsons, The Office has constantly moved forward from day one so these characters have changed and their lives have changed and the storylines have progressed quite a bit to this point. Why, Pam’s engagement to Roy plays a big part in “Booze Cruise.” Now, Pam is married to Jim and has bore his child. So yeah, this episode has a different feel to it now than it did then. Nevertheless, it’s still an excellent episode.
When we join the gang, after the cold open of course, we find out that there is some sort of annual retreat planned for the day. However, what that exact event is nobody knows, except for Michael, who has given everybody a cryptic letter designed to throw them off the scent. While Michael enjoys the excitement of his secret plan, the rest of the office is bemused obviously, because they have decisions that need to be made based on the nature of this trip. As such, Michael relents by telling everybody that the big event is a booze cruise on the hallowed Lake Wallenpaupack. While Meredith is obviously happy at the notion of anything alcohol related, the rest of the group is less enthused, since this episode happens to be taking place in January.
So, it turns out this big event is nothing more than a cruise on a lake in the middle of a Pennsylvania winter. Why, some might say it is even worse than a previous retreat to a bowling alley. Worse yet, all that booze may bring you a sense of warmth in your extremities, but that’s only because it is taking precious warmth away from your core by thinning your blood. It’s bad for you! This was a wise idea from the crew behind The Office for a couple of reasons. Not only does it get everybody out of the office and gives us a new setting, but it is a fairly bleak one as well. More than that, once they get on that boat they are basically trapped until the trip is over. They can’t get away from Michael’s antics or Dwight’s buffoonery or anything else. As Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Hell is other people on a boat in the middle of winter.” He said it right after, “Au Revoir, gopher.”
It should be noted this isn’t just any old retreat. It’s also the basis of a leadership lecture and a training exercise from Michael, one important enough that a woman from corporate is there for the proceedings. The speech begins at the office, where Michael dons a captain’s hat and tries to draw up an elaborate metaphor about how their office is like a ship, a leader-ship to be exact. One must presume that if Michael were working in the education sector he’d be trying to put the pal back in princi-pal (and the stew back in student). However, Michael can only really get as far as comparing the sales team to the crew working in the engine room a la Titanic, which Phyllis complains about since everybody in that room drowns. Michael complains about it being a spoiler for the film, which was extra amusing since it is a film based on an actual event from 1912.
The gang all arrives at the boat, bundled up in the pitch black of night, with Michael handing out Gilligan’s Island references to some of the group, including a native from neighboring island for Kelly and “one of the Globetrotters” for Stanley. Also, Jim brings his then girlfriend Katy (you know, the purse saleswoman) to the event, which of course clearly indicates something is going to happen. You don’t bring Amy Adams in for a guest spot to just be some woman on the boat. Additionally, the captain of the boat, Captain Jack (who may or may not get you high tonight) is played by Rob Riggle. While Riggle isn’t necessarily a well known quantity at this point, he certainly is more recognizable to the average person than he was at the time, although he may have already been on The Daily Show at this point. Either way, he does a good job as Captain Jack, though it is unusual to see him playing the straight man.
For the most part, the cruise is a battle between Captain Jack and Michael for control of the event. Of course, since he’s the captain and because there are people on the boat who aren’t Dunder-Mifflin employees, Captain Jack should be the one leading the festivities, but try telling that to Michael. When he awkwardly yells “And I’m your party captain too” it is a tremendous moment, mostly because Steve Carell delivers the line in a bizarre way.
There’s limbo, there’s shots being taken out of snorkels (somehow), and there’s also a dance contest, which brings the highlight of the episode and one of the best sight gags in the show’s history. One of the most popular and well recognized moments of the original The Office is David Brent (Ricky Gervais)’s dancing. The intensity with which Gervais dances poorly for far, far too long as mild amusement turns into mild horror for those watching. This is the analogous moment for the American version.
Much as is often the case when you compare the British and American versions of The Office, Michael Scott’s dance is a lot more outlandish and the scene is a lot more of a spectacle. However, it is just as funny, and quite frankly I find it to be even funnier than Brent’s dance. Carell’s dance moves are ridiculous and involve a series of high steps and slapping of his knees. At one point, he tries to do The Worm and fails miserably. It is truly a sight to behold, and absolutely hilarious. No matter how the rest of the episode went, this scene alone would have made this a good episode.
Meanwhile, while Michael is off doing his thing, Jim and Katy are sitting at a table with Pam and Roy. Things immediately get bleak for poor Jim as Katy says that it feels like they are back in high school and at the “cool table.” So, apparently, Jim is dating a woman with the mindset of a 15 year old. Clearly, this couple isn’t going to last long. Why, Jim would have been fully justified in breaking up with his right there, but he doesn’t. Nor does he do it when Katy proclaims that Pam being “artsy” and wearing turtlenecks in high school is “hilarious.” Why, even when she bursts into a cheer as she and Roy wax nostalgic (the worst way to wax) about their high school football/cheerleading days. Meanwhile, Pam is amused by the whole situation. Maybe they should have just swapped partners right then and there and been done with it. Granted, it would have really hurt The Office for storylines through seasons two and three, but in the end I think all four of them would have been happier.
Jim and Pam head outside to chat whilst Roy is inside getting drunk via a snorkel, but it is mostly the two of them standing in silence, presumably because Jim is beside himself in this moment and feels like saying, you know, something to Pam, presumably declaring his love for her. Alas, he doesn’t and they head back inside. Michael, Dwight, Jim, Captain Jack, and Roy then find themselves in conversation. C. Jack mentions that when he was in the military, he realized how important the woman who would become his first wife was to him, and how as soon as he got home from Desert Storm he asks her to marry him. What I like best about this scene is that Captain Jack casually mentions that it was his “first wife” and throughout the evening we see him cavorting with Meredith. Clearly, this story doesn’t, or shouldn’t, have that much resonance to it, but it does for a drunken Roy.
As Jim heads over to talk to Pam, presumably, about his feelings, Roy hijacks the microphone and finally sets a date for his and Pam’s wedding. This is, obviously, a huge blow to Jim, who later when asked by Katy whether or not he thinks they’ll ever get engaged gives a definitive no answer and then breaks up with her. Well that’s that then, except for the fact they are on a boat of course. See, both Amy Adams’ presence and the fact they are on a boat came into play.
Meanwhile, Michael finally gets around to doing his speech since Captain Jack is off with Meredith, and naturally it’s painfully stupid and short sighted. He starts talking about how the boat is sinking and he intends to lead that into talking about who they should save (sales and profit centers, for the record). However, despite the assurances of Michael’s employees who know that he is an oaf, the other passengers start to worry, and one of them even jumps overboard. Was the panic all a bit much given the circumstances? Yes. Would any of these people have taken Michael’s word at face value instead of the captain’s? Probably not. Well, at the very least it was a plausible scenario, even if an unlikely one.
This gets Michael zip stripped to the ship, which I have to question the legality of, though to be fair I’m no expert on maritime law. Anyway, Jim heads out there to talk to him, and when the topic of Pam and Roy’s announcement comes up, Jim decides to confide in Michael. Of course, in the episode “The Secret” Jim would come to regret this decision and question why he even made it, but it certainly is reasonable that a distraught Jim would turn to Michael. Who else is he going to talk to, Creed? However, Michael manages to be a pretty good sympathetic ear for the moment, even telling Jim not to give up on Pam. It is mildly convenient that after an episode, and one and a half seasons, of being a myopic buffoon that Michael would have such perspective and reason suddenly, but much like Homer Simpson, and also almost every character in comedy ever, Michael’s emotions and intelligence waver as the situation dictates. Not that they were unreasonable here. Michael rarely acts too ridiculous, and it isn’t like he’s exceedingly sage like here. Plus, he manages to still be Michael-esque, including shoehorning in his brief tryst with Jan.
The episode then ends with Michael informing Dwight that the wheel he is using to navigate the ship isn’t real, and that Captain Jack was just trying to keep him occupied. You would think that Dwight would have realized that eventually when the ship didn’t go where he guided it, but ah well. As for the cold open, it involves Jim putting Dwight’s possessions in the vending machine and then giving him a bunch of nickels to get them out. It’s mildly amusing, and they saved it from being too mean by having Jim give Dwight the nickels.
Despite the name, “Booze Cruise” is one of the bleaker, more emotional driven episodes in the show’s history. It is a particularly rough episode on Jim, but it was done very well, and the emotional scenes do work. More to the point, it is a very funny episode with a tremendous Carell performance. Like I said, his dance alone makes this episode worthwhile, but all the other things orbiting that dance in this episode work also. The best episodes of The Office balance laughs and dramatic moments well, and this is one such example. Final Verdict: 10/10