Now there's a line I never imagined I'd find myself typing: "In Praise of Dwight Schrute." Before I explain further, can I just say: How awesome are Thursday nights this season?
This week, I truly needed escapism (I have a number of friends who are directly affected by the Time Inc. cutbacks that were announced Thursday, a very sad development for a very battered business), so I opted to watch the ABC lineup in more or less real time, and was richly rewarded.
. Sheer delight. Couldn't be happier for its, and America Ferrera's, Golden Globe wins. In especially fine form this week: Becki Newton as Amanda, who's a scintillating hoot even when she's manipulated into planning treachery against Daniel or calling our Betty a "stumpy troll." I also love how Betty is introducing Daniel to the finer things in life, like slices (although that looked like a full pizza) at the corner parlor and, gulp, karaoke. Took the sour taste of this week's
auditions right out of my head. And what about that final twist: the bangaged lady (Rebecca Romijn) revealed to be Daniel's presumed-dead brother Alex, now transformed into "Alexis." Let the battles over "Mode" begin. With Betty in Daniel's corner, how can he lose?
. Capping a remarkable week for T.R. Knight, the terrific actor whose self-effacing interview with Ellen DeGeneres took such the high road in the wake of Isaiah Washington's continuing career-suicide saga, this week's episode gave our George an Emmy-worthy workout. With his family around him, laying hands on his dying father as life slipped away, there wasn't a dry eye in my house. Heartbreaking, touching, and with an unexpected grace note from, of all people, Cristina, welcoming George to the Dead Dads' Club. Even Meredith learns the value of a fatherly chat, as the estranged Thatcher confesses he's the genetic root of her snoring and tells her the way to cure her partner's sleepless nights is a set of wax ear plugs. McDreamy sure looked happy to try them on for size.
Men in Trees
. Such a cute show. Not the best episode ever, but perfectly pleasant, and how charming were Patrick's repeated attempts (a fortune cookie, Scrabble tiles) to propose to Annie, culminating in his painful plea with his foot caught in a trap at the dump? Romance, Alaska style. I presume Marin's new digs, with that great lakeside view, will be an inspiration for more than writing. We'll see.
Moving on to NBC, because after all, I slugged this Dispatch "In Praise of Dwight Schrute," and I'm still scratching my head about that. From the earliest days of
, back when I had plenty of issues with the show (most have been resolved over time, as this adaptation of the British classic developed its own voice and as its ensemble came into sharper focus), I have not been shy about my disdain for Rainn Wilson's over-the-top portrayal of Dwight, the overeager office patsy. Many weeks, he and the character seemed a Kramer-like device out of a lesser or more obvious sitcom, jerking me unhappily out of the awkward workplace realism the rest of the show so uncannily and hilariously conveys.
That all changed in the last two episodes, as Dwight paid the price for his chivalry toward his prissy soul mate Angela (covering for her by driving her late paperwork to corporate in New York, inflaming Michael's suspicions thanks to the gossip of the unbearable Andy). Dwight resigned, took a job at Staples (where it's quite clear he's not suited for customer service), and to everyone's shock, especially Jim's, he was actually missed.
Turns out Dwight, despite his neuroses and fascist tendencies, was a top salesman, good at his Dunder-Mifflin job. And compared to the offensively unctuous Andy (Ed Helms in a performance of uproarious boorishness), the epitome of preppy evil, Dwight's a prince. Also something of a tragic hero in these circumstances. I totally bought it. And I sided with Jim as he confessed: "I miss Dwight. Congratulations, universe. You win."
In an even less-expected development, we saw how Dwight's absence, and Andy's clumsily cloying pseudostalker chumminess, has taken such a toll on Michael that this most clueless of bosses actually seemed to grow a pair. Michael finally told off Andy, and when Angela confessed Dwight's true intentions for going to corporate, Michael hastened to Staples to fetch Dwight back.
Dwight Schrute, it turns out, is the sort of fool that you can't help but suffer gladly. I imagine there will be times in the future when I will again regret the way he is written and performed, but for now, he earned his moment in the spotlight and made the most of it.
Also on the Thursday beat: Speaking of rising to the occasion, Liev Schreiber made a very promising, and enigmatic, first impression as Gil's temporary fill-in on an unusually haunting episode of
(with a truly creepy late-in-episode appearance by Ned Beatty as the unrepentant serial-killer dentist). Now this is how you handle a star's hiatus. William Petersen wanted time off to do a play, the show found a way to write him out for a limited period with a minimum of fuss, and they found a first-rate actor to bring some new shadings to the first and best of CBS' many popular crime-drama procedurals.
Add the spectacular fun of
' musical episode (which I'd reviewed earlier for the magazine) to the mix, and this Thursday truly was a night to remember.