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A typo on a company-wide memo dictates that “Employees must NOW insult each other” and off we go to a relatively simple concept that produces a great breeding ground for humor and displays the way this show can juggle humor at multiple levels. This might possibly be my favorite episode of the show not just because it’s the most hilarious at the dialogue level, but because the jokes serve the screwball comedy between Linda and Ted that’s the heart of the show. The slow moving collision of Ted and Linda romantically was stretched out for the entire run of the series and in the interim, the two enjoyed a sweet platonic rapport.
Mirroring these two is the platonic report of Phil and Lem as oddballs in relationship to the world around them. Watching these two conquer humor using math (The sheer volume of wonderful quotes from this episode is so staggering I’d be here all day if I listed every one but let’s just go with this: “Math my friend, she’s always been there for you” “If she ever took physical form, I’d leave my wife and marry her” “Stand in line, my friend”) is priceless.
Speaking of memos, Veronica Palmer starts to feel guilt over the fact that she was promoted to her current position at the expense of another employee, Walter, (Chris Parnell, who was a go-to for guest star roles in the late aughts), whose life has gone downhill as a result. It’s when speaking about this guilt that we see Veronica so devoid of emotions that she comes off as a psychopath. It’s a character trajectory similar in nature to Dennis Reynolds on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and it’s played equally as well here. Veronica’s attempts at an apology lead to guilt sex and just when you start to feel sorry for her (which is pretty immediately), you know that when the time comes to break up with him, she’s going to tear him to pieces with her trademark iciness. Surprisingly, she shows him a little mercy with a nice little corner office. Who knows if Walter (who seems incompetent and only made progress with Veronica because she was guilty) deserves a promotion to a better office, but one of the themes of the show is humanity vs bureaucracy and it’s a nice little touch that Veronica chose to do something oddly human.
The cast has a solid core of five but they rotate in and out characters as needed for the episode. In addition to Chris Parnell, there’s also the shy bespectacled Asian Debbie and the HR lady. They’re all funny characters who gracefully made their marks and exited (at least, as far as I know) but one hopes if the show went past two seasons, we might have seen a return of these guys in an expanded universe sort of way.
Speaking of the “what ifs” if this show continued past two seasons, it’s interesting to wonder if Ted might have gotten more developed as a comic creation. Let me preface this by saying that A) Jay Harrington has done some good work (particularly on “Benched”) as a comic actor and B) the straight man can often be a thankless role. However, there’s some room to be the straight man and add to the comedy (think Dave Foley in “Newsradio”) and there’s some room for improvement here (I know I sound like a kindergarten teacher, sorry).
It’s also interesting to note that all four women in this episode have had or have an unstoppable attraction to Ted. The HR lady drops her guard almost instantly; Debbie apparently is shy because she is tongue-tied in sexual frustration over Ted; Linda has the resolve to intellectually challenge Ted but she never has the resolve to ever pretend she’s not attracted to him; and while Veronica isn’t making googly eyes at Ted, she’s never been emotional anyway. It’s almost as if being superhot is his main character trait (although one could argue that A LOT of women have been painted this way in sitcom TV).
Also, when you stop to think about it, the way Ted doesn’t even acknowledge Debbie’s awkward burst of “WILL YOU GO OUT WITH ME” is kind of cruel. She probably won’t open her mouth in meetings for another year or two out of shame. Poor Debbie.