Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Office: Oh, Toby

Oh, wow.

It’s not a secret that Toby loves Pam. We’ve known for a long time that he’s got a little office crush on Miss Beesly, but until this week’s episode, we’ve never really seen visual proof of his affections. And then there he was, his fingers tracing a little pattern on Pam’s bare knee, Jim and Pam and Toby and the rest of the office looking around at each other awkwardly.

One word: unfortunate.

We’ve all been talking for a few weeks about the need for a drama-less Jim/Pam marriage. I blogged last week about my will-they-or-won’t-they ennui, but it seems everyone in the Office fandom has it now. We’re flat-out expecting the other shoe to drop on Jam, and we’ll roll our eyes when it happens and let out a sigh and a “Predictable.” Isn’t it funny that the most shocking thing that could happen to these two, the most dramatic, is just a simple, sweet wedding?

Last week, I also pretty much dismissed the idea that Toby could actually come between Jim and Pam. Even though I saw the similarities between “Casino Night” and Toby’s impending exodus, I really didn’t—and maybe still don’t—think that it would be such a huge deal.

We know Toby has a crush on Pam, but it never seemed to come close to Jim’s love for her. I assumed that a Toby-as-Season-Two-Jim crush scenario would serve only to remind the audience (and Pam) of how different things are now and how much better Jim is than Roy.

But this last episode turned things on their head a little.

Perhaps purposefully, the show oddly and poignantly recast Toby as Jim and Jim as Michael in this episode. Even Toby’s little speech about Costa Rica was whoa reminiscent of Jim’s Australia speech. I actually went back to “Dwight’s Speech” to make sure it wasn’t the exact same phrasing—it wasn’t, but it was still pretty close.

So thinking about how freaking awkward those fifteen seconds of fingers-on-knee were, how awkward do you think we (and Pam) would feel if Toby actually pulled a “Casino Night” stunt? If he tells her he loves her or—gasp!—kisses her, I will die. If any incarnation of “Just once” comes out of Toby Flenderson’s mouth, I will keel over and die. That said, it could also be pretty awesome—I love seeing awkward Office moments that involve people other than Michael.

And if this super-unfortunate incident does occur, it could be the direct impetus for the Jam elopement I so desperately crave. This is the only circumstance under which I could forgive Toby for doing such a thing. If he actually throws Jam out of whack, I will slap someone. A writer or Toby or a producer...looks like it’ll be you, Paul Lieberstein.

Because it’d be contrived and silly and, frankly, kind of unbelievable, because Pam’s always been just nice to Toby. When Jim was going through his crush issues, she kind of exacerbated the problem by flirting back—and ultimately kissing back. Jim was vulnerable; Toby’s just kind of pathetic. Especially now, I can’t imagine Pam kissing Toby back.

Also, I’ve seen some speculation that it won’t be Toby leaving. There are a couple of reasons for this spec. One is that it’s been so highly publicized. I mean, the episode is called “Goodbye, Toby.” It’s a little too obvious for cliffhanger material. We’re prepared for the ol’ switcheroo on this one. That said, I’m super-jazzed to see Michael in this episode; the official NBC synopsis says that Mr. Regional Manager throws a huge party to commemorate the immense joy he feels at Toby’s departure.

The other reason is that Amy Ryan, who was just amazing in Gone Baby Gone and who probably knows Jennifer Garner, is appearing in the finale as Dunder-Mifflin Scranton’s new HR representative. Now, perhaps they’ll give her Toby’s old desk in the annex and pretend like she’s sitting back there minding her own business with Kelly all day, but it seems unlikely that Amy Ryan is going to take a job as a series regular on a sitcom.

Ultimately, I love Toby. I love the horrible things that Michael says to and about Toby. And I like that everyone in the office is a little enamored with Pam. It’s kind of like how in my group of theatre friends, everyone kind of latches on to the occasional straight guy. A straight guy in drama club is like candy at fat camp. I’m confident in the writers’ commitment to Jim and Pam’s relationship, but I’m also fearful of their commitment to creating drama. Surely they know better than to really make this into a Jim-Pam-Toby love triangle...right? Because if that’s the case, I won’t just be saying “Goodbye, Toby,” I’ll be saying, “Goodbye, Office.”

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