The Office, Season 3, Episodes 10-11, “Benihana Christmas”
Original airdate December 14, 2006
Welcome to our 2nd Annual Next Projection Christmas Episode Advent Calendar. This was a huge success last year and I’m hoping we can make this an annual tradition on the site. We have a few returning writers and series, as well as some new contributors and shows to cover. Unlike last year where we had themed blocks, this year we’re for the most part sticking to an alternating pattern that should be easy to pick up on. And we’re also making an exception to our “No Christmas specials” rule for one specific occasion that I think you’ll agree will be worth it. So with that out of the way, let’s start this year’s calendar with the 2nd Christmas episode of an old favorite of mine.
After the cold open in which Dwight brings a dead Canadian goose to the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin (“I accidentally ran over it. It’s a Christmas miracle!”) and offers to cook it for everyone, we begin the episode proper with Michael getting ready to surprise his current girlfriend Carol Stills (played by Steve Carrell’s real life wife Nancy Walls) with an all inclusive package to the Sandals resort in Jamaica. But when she arrives early to the office, she’s there to break up with him after he sends out a Christmas card of a poorly photo shopped picture of her, her two kids and her ex-husband on a ski trip with Michael’s face replacing her ex’s. That on top of his spur of the moment proposal at the Diwali party earlier that season is too much for her. Heartbroken from this, Michael mopes behind Pam’s desk and then in his office before Andy decides to cheer him up by taking him to Benihanas.
Meanwhile, after trying and failing to get Jim in on a long term prank on Dwight involving letters from the C.I.A. and then seeing Karen’s ideas for the Christmas party get shot down by Angela as head of the Party Planning Committee, Pam decides to open up to Karen and both decide to form the Committee to Plan Parties and throw a Margarita and Karaoke Christmas Party to happen 15 minutes earlier than Angela’s Nutcracker Christmas themed party. The rest of the episode follows both of these parallel tracks as Michael and Andy drag Jim and Dwight to Benihanas to cheer him up and in the process bring two of the waitresses there back to the party (but not the ones they were talking to at the restaurant) and Pam/Karen battle with Angela over which party everyone eventually goes to. Eventually, Michael realizes that the waitress was just a rebound (especially since he had to actually mark the one he gave the bike he brought for the toy drive to) and after Pam sees Angela distraught over Dwight excitedly winning the raffle prize from their party, they call a truce and ask Angela if they can merge their parties since she has the better food and it is Christmas. And as everyone starts using the now functioning karaoke machine (Angela had stolen the power cord for it earlier), Michael and Jim talk about rebounds, Angela sings “Little Drummer Boy”, Jim and Karen (they were dating during this season) get each other DVD copies of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason as ironic gifts for each other, Michael calls Jann to see if she wants to go to Sandals to which she says yes (though we don’t know that at the end of the episode and it ends up biting her in the ass later on) and Jim accepts Pam’s gift of choosing Dwight’s “mission” of a helicopter extraction on the roof for a meeting at the C.I.A and ice cream social. And we end with Dwight on the roof throwing away his phone after receiving a text stating that he’s been compromised and that his phone needs to be destroyed.
While not as iconic as “Christmas Party” or as hilariously pitch black as the previously covered “Moroccan Christmas”, “Benihana Christmas” is another solid Christmas episode for the series. Personally, my favorite aspect of the episode was the dynamic between Pam and Karen. If there’s one TV or romantic comedy trope that I absolutely despise, it’s “the other one”. A character whose sole purpose is to get in the way of the couple who the show wants us to root for to get together. They’re usually written as either bland straw people who are so clearly wrong for the male or female leads to be discarded or one dimensional villains who do everything in their power to keep the star crossed lovers together, with one of the worst examples being Billy Zane in Titanic. I usually end up feeling sorry for those characters since they’re normally not aware of the romance that’s happening under their noses and are often left getting the shaft and looking like total idiots at best, as well as for the actors portraying them since they’re given poorly written material that as hard as they try to transcend the material, they can’t. What I liked about Karen (as played by the always solid Rashida Jones) is that she was a fully three dimensional character. She had an actual personality that you liked. While she was often the straight man to Jim and to the rest of the cast, she wasn’t above getting in on the pranks Jim would pull. She had a sense of agency and humor of her own. And her working alongside Pam to undermine Angela’s iron grip on the Christmas party showed that under different circumstances, Pam and Karen could have been good friends. As for the plotline itself, it demonstrated the shows deft ability to make fun of workplace culture with its take on bureaucracy and office politics over something as inconsequential from an outsider’s perspective as a Christmas party.
As for the rest of the cast, since this is The Office, each of the cast members have at least one great moment to show off their contribution to the ensemble. With Michael, his funniest moment was him replaying the 30 second iTunes Store sample of James Blunt’s “Goodbye My Lover” over and over as part of his moping as well as him choking up as he tells Jim to take New Year’s away from Stanley. With Jim, it’s him turning Dwight’s officious attitude against him when he tries to shut down the Committee to Plan Parties. With Dwight, it’s the cold open as well as him at the end of the table at Benihana’s trying to hear the conversation Michael, Andy and Jim are having and then Jim pranking him into describing how to properly kill a goose to their waitress. With Kevin, it’s his “Don’t push it.” to Angela as he chooses to go to Angela’s party since she has brownies. With Toby, it’s the shot of him with his hand on Kevin for a beat too long as he feels the bathrobe that was the corporate gift that Dwight took away from him. For Stanley, it’s one of the best uses of a commercial break as he stands and contemplates which of the two parties to go to. And in one of my favorite deleted sequences from The Office (which was probably cut for time), Kelly goes dumpster diving for Ryan, who then follows to find her gift for him, which shows that of all the romances that happened on the show, theirs was the most hilariously dysfunctional and awful.
So while the episode isn’t one of the best Christmas episodes the show did, it’s still a fun and funny episode that showcased The Office during its peak years and a nice little treat to get us started on the Advent Calendar.