B.J. Novak TV Guide blog: Halloween

From B.J. Novak’s TV Guide blog, dated October 18 2005:

Someone Gets Axed on Halloween!
by B.J. Novak, aka “Ryan”

Tonight’s episode of The Office [8:30 pm/ET on NBC] is the Halloween episode.

It takes place on Halloween, during a workplace-wide party in which all the employees show up in costume. The much bigger story, however, is one that inspires far more fear in the employees than anything Halloween-related, and through very unfortunate luck it takes place on the same day as this party: October 31 is also the last day of the quarter, and the day on which Michael (Steve Carell) must finally, after months of procrastinating, fire somebody.

(Yet another level on which Michael is a bad boss: When it’s time for him to actually be a bad boss — i.e., make a simple decisive move and lay off an employee — he can’t bring himself to do it, and instead pulls off the Band-Aid interminably.)

If you’ve been watching the show for a while, you’ll know that the threat of downsizing has been there for a while — in fact, since our first episode, when Steve Carell’s character learned it for the first time. Over time the audience may have forgotten about it, and Michael has been able to put it out of his head as well. But tonight, there is no avoiding it, and somebody does indeed get fired.

One fun thing about filming this episode was instead of our usual, realistically plain suits, we got to be on a set in which everyone was in a Halloween costume. Just as would happen in a real office, at first we were very excited by all the costumes. And then, eventually, we all got used to it and just went about our daily business as two-headed monsters and vampires and sexy cats and witches and Dorothy. Seeing the most serious of our plotlines play out alongside such silly and bizarre visuals was, I think, one of the most inspired ideas of the episode’s writer, Greg Daniels.

Without giving away too many surprises: Steve Carell spent the workweek dressed as a two-headed monster. Michael left this costume on the whole day, even as he called one person after another into his office to soberly talk to them about the risk of being downsized. Instinctively, several of the actors talked to Steve Carell’s second head, and I found myself doing this occasionally even when we took breaks. Rainn Wilson, who plays the boss’s intensely unique stooge Dwight, dressed himself as a Sith lord — though, in my opinion, the effect ends up making him look more like the face of death, which only added to the surreal quality of the episode.

Jenna Fischer, who plays the receptionist, Pam, and is, I think it’s safe to say, real cute to begin with, came dressed as a cat. Maybe this is less safe to say, but she looks really, really cute as a cat. One of our writers, Gene Stupnitsky, was especially struck by this and has since suggested several plotlines in which Pam Beesley must disguise herself as a cat. Which, if you watch the show, is hardly the type of madcap adventure that is a typical source of humor in The Office. The fact that Gene seems more than willing to ruin our show for the sake of bringing back this costume is a testament to how cute it looked. (Or, then again, maybe Gene is making cold calculations about how to bring scores of new viewers into our realm of otherwise realistic, observation-based office comedy. Mmmm… no.)

Paul Feig directed this episode, and it’s worth mentioning what it’s like to work with him. (He also directed our “Office Olympics” episode.) Paul has a great résumé, most notably as the creator of the show Freaks and Geeks, and is a very talented director, especially visually. Impressive fact: Paul Feig always wears a suit, every single day. It was mildly ironic that he was directing the one episode in which almost no one wears a suit — although, to be fair, Paul Feig’s suits are very stylish and expensive-looking, whereas the suits our characters wear range from “bargain basement at Kmart” to “bargain basement a JCPenney.” And now for an awkward fact: Paul wrote the book Superstud, a comic memoir about his early sexual experiences, which writer and costar Mindy Kaling read and warned everyone vociferously not to read before working with Paul, because the book apparently reveals way too much about someone you are supposed to trust with blind reverence while you film.

I would love to write more but I am being called into the writers’ room to write the episode in which Pam goes undercover as a cat in an animal-rescue clinic. If you get a chance to see the episode tonight, I hope you like the jokes, I hope you are able to focus on Steve Carell’s real head, and I hope you enjoy Halloween a hell of a lot more than these characters do.

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