Inner Circle should be best remembered for giving unto the world “Bad Boys,” the song that has, for some 20 years, opened COPS. My father so loved that song that he actually bought a tape of Inner Circle’s greatest hits, doubtless the only reggae music he has or ever will purchase, and I remember taking long trips through the east side of Saginaw (the most violent portion of the most violent city in America) listening to him sing along—even the incomprehensible lyrics (“You ‘chock’ it on this one, you ‘chock’ it on that one, you ‘chock’ it on your mother and you ‘chock’ it on your father”).
Years later, to me at least, “inner circle” meant the part in TIE Fighter when Thrawn is promoted to Grand Admiral (Battle Ten). I don’t think I ever made it to that part, but there was a cheat that allowed you to see all the killer cutscenes. Damn fine game.
However, this time the Inner Circle is Deangelo’s collection of office favorites—Darryl, Jim, Kevin, and Gabe—who meet in his office to play miniature basketball and incur jealousy from the rest of the office, who in turn wonder why they weren’t chosen. That’s about it, and is the reason I took two paragraphs describing my previous encounters with the term “inner circle,” because there’s not much to recap. Angela accuses Deangelo of sexism in a plotline that doesn’t really go anywhere other than giving Andy the chance to bring up his college course in women’s studies and then realize that he ultimately learned nothing from it. Instead, Jim gets cast out and then tries to redeem himself by challenging Deangelo to a real basketball game that, somewhat nicely, ends in tragedy when D attempts a slam dunk from the free-throw line (exit Deangelo).
The episode is short on plot but gives some screen time to a few characters we haven’t seen in a while (which, given the heavy emphasis on Michael this season, is pretty much everybody), specifically Kevin, Kelly, and Ryan. Kevin’s taken on the role of professional schmooze to Deangelo despite having no real strengths other than schmoozing and willingly humiliating himself—and we get to see his trademark grin in a talking-head bit where he relishes his inclusion within the inner circle and then immediately assures the camera that such a thing doesn’t exist. And Ryan assumes the role of Kelly’s handler—of course he’s been that for the majority of the series, but Deangelo is under the impression that supervising Kelly is Ryan’s actual job.
Add to that a talking head in which Pam describes her as-yet-unwritten series of children’s books featuring a little girl and a unicorn, entitled the Horse Flyer(echoes of The Ocean Walker resonating) and some killer moments of insubordination from Dwight (and another heap of his bizarre home life [Moze holding pissing contests with the Schrute family chickens] to add to the pile) and you have another relaxed episode that just plays around with its characters.
I don’t mind. Yeah, yeah, The Office has run out of steam, but it hasn’t reached the level of laziness that’s dominated The Simpsons for the past 10+ years. It’s become more like a video game that lets you keep playing after you’ve beaten it—just running around Vice City shooting bystanders and replaying some of those annoying off-road missions before seeing how long you can maintain six stars. Not even TIE Fighter had that.