"The Office" has dished out some pretty awesome holiday-themed episodes throughout their history. From “Christmas Party” in Season Two, to the horrifically awkward (but even more awesome) “A Benihana Christmas” from Season Three, to Andy's total mess of a "12 Days of Christmas" gift to Erin in Season Six's "Classy Christmas," Dunder Mifflin knows how to make the festivities memorable. And despite a rough run of the past few episodes, the staff pulls it together for an episode that fits in perfectly with the previous holiday classics.
As Season Eight breaks for the Winter, we're put through a full-scale laugh marathon that features such rib-cracking asides as Erin's dead-on Stanley impression, Kevin and Jim receiving a cookie jar and a vasectomy pamphlet as gifts, and Nate and Gabe joining Dwight on air guitar, air keyboard, and air bass, respectively, for a rockin' pseudo-cover of TSO's "Carol of the Bells". At the episode's onset, Robert and Kevin even share an embrace to soften the blow of Mr. California's wife leaving him. "I feel like a kitten being cradled by a gorilla," he oozes, while Kevin bear-hugs him.
Turning the tormenting tradition on its head, Andy offers to give both Jim and Dwight's Christmas bonuses to whichever man can cease the one-upmanship and pranking most effectively. As a result, the core mischievous comic relief of the show is amplified exponentially as a season-highlight game of self-sabotage framing unfolds, wherein the dueling coworkers play tricks on themselves to make it look as if the other is up to some hijinks.
Dwight puts a porcupine in his own desk drawer, Jim reads his credit card info aloud – leading to Dwight buying $200 flowers for Pam. Jim draws devil horns and a beard on a picture of CeCe, which actually leads to a near-termination of Dwight. That's all just the tip of the shenanigans iceberg, which culminates in Dwight spray-painting his own car with "Jim is awesome" in large silver letters – unaware that the game has already been called.
Erin took a sharp left in character as well, and we're witness to just how good of an actress miss Ellie Kemper really is as she tries her hand at being the jealous drunk in the office. One shot encouraged by Robert California leads to several more, and the typically childlike-innocence that makes Erin so adorable is traded out for an adventurous thrillseeker.
But when she came face to face with Andy's actually-real girlfriend Jessica, we saw an even more uncharacteristic side to Erin: jealous malice. After expressing her "Christmas Wish" – hence the episode title – that Jessica die, Robert California sees a need to bring the boil down to a simmer, and insists on driving her home. The plot could've taken a seriously dark turn once the car pulled out of the lot, but thankfully instead we see the moment used as a device to show that Andy truly does care about his ex, and likely still has feelings for her.
Sure, we're only shown Andy's concern for Erin's safety, and his voyeuristic secrecy in watching Robert send her off unscandalously and safely told us more than the direct events did. They're not the emotional power-punches that we found in the Jim/Pam or Michael/Holly arcs, but there's strength to be found in the subtlety.
While Ed Helms (Andy) directed, Mindy Kaling (Kelly) gets the writing credit for this episode, and producers would be wise to give her a greater share of the creative pot. After a few dismally formulaic episodes centering almost entirely on Andy's supplicating desperation for acceptance by Robert California, we're brought back once again with an ensemble episode full of color and emotional scope. Just in time for the Winter break!
CraveOnline Rating: 9 out of 10