Hi there. Welcome back to my episode-by-episode recap of and reaction to Newsradio. Spoilers ahead for this episode. Proceed accordingly.
THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:
Mr. James offloads onto Dave the responsibility of deciding who gets the annual bonuses. However, the parameters as set by Mr. James – already well known to the staff since before Dave was hired – are that one person is to get a “big bonus” and one person is to get “the shaft.” Mr. James uses this as a motivating tool. Lisa and Bill are both convinced that they should get the “big bonus” with Lisa’s belief a potential complication to her relationship with Dave. Matthew does not want yet another year of getting “the shaft.”
During the midst of this drama, people in the office continue to leave their food and drinks on Bill’s desk and it is driving him insane.
Dave decides to give himself the shaft. He gives Catherine the big bonus because she is the only person who did not openly lobby for it. We find out as the episode ends that not lobbying was her strategy.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP AND REACTION:
Dave comes into the office and everyone starts bringing up “the big day tomorrow” to him. He does not know what they are talking about.
Dave: What day is tomorrow?
Beth: April 19th.
Dave: What’s so special about that?
Beth: That’s the big day, Dave.
Lisa finally tells Dave that April 19th, tomorrow, is the day that Jimmy gives all of them their annual bonuses.
After the opening credits, we see Joe in Dave’s office. He is telling Dave that if he gets a fax modem, Dave will be able to download *these* on his own computer. Dave then thanks him and tells him he has never been an aficionado on computer pornography. Joe claims “it’s the technology that fascinates me.”
Joe leaves Dave’s office and Lisa enters. After kissing Dave, he asks her if she can avoid wearing his suit jacket when going to pick up the mail in the morning. He says that her perfume lingers on the jacket and he then smells like her at work. While Lisa’s head is inside Dave’s jacket, sniffing the fabrice, Beth enters without knocking. When Dave asks if she ever knocks, she says no, neither does Mr. James, and he is right behind her.
Mr. James enters and compliments Lisa’s perfume. Both Lisa and Dave say thank you. When Lisa exits the office, Mr. James asks Dave if he has a think for her and Dave says “of course not.”
Mr. J: Good, don’t dip your pen in company ink, that’s what I always say.
Dave: I hear you sir.
Mr. J: Don’t punch the clock with the time card in your pants, you know what I’m saying?
Mr. James then sits down at Dave’s computer and sees the pornography that Joe had pulled up on his laptop.
You know they get these in color nowadays.
Mr. James asks Dave if he is stoked about the big day. He then tells Dave that figuring ou the annual bonuses is “pure hell.”
Mr. J: It used to be the hardest part of my job.
Dave: Oh yeah, what changed it?
Mr. J: I made it the hardest part of your job.
As Jimmy is leaving the office, he points out that Lisa’s perfume really lingers with just a hint of a smirk on his face. Dave tries to blame “the stuff they use to clean the carpet in here” when he is interrupted by Bill.
Bill takes Dave out to the big open concept area where most of the office desks are located and guides Dave to his desk. Bill points out the things on his own desk, and asks Dave to name its own. One by one Dave says “that’s yours, Bill.” When Dave is just about fed up, Bill points out that a cup of coffee and some half eaten food – which are not his – have also been left on his desk. Dave suggests that he just throw the food away and forget about it. Then Dave does just that for him. By the time the two are almost back to Dave’s office door, and Dave is telling Bill that is is being paranoid, Bill points Dave back toward his desk and shows him that more food has landed on his desk.
IT’S LIKE SOME CRUEL MAGIC TRICK!
Just then, Mr. James returns from “the can” and gives Dave some guidelines for issuing the bonuses. Everyone except for one person is to get a bonus of $400. The person who does not get $400 is to get a “big bonus” of $3,000. He also says that he wants to give one person a bonus of $0, “or as I call it ‘the shaft.'” He deems this system a great motivator for the staff.
Dave is uncomfortable with both the big bonus and the shaft.
I think that’s just going to generate an atmosphere of paranoia and fear in the office.
[Mr. James smiles]
Mr. James tells Dave that he needs to make a phone call so Dave leaves him in his office and goes out into the open-concept space in the middle of the office. Matthew is standing outside of Dave’s office door and searching for hints about who will be getting “the shaft” this year. We learn that Matthew has gotten the shaft in each of his three years at WNYX.
When Mr. James leaves Dave’s office, Matthew makes a show of appearing to be busy. Matthew admits to Dave, after Mr. James leaves, that he is worried that Mr. James has noticed that he comes in late and is always leaving early.
D: You do?
M; Yeah, but don’t tell Mr. James, please. I gotta avoid that shaft.
Dave gets a phone call at Matthew’s desk. We can see through the broadcast booth glass that the caller is Bill. Dave reiterates a few times on his side of the phone call that he will take care of it. While Bill is staring at the scene through the glass in the background, Dave asks someone (we don’t know him) to not eat his lunch at Bill’s desk. The man dumps the food out on Bill’s desk and leaves. The phone at Matthew’s desk begins to ring again. While we see a clearly outraged Bill in the background of the camera shot, through the glass, Dave asks Matthew to tell *him* that he is not there.
Joe and Bill are sitting nearby Matthew’s desk in the next scene.
Bill: How Joe, who’s the black private dick who is a real sex machine for all the chicks?
Joe: Bill, I think that would be Shaft.
Bill: Who’s the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?
Joe: Again Bill, we’re talking about Shaft. [..] You know, they say that cat Shaft is one bad mother…
Matthew: Shut up you guys!
[Mr. James walks in]
Mr. James: What’s going on?
Bill: We’re just talking about Shaft.
Mr. James: I can dig it.
In Dave’s office, Mr. James sits down. Dave wants to talk about the bonuses.
Oh, you want to give Matthew the shaft? I like the way you think, Dave.
Dave does not want to give the shaft to anyone. Mr. James asks Dave who is plans to motivate people. Dave does not have a quick answer. Mr. James says “buzz, time’s up” and walks out of his office. Dave follows him out. As he is now standing in front of Bill’s broadcast booth glass, Bill begins to get his attention by throwing things at said glass. Dave goes into his booth. He and Dave stare at another extra holding a cup of coffee. When the man walks away, Bill says that he must have known he was watching. Bill then tells Dave that he wants Mr. James to know that $3,000 will not be enough this year. Bill then tells Dave that Jimmy gives him the big bonus almost every year “for my consistent level of excellence.”
Bill breaks away from the conversation with Dave to stare angrily at someone else walking near his desk with food. Dave leaves the booth. Someone sets a large bag of food on Bill’s desk.
Bill: Who did this? Whose food is this? This desk is not a steam table WHOSE FOOD IS THIS?!
Delivery man: Bill McNeal?
Bill: Oh, right! [gets out wallet]
Sometime later, we see Dave in his office and Beth laying down on his couch. He asks if she has told anyone that he is deciding the bonuses and she tells him that his secret is safe with her. She suggests that he just give *her* the bonus and that she will even go get him a cup of coffee. When Dave tells her she has a deal she replies that he has called her bluff. He asks Beth to help him figure out the bonuses.
I assume you are giving Lisa the big bonus, right? I mean, in addition to the one you are giving her on a semi-nightly basis[…] You do know that Lisa is absolutely certain she is getting the big bonus, don’t you Dave?
When Dave calls Lisa into his office, Beth continues the joke:
Beth: You’re not gonna give her the shaft are you Dave? I mean, in addition to the one yo ugive her on a semi-nightly basis.
Dave: Fod God’s sakes Beth, were you raised by truckers?
Lisa comes in and Dave tells her that he, and not Mr. James, is in charge of distributing the bonuses. Lisa replies that it does not matter who gives it to her as long as she gets it. Dave asks her how it would look if she got the bonus given that they are dating.
Lisa: Nobody knows that we are dating.
Dave: Beth knows.
Lisa: Beth can be dealt with.
Dave: Are we eventually going to have whack the entire staff?
Lisa leaves, somewhat angry, and Joe comes in right behind her. He points out to Dave, while laughing, that somewhere on the floor is a switch that controls all the power to the station and that he is the only one who knows where that switch is located.
Dave: What’s so funny about that?
Joe: I don’t know. It just makes me giggle[…]
Dave: Hey Joe, I’m new to these parts, but where I come from we call that a threat.
Joe: [still laughing] Yeah, that’s what we call it here, too, Dave.
Matthew follows Joe in and threatens to go find Mr. James at his office downtown and so something if he gets the shaft again. He demonstrates his anger by pulling one tissue from the tissue box, crumpling it up, and throwing it. As he tosses a cushion from Dave’s couch back onto Dave’s couch, Dave calls a staff meeting at the conference table.
Dave suggests to the staff that they pool all of the bonus money and divide it equally. Bill rejects this idea as it “reeks of communism” and Lisa, Joe, and Beth all join him in that rejection. Just then, Catherine leaves the broadcast booth. Dave tells her this is her last chance to add her two cents to the discussion. She says she has no opinion on the bonuses and Dave then awards her with the bonus. Bill, Joe, and Lisa are predictably outraged. Dave then says he will take the shaft himself.
When Dave goes back into his office and closes the door, Bill tells Catherine she can drop it as Dave is now gone.
Sorry gang, I guess you just gotta know how to play the game, honey.
Mr. James comes in later. He tells Dave that he wants Joe to get an extra $300, that he wants Lisa to also get a big bonus, and that he wants Beth to get an additional $150.
Dave: Sir, are there any of my bonus decisions that you do agree with?
Mr. James: What, uh, what’d you give yourself?
Dave: The shaft.
Mr. James: Good work, I gotta go.
As Mr. James is leaving, Bill calls Dave over to his desk to discuss, again, the situation of the clutter on his desk. Dave tells him it is not a good time. Bill persists. Then Dave sweeps everything – computer monitor, stapler, papers, etc., off of Bill’s desk and Bill suggests that maybe they should talk about this another time.
Dave turns around by his office door, seconds later, and another plate of half-eaten food has appeared on Bill’s desk. Dave is now genuinely disturbed by the phenomenon and walks away.
This is a great episode. Dave comes into the office and talks to almost every cast member, trying to figure out what “the big day” is, before he finally resorts to getting the information from Lisa. Dave Foley is at his best playing a control-freak clumsily grasping for control.
I enjoyed that almost everyone has their own prior history with “the big day” and Dave has to figure that out throughout the episode. Mr. James likes to create fear and paranoia. We see at the end that he likes to remove the fear and paranoia for his favorites after-the-fact, too.
Matthew – thrice shafted – is kind of coming into his own as a character viewers almost want to see on the receiving end of some light office bullying. It would be easy to feel bad about what happens to Matthew, from Bill, Joe, Mr. James, and others, but Andy Dick plays him in such a way that we almost want to see it happen and join them in laughing at his expense. It’s weird to say but that’s a true talent.
This was the most we have seen from Joe so far. This discomfort he creates for Dave when displaying pornography on his office computer was somewhat entertaining. However, Joe’s better moments in this episode were playing along with Bill, just talkin’ ’bout Shaft, and then blackmailing Dave – with glee – in an effort to get the big bonus. It was actually somewhat unclear at the end of the episode if Joe was subsequently bought off by Mr. James.
Beth’s best moment was rejecting the bonus if it means having to get up and get Dave coffee. We are only five episodes into this series and I feel like I have a good feel for who Beth is. Her “almost nightly” jokes to Dave were surprisingly raunchy. Dave’s “were you raised by truckers” rebuke sat well as a result.
Lisa sniffing the inside of Dave’s coat, and being caught, was funny. Her (wrong) certainty that she was getting the bonus was a callback to the pilot when she was also calmly certain that she would be the next news director.
Speaking of callbacks, the premise of this episode felt like a callback to Mr. James giving Dave the task of firing his predecessor before taking the job. In a lot of of ways, Stephen Root’s Mr. James is a cat and Dave is a mouse that he likes to play with but never plans to eat. The humor in that dynamic is that Dave does not seem as though he will ever be comfortable in that role.
Bored billionaire who likes to play mind games with his employee, is one thing. But Jimmy James is also a part-time giver of sage advice: “Good, don’t dip your pen in company ink, that’s what I always say” is great advice to follow.
The star of this episode was Phil Hartman’s Bill McNeal. In a lot of ways, he is among the group of office eccentrics, their version of Dave. He is cool and competent unless or until something small interferes with his preferred order of the world. His absolute unraveling over food left on his desk was hilarious. The best line of the episode was probably Bill screaming IT’S LIKE SOME CRUEL MAGIC TRICK!
The camera work in this episode in conjunction with the set design deserves a lot of credit. Watching Bill rage in the backdrop of a scene, from behind the glass of a broadcast booth, as Dave ignores his phone call about the spaghetti left on his desk was one of the funniest moments of the show so far.
All in all, I continue to recommend a re-watch of this series. It is living up to my foggy memory’s expectations.