After a few weeks of Dwight-Angela-Andy drama, last night The Office got back to its roots with some out-of-nowhere inanity in the form of a heated debate between two sides of the Dunder Mifflin staff over an eternal question of our age: Is Hilary Swank hot?

Some viewers found the sequence pointless—but isn’t that the point? The Office loves to investigate extremes in how far its characters will go to amuse themselves and challenge each other, no matter the issue. The Swank Debate contained a lot of quintessential Office elements: it let the dynamic ensemble cast shine, and struck that essential middle chord between totally relatable and totally ridiculous. Many of us have held the Swank Debate with friends before, but would any of us ever go so far as to map the symmetry of her face to defend our side?

This is American-style democracy at its finest, and most hilarious. The whole thing reminded me of a Senate session—each side became entrenched in its own side and caught up in polarizing definitions. One of the things I love most about The Office is that it’s the only show on prime-time television that would devote half its episode to an intellectual discussion about what the word “hot” even means. In the end, the Yes party won the majority vote at Dunder Mifflin, but the No’s made several compelling arguments, including Kevin’s revelation that the real surprise in Boys Don’t Cry isn’t that Swank’s character, Brandon Teena, is a girl, but that Swank isn’t a boy. Others conceded that she was “attractive” or maybe even “beautiful,” but not “hot.” As Kevin so profoundly puts it: ““A painting can be beautiful. But I don’t want to bang a painting.” So wise, and yet so stupid. That pretty much sums up the Swank debate as a whole.

The other part of the episode followed Michael and Dwight as they go on assignment to investigate Prince Family Paper, a small area competitor that Dunder Mifflin wants to put out of business. We see Michael’s conscience at work as he tries to navigate between his human sympathy for the small-business family and the pressures from David Wallace and Dwight to be the “big shark” in the Darwin business model. There were a few points in this plot that I thought could have been pushed further to showcase Michael’s dilemma, such as the chase scene through the office, when I thought Michael would surely destroy the client list. But the fact that he doesn’t is another intriguing layer to his persona, and a testament to the show’s quality writing—it was surprising when he finally gave in to the system, but not out of character. As for weakness in the Prince Paper plot, the quality one-liners it produced, including Michael’s latest oblivious gaffe (“Ooh, Vietnam. I hear it’s lovely.”) made up for that in my eyes.

Much like the Hilary Swank issue, The Office audience seems split on whether recent episodes have been some of the best or the worst of the series. The show’s tone certainly has shifted recently, and there has been a marked absence of motifs (Michael’s hatred for Toby, for example, or the Office vs. Warehouse struggles, or even much Jim and Pam action) that have made up the core elements in the past. Michael seems a little more serious about his work lately, and the whole Angela drama has kept Dwight and Andy from their hilarious/annoying office antics.

The show has been forging different terrain recently, but this Hilary Swank debate seemed a step back into familiar territory, with mixed success. Going forward, the question seems to be if The Office can continue to evolve in its focus without losing the magic that made it so successful in the first place.

We’ll just have to wait and see until February 1, when The Office returns with an all-new episode, “Stress Relief,” in which Michael will try to get his employees to relax before discovering that he is the number one stressor at work—leading to his insistence on a no-holds-barred roast of himself.

Best in Show

Best Quotes: “You know how I feel about IHOP! It’s socialist!” – Dwight

“Ooh, Vietnam, I hear it’s lovely.” – Michael

“Laughter is my job. Tears are my game. Law is my profession.” – Michael

 “A painting can be beautiful. But I don’t want to bang a painting.” – Kevin

“The old Stanley Hudson would have found something to complain about with this actress. But that’s no way to live life. Look at this healthy, sexy, pretty, strong young woman. C’mon, people! She. Is. Hot.” – Stanley

“She’s hot, okay. Because if you are saying that Hilary Swank is not hot, then you’re saying that I’m not hot, because obviously I’m not as hot as Hilary Swank!” – Kelly

Best Scene: The scene in the car when Dwight and Michael establish their “licking lips” code and enact the JAWS theme. Do I have to have a reason, other than that it was hilarious?

By the way, the BuddyTV office took a vote, and decided that no, Hilary Swank is NOT hot, by a margin of 11 to 8. What’s your take? Vote and sound off below!

-Meghan Carlson, BuddyTV Staff Writer
Image courtesy of NBC

Meghan Carlson

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

Meghan hails from Walla Walla, WA, the proud home of the world’s best sweet onions and Adam West, the original Batman. An avid grammarian and over-analyzer, you can usually find her thinking too hard about plot devices in favorites like The OfficeIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and How I Met Your Mother. In her spare time, Meghan enjoys drawing, shopping, trying to be funny (and often failing), and not understanding the whole Twilight thing. She’s got a BA in English and Studio Art from Whitman College, which makes her a professional arguer, daydreamer, and doodler.