The original pilot of The Office was, for the most part, a word-for-word and shot-by-shot remake of the original British pilot. Following on its heels, “Diversity Day” was the first completely original episode of the American Office. Although funny, the antics of Michael Scott make it hard to completely stomach all of the jokes.
Quick recap: Michael tells a racist joke (actually, Chris Rock’s infamous “Niggas v. Black People”), and a racial sensitivity trainer is sent in from Corporate to smooth over the incident. The first act of the show is comprised of a very awkward group discussion in which the sensitivity trainer, Mr. Brown, is constantly being cut-off by Michael. This brews to a boil when Mr. Brown yells at Michael in front of all his co-workers. The second act involves Michael’s attempt at one-upping Corporate by staging “Diversity Day: Take Two.” Michael’s idea of celebrating diversity ends up being more racist: he assigns race cards to everyone and they are forced to guess each others race by saying stereotypes. Oh, and Jim has a bad day but Pam falls asleep on his shoulder so he’s happy.
To be blunt, Michael Scott works better as a character who we can laugh at but at the same time sympathize with. The show would later use this version of Michael to great success, most notably in the wonderful seventh season, which was effectively Michael’s swan song. However, in “Diversity Day,” Michael comes off as incredibly thick. Does he really not understand how saying the “N-word” can offend people, even in a comedy act? His ignorance is very damaging to the early parts of the episode.
However, the second act allows Michael to make up for it. The audience realizes that Michael isn’t truly racist, he’s just a moron who doesn’t understand what racism really is or why it hurts others. In his mind, his card idea was genius and allowed people to view the world through a different culture’s eyes, which, on paper, sounds rather profound. Sadly, it isn’t. When Kelly slaps Michael after his attempt to “feel like a minority” he finally realizes what he has been doing is wrong.
Despite the oddness of the diversity plot, the episode is filled with some great gags. Michael’s “video” about being the founder of a made-up diversity program is hysterical, made even better by the shoddy filming job and the fake Lincoln quote (see, Best Quote below). Dwight’s uneasiness at being a “Woman” during the card game was also brilliant.
The episode also has successful touches of drama. The fact that Dwight stole one of Jim’s biggest clients for no real reason not only makes the audience feel for Jim, it makes us all hate Dwight a little bit more than we did before. Finally, Pam falling asleep on Jim’s shoulder was the first big “awwww” moment in the series.
All-in-all, “Diversity Day” had some good things going for it and some bad things going for it. Luckily, the good things largely overshadow the bad, which makes this episode of The Office a funny, but not brilliant entry.
Final Rating: 8.2 out of 10
Best Quote: “Abraham Lincoln once said that ‘If you’re a racist, I will attack you with the North” and these are the principles I carry with me in the workplace.” — Michael Scott