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''The Office,'' ''Earl,'' ''Veronica Mars''

By RD Heldenfels Published: November 3, 2006

Last night's episode of ''The Office'' was one of those where the show makes us squirm uncomfortably even more than it tries to make us laugh. Of course, that's one of the virtues of the show. It is so confident in its characters and storytelling, it can make us uneasy here and there -- because, as we know, these characters would do that to us in real life. And how neat was it that, without breaking a sweat, the show ended up with two men in the back seats of cars being driven by women, under very different circumstances.

''My Name Is Earl'' last night also dealt with human discomfort -- as Earl and Randy tried to say ''I love you'' to each other -- but it was more conventionally funny, and it confined the uneasiness to the characters onscreen instead of making the viewers queasy, too. I like ''Earl,'' and last night had its joys (including the whole grilled-cheese sandwich/Stephen Douglas dialogue with Crabman and Randy). But ''The Office'' plays on an entirely different field.

Yesterday, I finally caught up with ''Veronica Mars,'' albeit with an idea stuck in my head. Before acknowledging I was in the cone of silence, my TV-critic friend Alan Sepinwall noted that Veronica seems to be getting unnecessarily mean with people, and I could see what he meant. She's bullying when she doesn't have to be, contemptuous when a little kindness would be in order. (Think of her conversation with the pizza kid, for one.)

The show is smart enough that I'm hoping this will lead somewhere -- maybe to the whole trust-and-Logan issue played up in the promo for next week -- but it didn't always feel right.

Am also wondering where they're going with the Wallace storyline; my hope was that he had a change of heart and wrote a confession about getting the exam in advance -- hence the quick completion. Only I don't think that would lead to a formal request to appear at a meeting with his teacher. The Ed Begley subplot felt way too aimless, and Richard Grieco has not been treated kindly by time (even if he looks as if he has sought solace from cosmetic surgery).

On the other hand, there was the Mr. Microphone allusion...

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