TV Review: The Office
By Eric Hughes
September 25, 2012

Cousins! Identical cousins!

Having watched the ninth (and final) season premiere of The Office three times in as many days, I figured it probably appropriate to write a few things about what appears to be the show’s triumphant return to form. I honestly did not see it coming.

I chatted with a friend over the weekend, I think sometime after my second stream of “New Guys,” and strongly advised she set aside the 20 or so minutes this week to go ahead and watch The Office. Like me - and what seems like many, many more - she’d been disenchanted by the series’ lack of focus, its detachment from reality and its trade-in of believable (however offbeat) characters for stock. Useful, of course, for plugging the kinds of empty storylines the show has been running on since, oh, 2008.

And yet there I was, however many years after the time I unenthusiastically switched from series regular to occasional step-in, boldly saying things like, “No, no. You just gotta go and watch it.”

Season three has long been my favorite - season two a staunch runner-up - and it was while these seasons were on television, the show’s supposed golden years, that I realized I was a fervent admirer of something so very special. The Office was a comedy with a big heart and even bigger brain. It was comfortably uncomfortable, and like Arrested Development and some others before it, it helped set a precedent that has since become norm that a comedy could be screamingly funny without a laugh track cuing the points of guffaw.

Season four seemed to be the year that the show realized what it was and what it’d become, and thus winked at the audience more than it should and stretched the motivations of its characters beyond what was appropriately expected of them. I think I mostly hung around for season five, but by season six post-“Niagara” I’d no longer considered it worth the time.

A thing I’ve long wondered about is how the documentary crew filming the events inside Dunder Mufflin fits into the universe of the show. Would the characters see some (if not all of) the footage? Are we, as viewers, actually watching packages of content that had already happened? Though we don’t get answers to what might be silly questions, by cold open’s end we’re gifted a hint at why, after eight long years, the filmmakers are still traipsing around Dunder Mifflin’s drab halls.

Like that the season obtained great focus in mere minutes, a tremendous win for a show that, like a dude behind the wheel, stubbornly pushed on for long periods of time without a handy map.

The filmmakers’ reply carries what might be immense implications for two Scranton employees who now find themselves apparently in the foreground after a string of years in back. These folks dramatically flirted for a few years, got married, and then had some children. It’s Jim and Pam. Yes, their characters seem relevant again.

The action also took place entirely within The Office’s office (save for a trip down to the warehouse and several moments outside. Moments that do not stray from the business parking lot). No client visits or other rendezvous. Just The Office in an office.

Original showrunner Greg Daniels returns to that desk after several years away developing and working on Parks and Recreation. His subtle scrub on the narrative is evident in “New Guys,” which he wrote and directed. The handfuls of storylines, in fact, seem to compliment each other for the first time in forever. Dwight and Jim’s deep breaths, which happen concurrently and in different settings for different turbulences, was a smooth touch.

The Office still seems a cry from its golden age - Dwight unnecessarily burps up some homemade beet juice and spews it on Angela; gross - yet I’m nonetheless excited about a show that’s clearly done some intentional philandering with its former self. If anything Creed somehow believes he works for a dog food company, and that’s just wonderful.