Nepotism Grade: A-
The most compelling case to stay with The Office after six years is that the show is capable of evolving. No other show that I can think of has tinkered with its basic premise so often and in such an impressively organic fashion. The show started out with a loyal middle-manager with bad interpersonal skills, a pair of overqualified office peons destined to be together and a behavioral outliar in the form of Dwight. Over the years, the show has changed Michael Scott into a more capable leader and social being, supplanted Jim and Pam with new power couples, and replaced Dwight as the eccentric power-hungry foil with a slew of other characters who threaten the Office status-quo in different ways (Andy, Ryan, to a smaller degree Angela, and now Gabe although it looks like Dwight could return as the #1 enemy this season).
If you get tired of the show because there’s too much focus on Pam and Jim or because Ryan is annoying, there’s always a good chance that the romantic focus will shift elsewhere or that Ryan will disappear entirely for six months or more.
Past season openers to “The Office” have often introduced drastic changes (i.e. Ryan’s the new boss, Jim gets transferred, Pam and Jim are dating, etc.). True to form, this episode introduced some new changes as well. The biggest is probably that Erin and Gabe are dating. What do you all think of that? The ambiguity between sexual harassment and romantic wistfulness over Erin’s initial reason for agreeing to go out with Gabe was certainly entertaining. There’s also Kelly on a management track, Dwight owning the building, and a new office assistant (at least there’s one at the start of the episode).
What sticks out most about the episode, even the changes this season, is that it’s a return to the way the show used to be. The first subplot is that Dwight’s purchase of the building motivates Jim to revert to the less mature version of himself who would devote his day to playing pranks. The added hitch that prevents the show from being a complete rehash of some earlier episode is that Pam suddenly wants to join in on the pranking. She devises to trap Dwight in an elevator and record his panic on her phone. The payoff on this plot was absolutely hilarious as Dwight rises above Pam’s expectations of doing something unexpected in the most shocking of ways: Within seconds of being trapped in an elevator with Pam, Dwight immediately starts marking his territory by establishing a pee corner.
The main plot also centers on what the show was originally about: Michael’s big heart leading to his incompetence. Like the B-plot, it’s also fresh and new. The growth as a person Michael’s made over the past seasons hasn’t been negated here because he’s not repeating the same mistakes he was before. This time, he wants to hire his nephew as an office assistant with the problem being that the nephew is grossly incompetent. This definitely brings up the question: Was there ever a standard for competence at Dunder-Mifflin? It’s unclear whether Creed is ever being productive if his job isn’t directly at risk or whether Erin is a capable receptionist (she sure does get yelled at a lot and even Michael finds her too annoying). But nonetheless, the workers at Dunder-Mifflin-Sabre (is that what it’s called now?) are apparently united by at least some minimum standard of professionalism and Luke Cooper falls below that line. Eventually, Michael caves in and decides to discipline the kid. Rather than fire him or handle it in some professional way, Michael forgets his surroundings and spanks him which is as good s bit of cringe-worthy awkwardness as The Office gives.
I don’t know if I entirely trust where The Office is going and I don’t love it all the time. I could see the show going in directions this season that make me less inclined to want to tune in, but the season started out on the right foot with this episode, so I’m optimistic.
-That viral video at the start was amazing and endlessly rewatchable and I would be glad to write a whole separate review of the opening. I could see that going viral. While The Dunder-Mifflin attempt at making a viral video (because Ryan broke the flow of the lip-synching by pimping his blog and Angela didn’t want to participate) failed, the video for the viewers at home was perfect.
-Even though he went to Costa Rica, Toby might be the biggest constant in the show. Poor guy never stands up to Michael.
-“I just want to say something off of what Daryl said about the level playing field. That is actually a zoning issue” Kelly in another example of how things stay the same.
- “This summer, I blew up my knee playing softball, I don’t know how we’re gonna get out of Afghanistan. I hate the new kid…” How wonderfully abrupt of a change in direction that sentence
-“The guy sucks. He calls me the nard man. He’s the nard dog, ok. Nard Man is my father”