Premierewatch: 'The Office'

Johnkrasinski_theoffice_240I can't say I was laughing nonstop throughout Thursday's season premiere of The Office, although there was some brilliantly funny stuff peppered throughout. But the combination of comedy and character bits made this one of the better hour-long episodes the show has done. Nice to have you back, Dunder Mifflin.

These spoilers have non-refundable deposits at four different locations.

For the first time, the documentary crew showed us what happened over a summer at the Scranton branch, which was engaged in a weight-loss competition with all the other branches for the prize of a few extra vacation days for everyone. We also get much better acquainted with the new HR rep Holly (a very strong Amy Ryan) and check in on the status of wedding planning between Andy and OMG Jim and Pam got engaged!

What was great about Jim proposing to Pam -- at a rest stop more or less halfway between Scranton and New York, where Pam is in a summer design program at the Pratt Institute -- was not just its relative unexpectedness, Jim having told the camera earlier that they decided to wait till she returned and Pam apparently striking up a friendship with fellow student Harry Crane. It was the way it felt genuine and earned without being all goopy and sitcom-sappy. The location between the gas pumps helped, as did the way it was shot, with the camera a good distance away. The Office has always had a way with emotional moments, and this was a pretty great one.

Back in the office, the weight-loss contest brings out a little bit of good behavior -- Stanley, hoping to get back into power-fighting trim, is engaged in his own program and doing well, and Holly leads some conference-room yoga sessions. But also, and mostly, bad: Dwight being very Dwight-ish about enforcing the program rules, Kelly engaging first in a nasty cleanse diet and then buying a tapeworm from Creed (Creed: "That wasn't a tapeworm") and then Dwight, in a truly stupid and bad act, stranding Phyllis five miles from the office with neither phone nor money and making her walk back.

That last bit leads to Michael donning a fat suit ("It's my sumo suit ... I'm so glad I bought instead of rented") to explain the importance of body image -- while doing his "Michael Klump" character, which is new to us but apparently not to the his employees. As with all of Michael's lectures, it was accompanied by a photo array: Morbidly obese twins on bikes, late-era Elvis, the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man, Martin Lawrence as Big Momma, Jabba the Hutt and a pig. Yeah.

Amyryan_theoffice_240 And yet, despite the fat-suit shenanigans, Michael was actually on relatively good behavior, thanks to Jim's exhortations that he get to know Holly a little before declaring his love for her. Even Jim, though, seems surprised at the degree to which that's working, although he does have a theory: "Holly is kind of a major dork." At which point we cut to Amy Ryan, Oscar nominee, beat-boxing while Michael raps. I saw the end of that scene about a hundred times in NBC promos the past few weeks, but you know what? Still hilarious. And you kind of have to love the way Ryan is committed to the bit.

The telescoped look at the summer also lets us see Michael not screw things up with Holly -- until, maybe, right at the end, when he rips up the Counting Crows tickets he's just bought from her, so, he says, she can just forget about the guy. Michael, dude, you were so close. You declined to make an obvious "that's what she said" joke at the first weigh-in. You sympathized with her when she was complaining about the yoga guy not calling back, and noted that you're not the kind of guy who does that (even if that's a product of your own social maladroitness). You expressed your admiration for the Counting Crows. And then you missed the signal. Which is what makes you Michael Scott, I suppose.

Other notes from "Weight Loss":

Maybe even more priceless than Holly's beat-boxing was the scene in which she tears into Angela for calling Kevin an idiot. Still falsely believing Kevin is mentally disabled -- a nice callback to last season's finale -- she leaps to his defense, red-facedly telling Angela that you don't talk to him that way. And then she finds out the truth, and she can do no more than just stammer something about Dwight and walk away. I'm not doing the scene justice in the description here; it was just gold.

I got a huge kick out of all the wedding hoops Angela is making Andy jump through (I'm in the midst of doing that myself -- the wedding planning, not the hoop-jumping. I'm incredibly happy to say that my bride-to-be and I have been on the same page about pretty much everything), and her use of Dwight as a release valve (that's what she said) whenever his latest bit of planning bugged her. Hands down, though, the best moment of the entire subplot is when the documentary cameraman confronts her after catching her with Dwight again: "I have a nice comforter and several cozy pillows. I usually read a chapter of a book, and it's lights out by 8:30. That's how I sleep at night."

Bjnovak_theofficeNice to see that a felony, being fired and his forced return to Scranton as a temp hasn't beaten the douche out of Ryan. He makes a couple of half-hearted apologies to people in the office, while keeping a list of people to get back at (Jim and Kevin are on it in short order), then tries to re-ingratiate himself with Kelly in the ickiest way possible ("I was in my mid-20s ... I think I never really processed 9/11"). Fortunately, Kelly's desire to rub Ryan's nose in it is not so easily sated; a few minutes later we see her making out with Darryl right in front of Ryan -- and looking over to make sure he's watching.

The goatee-not goatee stuff was pretty good too, especially Dwight showing up to work with one on the same day that Michael returns clean-shaven. It also led to a possible continuity goof, though, in the scene where Jim feels awkward eating lunch with people who aren't Pam (Michael had the face furniture in the previous scene but was clean-shaven there, then went back to the goatee in the next scene). I took that as the documentary crew just using whatever footage they had to illustrate Jim's talking-head bit, because The Office wouldn't make that big a continuity error, would it?

Oh, Toby. Poor, sad-sack, broke-your-neck-in-Costa-Rica Toby. Great capper to the episode.

How nice is it to have The Office back? And how well do you think Amy Ryan is fitting in?