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Branching Out: Jim and Pam Go Their Separate Ways on "The Office"

Sorry, Jim and Pam 'shippers, looks like you're gonna have to wait a lot longer to see those two get together.

After last season's cliffhanger ending in "Casino Night," The Office returned last night with its third season premiere ("Gay Witch Hunt"). While many viewers thought that the show would find a way to get out of dealing with that unresolved kiss between office mates and would-be lovers Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer), the show's producers instead dealt with their lip-locking but didn't make it the focal point of the episode.

That made me happy.

I don't want The Office to become a distaff workplace version of Friends with Jim and Pam subbing in for Ross and Rachel. While I love the two of them together and am rooting for them with all of my heart, I don't want the will-they-or-won't-they suspense to overwhelm the rest of this brilliant and hysterical series. But maybe that's just me. I'll admit that the NBC Promotions department had me worrying overtime after their sappy summer campaign for the series, now an Emmy Award-winner for Best Comedy, with its fixation on the Jim and Pam storyline, replete with hokey Will & Grace-style "serious" music and voiceover.

Instead, exec producer/writer Greg Daniels used the premiere episode to showcase one of Dunder-Mifflin's less showcased characters, accountant Oscar (Oscar Nunez). As we learned last season (even if Dwight failed to realize it), Oscar is secretly gay and in a committed relationship with his boyfriend Gil. When Michael (Steve Carell) inadvertently outs Oscar in the office, Jan (Melora Hardin) and Toby (Paul Lieberstein) force Michael to apologize to Oscar rather than invoke a lawsuit for discrimination. And Michael, of course, takes his attempts to be PC to new and mortifyingly offensive levels. Speaking of offensive, what was up with Angela (Angela Kinsey) and the hand sanitizer? I always knew she was an uptight beyotch, but still...

Jim and Pam have gone their separate ways now. Jim's left behind Pam and Scranton for a promotion at the Stamford branch of Dunder-Mifflin while Pam has called off her wedding to Roy (David Denman), moved into her own apartment, and is taking art classes. It's a step in the right direction for her. Points for Pam trying to look to Ryan (B.J. Novak) in Jim's place to express her amusement at Michael's behavior and receiving only a cold stare in return. Burn.

I'll admit that I was very concerned by the flashback scene taking place after the final minutes of "Casino Night," as they somewhat underestimated the audience's intelligence. We could figure out exactly what happened just from Pam and Jim's absent stares to where the other should have been and, well, the fact that they're now working in different branches. It felt very much like a network note and it broke that "mockumentary" device they've used so effectively for the past two seasons. I don't think that the show should ever get inside Pam's head in that way and found the scene jarring and somewhat lazy. Alternatively, I wish they had used that Arrested Development technique of pulling "footage" from the archives rather than using an unnecessary and rather soap-ish flashback, complete with a fuzzy shift into a daydream sequence. Sorry, guys, but it didn't work for me.

What did work for me, though, are new cast additions Andy (Ed Helms) and Karen (Rashida Jones) in the Stamford offices of Dunder-Mifflin. I am v. happy that they haven't gone overboard with making Karen an immediate love interest for Jim straight off the bat. (Give it a few episodes.) I especially *loved* Karen's impersonation of Jim (thought she nailed that trademark John Krasinski camera grimace), Jim's nickname of "Big Tuna," and the fact that he's not fitting in at Stamford at all... if anything he's become the Dwight of the office, a turn that a find particularly fitting and funny. (Take a look at the calculator-in-Jello scene when Andy's furious reaction.) I also loved the fact that the only thing Pam and Roy seem to have gotten out of calling off their wedding was five weeks of frozen lunches. Chicken or fish?

Ostensibly, the episode is about relationships: those between Oscar and his lover, Michael and Oscar, Angela and Dwight (who leaps to her defense when Oscar "pushes" her even if no one else notices), Jim and Pam, and Pam and Roy. To see Roy such a broken, shell of a man was a great twist (loved the mug shot for his drunk driving arrest) and I'm glad that Pam called off the wedding, even if it was at the very last second. If their split has done anything, it's served to give Roy greater depth and nuance as he now realizes how much he took Pam for granted and sets out to win her back. Love triangle over? Far from it, my friends.

As a side note, I think it was incredibly brave of The Office's producers to launch the third season with an episode on the outing of a gay employee, especially following the show's Emmy win and the fact that new audience members may have been tuning in last night. With the show moving somewhat from being a cult comedy to a more mainstream show with mass appeal, some of the more, um, Angela-esque members of the audience could have been alienated by the storyline. But instead of playing it safe with a sappy episode about the fallout from Jim and Pam's kiss, the series' talented writer/producers sought to craft a challenging and ultimately rewarding episode that has (for now anyway) altered the course of the show.

I'll leave you now with one real-life Office tidbit. Did anyone else know that Angela Kinsey is married to Paul Lieberstein's brother? It's true. Talk about a small world...

Next week on The Office ("The Convention" ): Michael, Dwight and Jan attend a convention in Philadelphia, where Michael attempts to organize a rather sad party in his hotel room, leading to a reunion of sorts.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); Nanny 911 (FOX); Major League Baseball (MyNet)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS);
Dateline (NBC); Men in Trees (ABC); Celebrity Duets (FOX)

10 pm: NUMB3RS
(CBS); Law & Order (NBC); 20/20 (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

11 pm: MI-5 on A&E.

It's Part Two of the British espionage drama's fourth season premiere. On tonight's episode ("The Special"), the team must uncover a mole within their midst to stop a bomb maker from striking again.


Anonymous said…
"Points for Pam trying to look to Ryan (B.J. Novak) in Jim's place to express her amusement at Michael's behavior and receiving only a cold stare in return. Burn."

That was a brilliant moment. Exactly why I love this show.

Rashida Jones' imitation of Jim was priceless.

I almost fell off the couch when Michael leaned in to kiss Oscar, and then Dwight's follow-up.

It was a really solid season opener.

Earl? Not so much.
Anonymous said…
I also didn't think you needed the flashback of Jim and Pam's kiss. It seemed very awkward and out of place. But, otherwise, a brilliant episode. A great way to start the new season!
Anonymous said…
Unfortunately, it's not the first time they've broken "character" and shown a camera angle that couldn't possibly have been done with a single camera documentary crew.

I realize it's a nit, but it'd be nice if they could really watch that kind of thing if they're going to try to keep the documentary as a framing device.

I did enjoy the episode as much as anyone else, though. I liked all the little Angela winks especially, like when Michael speculates she might be a lesbian and asks Dwight what he thinks about her with another woman.

Another strong episode overall.
Anonymous said…
Oh, one more thing.

Are you sure about Angela Kinsey? I was pretty sure she was single. However, Paul Lieberstein's SISTER is married to Greg Daniels, the show's co-creator/writer/golden god.
Jace Lacob said…
Yes, Gowan, I am absolutely certain about Angela.

AND, upon further research, it appears as though all of them are related by marriage. Angela Kinsey is married to Paul Lieberstein's BROTHER.

Paul Lieberstein's SISTER, Susanne Daniels (former head of The WB Entertainment division and current president of Lifetime) is married to Greg Daniels.

It's one big happy family at "The Office."

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