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Integration Celebration: The Branches Merge on "The Office"

I don't know about you but one of the highlights of my week is catching up with the gang at Dunder-Mifflin on Thursday nights. While there have been a few noticeable duds this season (ahem, "The Coup" and "Initiation"), I'll take my Scranton-based laughs over any other comedy on television right now.

So I rushed home last night for NBC's revamped Thursday night single-cam comedy lineup, this week presented in super-sized episodes. The Office is undeniably the jewel in NBC's comedy crown and I've been waiting all season for last night's episode ("The Merger") to see how the Scrantonites would react to intruders from Stamford in their midst. Oh, yeah, and for a reunion between Jim and Pam.

But I really wanted to see a showdown between Office sycophants Dwight and the even-more nauseatingly sycophantic Andy (Ed Helms) and newbie writer Brent Forrester (who I must applaud for writing this, his first episode of The Office, with such ease and, well, aplomb) doesn't disappoint. Dwight and Andy are immediately at one another's throats with Michael siding not with protege Dwight, but with new guy Andy. For his part, Andy has a shock-and-awe approach to sucking up, complete with mirroring and name repetition. Michael's under his spell as soon as Andy walks through the door to collect his nifty gifties (um, pencils and coupons). And thus a new Office rivalry is born, one for the ages. I can't wait to see how this plays out over the next few weeks, but Andy's arrival has shaken things up at Dunder-Mifflin even more than Jim's return to the branch he fled.

I would be absolutely remiss if I didn't refer immediately to Michael's hilarious "Lazy Scranton" video which he proudly prepared for the new employee orientation meeting. I had to go back and watch it again because I was laughing so hard the first time around. Poor Michael; he just doesn't get that his employees are not an audience there to see him perform. That said, I do wish I could have seen more of his "Scranton Witch Project" video. Classic. (You can catch the entire full-length "Lazy Scranton" video on The Office's site on NBC.com.)

I'm getting a little wary of the NBC promo department who seem to be on a mission to turn Jim and Pam into this decade's Ross and Rachel and keep cutting together these promos, complete with Very Special Music, that seem to make the show seem as though it's a romantic drama between Jim and Pam. I loves me my Jim and Pam as much as the next fan of The Office, but it's not the only thing this series is about. And, believe it or not, NBC Promo Department, but it's actually a comedy. So drop the somber music, etc. It just gets on my nerves.

Whew. It felt good to get that out (it's been plaguing me all season, every time there's another Jim-Pam beat coming up). Speaking of the best non-couple couple of television, I'm glad to see that Jim has returned to Scranton with the tension between them fully intact. While Pam is thrilled to have her friend back at the office, things are definitely weird, no matter how much either of them try to sugarcoat things. I loved the little scene between them in front of the vending machines when Pam was surprised to find that Jim had purchased bottled water rather than grape soda. It was a subtle reminder that things have definitely changed between them and a sign of the distance (both temporal and physical) that have passed. I'm sure Pam never imagined that Jim would blow her off when she asked him to go for some coffee. At least he never would have in the old days.

Even better was the scene at the end of the episode when Jim takes a call from Karen (Rashida Jones) in his car and breaks off the call when he sees Pam, but only after agreeing to meet up with Karen an hour later at a local bar. Jim gets out and it's apparent that the void between them has remained just as large had Jim not returned to Scranton. Color Pam shocked, meanwhile, when she learns that Jim is seeing someone, especially as she knows that someone is Karen. (LOVED Pam's reaction earlier to seeing Karen rub Jim's back in the parking lot and walk off and Karen's furtive gum-handing to Jim during the orientation meeting.) Jenna Fischer is a joy to watch and I am amazed anew each week by her subtle (and yet profound) reactions; they are so naturalistic and understated that I sometimes forget that she's not really Pam, thanks to the way she just effortlessly inhabits the role.

Personally, I'm really glad that the show's producers threw Karen into the mix. Much like the Brit version's Rachel, there needs to be a love triangle going on between our central non-lovers in order to keep things interesting. We all know that Karen's not in it for the long haul, but in the meantime, it's great to see Pam squirm a bit, knowing that she had the opportunity to be with Jim and didn't go for it. And it's great to see Jim happy with someone that's not Pam. In your face, Beesley!

Were you laughing your butts off at Karen's Italian voicemail message as much as I was? ("Leavuh me the message.") I loved how she was playing around with Jim so openly and then as soon as he walked away, changed the message to just plain "Karen Filippelli." A great character moment. Some have complained about Karen being Italian, but I am not quite sure why that is, or why she couldn't be Italian. (Sicilian, even.) I think it adds to her character; I'm also glad that Michael immediately made an ass of himself upon meeting her by commenting on her exotic looks and asking if her father were a G.I. Priceless.

But one of the very best moments of the episode came when Karen, after commenting on how she was allergic to Phyllis' perfume, Phyllis said that it was made from pure pine and Bob Vance brought it back from Metropolitan Orlando, leading Karen to ask who Bob Vance was. A furious Phyllis, used to name dropping, turned on her heel and uttered the now-immortal line, "You've got a lot to learn about this town, sweetie." You don't want to mess with Phyllis. So it was only fitting that Phyllis bestow one of her trademark smiles upon Karen at the end of the episode when Karen asked her if Bob Vance was "Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration?"

Something tells me Karen is going to fit in just fine.

In two weeks on The Office ("The Convict"), chaos ensues when Michael discovers one of the new Dunder-Mifflin employees has a prison record, in this episode written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the creators of the original UK version of The Office!

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Grey's Anatomy (ABC);
Vanished (FOX); Desire (MyNet)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS); Las Vegas
(NBC); Men in Trees (ABC); Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy (FOX); Fashion House (MyNet)

10 pm: NUMB3RS
(CBS); Law & Order (NBC); Barbara Walters Special: 30 Mistakes in 30 Years (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Doctor Who on Sci Fi.

It's the second season of Doctor Who, with the latest incarnation of the Doctor played by the talented David Tennant. On tonight's episode ("The Impossible Planet"), while Rose gets herself trapped in the orbit of a black hole (naughty Rose!), the Doctor discovers that something ancient has awakened beneath the planet's surface.

8 pm: Saxondale on BBC America.

It's the sixth episode of Steve Coogan's newest comedy, Saxondale, reviewed here. It's quirky, it's bizarre, and it's got Steve Coogan as a former rock roadie turned animal pest control operative. So do us all a favor and tune in.

9 pm: Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi.

On tonight's episode ("Hero"), Roslin prepares to reward Adama for his years of service while a blast from his past, in the form of a pilot (guest star Carl Lumbly)--long thought dead on a secret mission--escapes from Cylon custody and shows up aboard Galactica.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I love The Office, but enough of the product placements already. First, Chili's, now Staples. "Where'd you get the salad?" "Staples." Come on.

I couldn't tell how much NBC was poking fun at itself, especially when 30 Rock followed up with a bit on product placement, but it was a little over the top last night.

Otherwise, great episode...
Anonymous said…
My two favorite moments:

1. Stanley's reaction to the new black employee giving him the "hey" fist to chest bump. I fell off my couch from laughing so hard.

2. Dwight telling Pam that he outran a Black Pepper Snake. Anytime Dwight compares his athletic prowess to animals is comic gold.
Anonymous said…
That gum pass moment was so quick and subtle, but a shining example of why I love this show so much.

And to Whitney - that Stanley moment was HILARIOUS. Stanley makes me laugh even when he's not saying anything.

What a good episode.
Anonymous said…
I think they're playing the Pam, Jim, Karen love triangle perfectly. A lot of people have complained about Karen but I think she's the perfect girl to complicate things between the two star-crossed lovers. And the actress (Rashida Jones) is spot on.

I thought this episode was excellent except for the blatant Staples advertising which was not only obvious but also didn't make any sense. Supposedly, the version they put on NBC.com and Itunes omitted that storyline. I think the producers realized how lame it was. Hopefully, we won't be seeing more of it in the future.

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