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Tapeworms, Cayenne Pepper, and Cheesecake: Weight Loss on the Season Premiere of "The Office"

I was extremely nervous to watch last night's season premiere of The Office ("Weight Loss") for a number of reasons. First, the series had burned me badly by last year's seriously uneven episodes, lackluster humor, and bizarro writing that had Michael acting far too improbably rather than just being an obnoxiously over-the-top employer who seemed somewhat rooted in reality. And, second, it was another one-hour installment, which to me, meant that the Peacock had not learned its lesson from last season, which proved that the one-hour format rarely works for a comedy like this.

In fact, what kept me watching the NBC series was last season's superlative season finale ("Goodbye, Toby"), which--while an hour in length--managed to keep the action moving swiftly and kept the humor grounded and realistic. (No pizza boys were harmed in the making of that installment.) And it introduced one of the single best characters in the history of The Office: Holly Flax, played by the inimitable Amy Ryan (The Wire).

So what did I think of last night's fifth season opener ("Weight Loss")? I have to say that it was far better than most of last season's episodes, both on a scripting and pacing front, but it fell short of reaching the same heights as some of the series' most memorable episodes. I am sure the Jim & Pam 'shippers out there were cheering through the rafters when they met at a rest stop on the highway (how, uh, romantic) and Jim finally proposed to Pam after spending the summer apart whilst she attended a three-month design course at Pratt in New York. (Question: why were Pam and Mad Men's Rich Sommer attending a class on spores and mold if they're studying design? Color me confused.)

I thought that the use of the narrative device employed by writers
Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, in which we saw a brief look at each week the Scranton office participated in the weight loss initiative, worked quite effectively and showed us the passage of time without resorting to cheap gimmicks. I loved how it allowed us to see Michael grow his goatee just in time for Ryan Howard to return... to replace Pam as the temporary receptionist.

Ryan's fall from grace has been handled well and I am eager to see him try to fit back into the machinery of Dunder-Mifflin Scranton and hopefully face up to those fraud charges. (Although I am not sure why Jim and Ryan referred to the incident between them as occurring "last year," when it was just a few months earlier.)

Kelly is quickly becoming a favorite again. Her sunken eyes (received after basically fasting for three days and subsisting on maple syrup, lemon, and cayenne pepper), her efforts to procure a tape worm from Creed, and her fainting were pitch-perfect for her character, as was her subtle manipulation of Ryan when he came by her cubicle to apologize and ask her out.

Less aware was Michael, who once again failed to pick up on Holly's signals that she wants him to ask her out, going so far as to offer to buy her Counting Crows concert tickets--after she found herself stood up by her yoga instructor date--and then ripped them up, rather than make a date for the two of them out of it. It's nice to see Michael be on the receiving end of a crush for a change but it's clear that, for right now anyway, he's made his choice with Jan, even if he's not the father of her baby.

How great was the scene when Holly finally learned that Kevin wasn't mentally handicapped after she freaked out at Angela for calling him an "idiot"? I was hoping that the writers would be able to string this storyline a little further but it was probably about time that Holly learned that Kevin wasn't actually as challenged as he appears.

Pam, meanwhile, is settling into her new role as design student/resident adviser in New York and is making friends. I knew that Rich Sommer would be turning up on the series this season (and ran into him Saturday at the BAFTA/LA Tea Party, where he was chatting with fellow Office stars Kate Flannery and Leslie David Baker) and I think he's a perfect potential love interest for Pam. We all know that Jim and Pam will eventually end up together but the long road to the altar will never, ever be smooth for them, so I'm glad to see that the writers are attempting to shake things up a little for our lovebirds without breaking them up needlessly right off the bat.

And I loved that Phyllis used her knowledge of Angela and Dwight's secret affair--which is being carried on right at the office under Andy's nose as he plans a magical wedding
("every little boy's dream")--in order to usurp Angela's place as the head of the party planning committee. And her "jugs" comment had me laughing.

As for Angela and Dwight, their little rendezvous will eventually attract someone's attention, even if they are being as careful and slick as a drug operator off of The Wire, with beepers and clandestine warehouse trysts.
The way Angela sadly kissed Andy (and then wiped his face) was absolutely heartbreaking; even as he attempts to plan the perfect wedding for her (and then surprise her with his washboard abs on the wedding night), she can't help but feel guilty for the way she's using him. And likely when he discovers her infidelity, no amount of anger management training will prevent him from having a volcano-level meltdown.

And, surprisingly, I'm looking forward again to see what happens next. Let's just hope the writes can keep this train on the rails again as the season progresses and remember what made The Office great in the first place: workplace-based humor, painfully funny situations, and compelling characters.

In two weeks on
The Office ("Business Ethics"), Holly is forced to hold a business ethics seminar at Dunder-Mifflin after Ryan's recent scandal but the meeting quickly turns chaotic when Michael allows everyone to talk about the unethical things they do at the office... and Jim forces Dwight to comply with the company's time theft policy.

Comments

It wasn't a fantastic episode but at least it had many more humorous moments and felt more genuine than most of last season. Kelly's storyline was great and it will be interesting to see how she does with Ryan back in the mix. And, while I'm still not sold on the Angela/Dwight/Andy triangle I really love Michael and Holly's awkward flirting and hope they keep Amy Ryan around for as long as possible.

I also did not understand why Pam was taking a class about fungus.
Anonymous said…
My wife and I stopped watching halfway through last season. The show is not funny any more.

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