“The Office” somewhat returns to form

By Danny Marchant


Last season, NBC’s hit sitcom “The Office” returned to the airwaves without Steve Carell. For seven seasons, Carell played Dunder Mifflin’s clueless but lovable boss, Michael Scott. Fans wondered if the show could sustain itself without its endlessly offensive but well-meaning heart. With so many other likable characters, surely the show could keep on going?

As any fan of “The Office” knows, the eighth season was a dramatic dip in quality. The show jumped the shark, doubled back to jump it again, put the shark in a fridge and nuked it.

Without Michael, the show became a collection of gags without any story. Every character became a vessel for “quirks” rather than believable employees of a mid-range paper company.

Part of the reason was the departure of the show’s creator, Greg Daniels. Daniels took Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s original British concept and successfully transferred it to American screens. He replaced the dreary British tone with a more upbeat American optimism.

Yes, Michael Scott was a buffoon – but he was a sweet buffoon. In Daniels’ absence, the show lost its way and too many episodes focused on pop culture references and viral video gags.

Last Thursday, “The Office” began its ninth and final season. Carell is still gone and Ed Helms’ character, Andy Bernard, is still the boss. Luckily, Daniels has come back to shepherd his show to a satisfying conclusion (hopefully).

Within the first few minutes, it’s clear that the show is trying to the back to the basics. Each character explains how they spent their summer vacation. One highlight includes Kevin Malone (Brian Baumgartner) detailing how he ran over and subsequently tried to save a turtle. It was exactly the kind of sad, sweet and stupid mix that made the early seasons so endearing.

The cold open also addressed one of the oldest criticisms of the show: what’s the deal with the camera crew? For nine years, a documentary crew has supposedly been filming and recording the happenings at Dunder-Mifflin. Like the dad on “How I Met Your Mother,” it’s a novel device that grows old after a while. During Jim and Pam’s “talking head” segment, Pam (Jenna Fischer) asks “Don’t you guys have everything? I mean, it’s just a paper company.”

Right away, it’s clear that this will be the final season; even the characters are wondering why it’s still going on.

The promise of the cold open is quickly squandered for the remaining 20 minutes. Andy Bernard undergoes yet another personality change, becoming an obnoxious outdoorsman. A new addition from last season, Nellie (Catherine Tate, of “Doctor Who” fame) is back as an antagonist for Andy. The character should be funny, but she’s too derivative of the original boss of the British office, David Brent.

One of the problems with “The Office” is its habit of adding new characters without giving them anything to do. This trend continues with the addition of two new interns, nicknamed “Dwight, Jr.” and “Young Jim.” There’s only been one episode, but the characters seem to represent the usual problem: new characters played by funny actors that will eventually have to be written out.

The season premiere wasn’t nearly as bad as the majority of the last season’s episodes. It still seems to be the same show that started nine years ago. However, it’s clear that “The Office” has lost its spark. It still has a good cast and solid jokes, but it’s a show without direction. Perhaps disappointed fans can look forward to a cameo by Agent Michael Scarn this season? We can only hope.

Danny Marchant can be reached at [email protected]