‘The Office’ hits the home stretch

the-office-season-9BY TROY PHILLIPS

Longtime fans of The Office can be lumped into two categories; those who have abandoned the show during hard times, and the rest of us who are sentimental and can’t fathom changing a long time Thursday night tradition. I leave no grey area for people who watch the show because they still genuinely enjoy the comedy; these people are either self-delusional or in dire need of a better cable package.

Before I start, it’s important to clarify what some fans in my camp of Office diehards will take to their death-bed — the show has been bad since Steve Carell’s untimely departure. Season Eight managed to go wrong in just about every way imaginable. Simply put, the worst fears of many fans came to light after an ill-fated attempt to fill the gigantic hole left by Carrell when he decided to pursue a movie career instead of continuing with the show.  The hole appeared to be bottomless during Season Eight, eating up many talented actors who had flourished in supporting roles only to be consumed in the chaos of reforming the cast. Dwight Schrute became predictable and logical; Andy Bernard was suddenly even more of a serious pushover than before. Suddenly, a trivial day at Dunder Mifflin seemed ridiculous and unnecessary. I almost wished that they would just get back to work and try to sell some paper and clock out.

The beginning of Season Nine offered a glimmer of hope for optimistic fans who rationalized their thinking with a myriad of sports analogies. The writers and cast had a year to develop chemistry as a group, the final season would bring out the best in the actors, and the departure of Robert California was addition by subtraction. But as the episodes rolled on, the message became painfully clear; a television show isn’t a basketball team. The Office continued to be depressing and predictable, and proceeded to lose many remaining fans who gave up on finding brighter horizons. Bore me once; shame on you. Bore me twice; I’ll take my chances with Two and a Half Men.

And that is exactly why I’m here to say that The Office is going to hit its’ stride in the second half of this season. That’s right; I’m making the call now and standing behind it. If the show crashes and burns in the last few months, then I am content to let my Swami skills go down with it. But I don’t think that I’ll have to make any apologies, at least not for this particular statement. How it happened is almost inexplicable, but there’s no denying that the last couple of episodes were legitimately entertaining.

“Lice” set the table as the transitional episode as it contributed a few laughs and some vintage Meredith Palmer moments. The next couple of weeks marked the real breakthrough, starting with the “Suit Warehouse” episode. The entire Dwight and Clark ‘father and son’ exchange was impeccable, reminding of past seasons when Dwight was free to play off of other characters to portray his selfish but naïve nature. “Customer Loyalty” was arguably better, because in addition to another solid wave of laughter there was also a deeper emotional element regarding the rift between Jim and Pam, the two characters with the best range to put together a believable dramatic sequence.

And now, only two weeks removed from wallowing in what once was, I’m realizing that everything is falling into place at Dunder Mifflin. The Erin/Pete connection is genuinely intriguing so far. Dwight failing at a ‘Fire in the Hole’ prank and Darryl smashing a fish tank while trying to make a smooth exit are the kind of simple — yet amusing — stunts that were commonplace during the Michael Scott era. Jim and Pam’s relationship is approaching a climax, and I’m not convinced that we’re going to be left with a good taste in our mouths. I’m all in for Dunder Mifflin’s home stretch, and nostalgia no longer has anything to do with it.

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