On the season premiere of ''The Office,'' Michael runs over Meredith; meanwhile, Jim and Pam are secretly dating, and Angela thinks Dwight is a kitty killer

By Christine Fenno
Updated September 28, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Ron Tom
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The ”Office” premiere: Dangerous Michael

Michael Scott’s lonely breakfast in his newly girly condo aside, season 4 of The Office opened with a bang: One second Michael’s driving while rambling, and the next he’s crashing into Meredith! On company property, with company property! Betcha 1 billion Stanley nickels you didn’t see that coming. By the way, was Michael driving that fast? Is it blaming the victim to wonder if Meredith’s reflexes were impaired by a rum-spiked latte? The hapless ”alkie” (Angela’s slur, not mine!) ended up hospitalized with a broken pelvis — oh, and rabies! Despite painkillers, Meredith was none too thrilled with Michael, who pulled out her IV while tangling it in balloons and then, desperate for forgiveness, climbed onto a patient with a broken pelvis for a full-body hug. Gotta hand it to Steve Carell for bringing the physical comedy. I missed his mixture of wannabe mensch and total menace all summer.

And what a difference a summer makes. Okay, well, not for most Office characters. Michael is still gifted at making inane assertions (”European offices are naked all the time!”); Dwight is ever obsessed with wildlife (see: bat birth control); Jan remains unemployed and mentally fragile (staring daggers at a stripper who recognized Michael from Bob Vance’s bachelor party); and Toby continues to live out his destiny as the Sadsack of Scranton (one word: pantsed.) But look out for new Pam! The perceptive receptionist was radiating confidence. No longer content to mew ”Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam” all day, she’s found the curiosity in her private life to try buying a celebrity sex tape, and the moxie in her professional life to efficiently lead staffers on an outing to visit laid-up Meredith. What a breakthrough that beach speech turned out to be.

So, what of the ”it’s a date” cliff-hanger that ended season 3? Yes, indeed (despite somewhat inexplicable attempts to hide it from colleagues), Jim and Pam have started seeing each other! Wish we knew a wee bit more: how regularly they’re waking up together, whether they’ve said ”I love you” or made long-term plans, all that mushy stuff. Their need to date on the QT perplexed me — I mean, nobody’s cheating. Can’t the Pam and Jim plotline have a bigger obstacle than self-imposed, weakly enforced secrecy — say, Andy Bernard crashing at Jim’s place after being evicted during a rage relapse, or Jan proposing a threesome? Seems like this story line’s details will be doled out very sparingly, so all we can do is trust the writers. (Recent Emmy winners, bravo!)

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering who this show’s villain is, the wait is over. I never thought Temp was a dreamboat, but his college-boy image had its appeal. Now? Yikes! Ryan resembles a swarthy, underweight bouncer waiting in the back room of a casino for his shift to start. His bland menswear isn’t all he ditched. I used to love the awkwardness of his quiet desperation when he’d get trapped in the crosshairs of the ding-a-lings who ran his life (Kelly and Michael). Ryan’s ex hasn’t stopped pining for him (nor has she figured out where Buddha fits into Hinduism), but odds are boy-crazy Kelly will nab a new guy soon, and probably with a tickle tackle. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see if the corporate ”wunderkind” with the citified makeover will replace Toby as Michael’s No. 1 nemesis.

NEXT: Faith-based initiatives

The episode’s bleakest scene was, for some reason, much funnier when I rewatched it. Michael — devastated over Angela’s dead cat, Pam’s computer troubles, and Meredith’s ”unavoidable tragedy” — called for a meeting to establish whose religious beliefs were to blame for the office curse. (Phyllis: ”I’m Lutheran, Bob’s Unitarian. Keeps things spicy.” Toby: ”No, I did not violate an Indian burial ground.” I.T. guy: ”If you’re going to reduce my identity to a religion, then I’m Sikh. But I also like hip-hop and NPR.”) The mini-inquisition ended inconclusively, but Michael’s next brainchild was given the most awesome name in the history of charity: Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure. The ”Support the Rabid” bracelets and the ”giant check” made out to ”Science” exemplify why I adore this show. Satire-wise, everything’s fair game.

The night’s funniest scenes came during prerace prep, with Phyllis’ rabies quilt, Michael’s inadvertant crotch flash while changing in his office (Pam: ”You said, ‘Come in!’ ”), and pasty Andy taping his nipples, as well as the race itself, with the Creed-Oscar-Stanley threesome hailing a taxi and Angela accusing Dwight of feline foul play. I, for one, will think of Sprinkles every time I open my freezer. Or defrost french fries. Or call my secret lover a mercy killer. Seriously, the daffier Angela and Dwight’s relationship gets, the more I hope they never break up.

The race through ”Scranton” (how SoCal did that neighborhood look?) wound down when winner Toby sagely observed that the race should’ve taken a circular route back to the office, and fluid-deficient Michael collapsed, steps from the finish line, to have an emotional meltdown about all the causes he’d never be able to help. Frankly, I can relate! But, unlike Michael, I manage not to drool semidigested Alfredo sauce while feeling sad about all the suffering in the world. After Michael rallied, in typically melodramatic fashion, I wondered if he had insisted on being taken to the hospital for dehydration, or if nurturing Pam had called paramedics to take him in. At least he got a red lolly. (Meredith, take a memo: Licking another person’s lollipop is germy. Ick.)

Something I started marveling at last year is this show’s ability to work within the original premise, in which an unseen (by us) camera crew follows the staff’s every move. During the two years of the U.K. Office, it seemed not implausible for cameras to follow the Slough staff for that time span. Four years in, I find myself asking why Scranton staffers are still being documented. (For a reality TV series or film? Do they see footage of what others do or say? Will the last episode take the Scranton characters to a premiere of the documentary the crew finally put together?) My point is what a feat the Office team continues to accomplish: an insane level of comedic brilliance within a framework that, some would argue, gets less credible over time. Naturally, I enjoy the show most when I forget about the camera crew, but if it crosses your mind too, let me know I’m not alone!

What else did you think of the episode? Has the Pam-Jim buildup paid off? Will Ryan abuse his new power? Will tech-support guy become a regular? Will Jim stop at nothing, including taking off his shirt, to mock his boss? And has Jan hit bottom yet?

Episode Recaps

The Office

The mockumentary-style sitcom chronicles a group of typical office employees working 9-5 at the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

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