Michael and Jan host a miserable excuse for a dinner party; Angela still (really) hates Dwight; and Pam and Jim are as lovey-dovey as ever
Michael Scott, The Office (Steve Carell)
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It’s back! Like Jim Halpert from the Stamford branch, The Office has returned from its strike-induced five-month hiatus. Can you believe the last new episode aired back in mid-November? And since it was really just so, so long ago (in TV time at least), who wasn’t wishing the comeback show had lasted an hour? Even two?

We previously saw Jim, Pam, Jan, Michael and Co. in the absolutely excellent, totally heart-wrenching deposition episode — which, dare I say it, nearly surpassed the emotional complexity/awkwardness of the British Office. Jan showed Michael’s personal diary to corporate, for Pete’s sake! Then he tanked her $4 million lawsuit against Dunder Mifflin by admitting, on record, that he didn’t believe the firm — which has strung him along for years without a promotion — treated its employees unfairly. His excuse? ”You expect to get screwed by your company, but you never expect to get screwed by your girlfriend.” Fantastic.

Thus, Michael and Jan had some kinks to work out heading into tonight, and what’s the best thing to do when your relationship is on the rocks? You throw a ”couples only” dinner party, of course, and you invite perfect pair Jim and Pam and dysfunctional pair Angela and Andy. Then, you don’t start braising the osso bucco until everyone arrives, forcing your guests to mingle for hours. You let Angela’s ex, Dwight, and his former babysitter/possible lover (played by the crazy lady who dies in Speed!) crash with a cooler of beet salad and turkey legs (”we came here to eat dinner and to party”). You have a brutal trophy-throwing vasectomy fight in front of everyone. In Jim’s words, ”Michael and Jan seem to be playing their own separate game: Let’s see how uncomfortable we can make our guests. And they’re both winning.” What a blast.

My favorite moment of the evening (and PLEASE list yours below) was when Jan popped on that song by her former assistant, Hunter (”at least he’s an artist!”). Did you see the title of the album? The Hunter. Brilliant. His lyrics? ”You take me by the hand/It’s made me a man/That one night/You made everything alright/So wrong, so right, all night, alright, oh yeah.” They so obviously did the nasty. It was great! My fave set piece had to be Michael’s hand-shaped chairs, which I’m taking to be a shout out to Arrested Development (”make love in your own hand, mother!” — Arrested fans know exactly what I’m talking about). Why Jan makes Michael hide them in the garage is beyond me. That said, I actually kinda like her decorating style. Yeah, the faux Pop Art silkscreens of her face were a little misjudged (just a little), but the bedroom was nice. And her ”workspace”? Classy.

In fact, while I’m the first to admit that Jan is a back-to-front jacket case, I do pity her a bit. She was a career woman with a big job and a major income. She had a personal crisis. She lost her way. Then she lost her job. Now she lives in Scranton with Michael. Sure, she’s a totally selfish, horribly cruel, controlling egomaniac. (Remember how she told Michael that her psychiatrist said she dated him as a form of self-destruction? Ouch.) She’s still taping their lovemaking against his will, which we know from the video camera in their bedroom. She’s making him sleep scrunched up on a bench. She’s forced him to have three vasectomies. Three! And she hurled one of his beloved Dundies into his brand new (miniature) plasma TV.

But Jan’s misplaced, often uncalled for anger and unabashed cruelty isn’t too different from Michael’s own. Consider how she treats Pam, remarking that Pam’s hostess gift, a bottle of wine, would be ”great to cook with.” She calls Pam’s drawings ”doodles” and is constantly accusing her of trying to steal Michael. Now compare that with how Michael behaves towards Toby, quipping that the HR Rep came to the deposition to ”renew your divorce vows” and later pushing his lunch tray onto the ground. Plus, honestly, how different is Jan’s candle making (”Serenity by Jan”?) from Michael’s screenwriting? I take it back — they, not Jim and Pam, are the perfect couple.

NEXT: Can Angela ever forgive Dwight for his act of felinicide?

As for PB&J (Pam Beesly and Jim), what’s all this critical twaddle about their relationship being too good and that the show is going to tank if they don’t get some drama? I love them loving each other. Let’s hear it for the comedy couples that really got along — Rob and Laura Petrie, Dan and Roseanne Conner, Clair and Cliff Huxtable! No one is going to tell me thatthey weren’t funny and entertaining. Pairings like that exist in real life, right? Right? Anyway, I’d rather see Pam and Jim up the pranks than up the tension.

Which brings us to Angela and Dwight, the duo with problems. Real problems. They did give us the show’s best line when Angela told him, ”The thought of popping one of your beets into my mouth makes me want to vomit.” But their pain is palpable and their separation is sad, while the reasons behind it are actually valid. He killed her cat! Which in my mind — no matter how good his intentions, no matter how badly he feels — is unforgivable. Remember when Angela told him that every time she looks into his eyes she sees Sprinkles’ cold, lifeless body? So do I! It’s gonna take some pretty great writing to finagle a legit-feeling reconciliation in their case.

One thing we do know, however, is that while Angela Kinsey (the actress who plays Angela) is pregnantin real life, the character won’t be giving birth to Dwight’s (or Andy’s) baby anytime soon. How are they hiding her bump? Clever blocking, of course. And CGI! It’s a little disappointing (an Office baby could be fun), but these behind the scenes clips of Steve Carell and John Krasinski giving her pregnancy/parenting advice almost make up for it.

Speaking of progeny, The Office spinoff is apparently a go — the announcement of which I truly thought was a late April Fool’s joke. Are you scared? I’m scared, even if Ricky Gervais apparently isn’t, posting on www.rickygervais.com/, ”I’m very excited to see if we can make lightening strike twice.”

Last, and certainly least, as you’ve probably already realized, I’ve taken over EW.com’s Office TV Watch from my friend and colleague Christine Fenno. Here’s a little info about me: My favorite Office character is Creed, and my favorite Brit Office character is, hands down, Ricky the intern. I get all twitterpated forOffice co-creator Stephen Merchant, so I have to share with you his current radio show as well asRicky Gervais’ blog. My dream is for them not just to direct an episode of the American Office, but also to guest on one. I’ve noticed from listening to years of Ricky’s radio shows and podcasts that he’s really into asking fans to participate in write-ins and campaigns (like to get comedy partner Karl Pilkington back on air). My suggestion is that we find a way to persuade Ricky to make my wish come true!

So, what do you think TV Watchers? Did The Office return in style? Is Michael just as crazy as Jan? Should Jim and Pam go mental? Can Angela forgive Dwight?

Come back next week to read my personal story about how I almost got to eat dinner with B.J. Novak when fate (and three peptic ulcers) intervened!

Episode Recaps

Michael Scott, The Office (Steve Carell)
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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