By now, anybody who cares has heard that last Thursday's season premiere of NBC's The Office was not only its lowest rated season opener, but it also matched the number for its lowest rated episode ever, placing the peacock network third for the night. While this is cause for alarm for what was NBC's highest rated scripted series, I believe it was an aberration due to the fact that many viewers weren't even aware that the Must See Thursday lineup had returned with new episodes. I only knew because I am a pretty big Office fanatic and I work for TVRage, but a majority of shows aren't returning until this week, so I can see how it would confuse a lot of people.
The eighth season was a mixed bag, but it represented a much needed change without the bumbling antics of Steve Carell's Michael Scott. As a big fan of that character, I was and am still on the fence about Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) and his Hangover-inspired promotion, but Helms is a talented comedic actor and he's at roughly the same point as Carell was when he began the role of Office head. The "Nard Dawg" is best in smaller doses, but Michael's absence gave the other characters a chance to develop and turned the show into more of an ensemble series. It would be a shame if regular viewers gave up on the show in its final season.
I also say that after finally getting the opportunity to watch the Season 9 premiere, titled "New Guys," which was actually a strong episode. Following the tradition of previous season premieres, the opening segment allowed us to see what this eclectic group of characters had been up to over the summer. There were a few notable events that will undoubtedly drive the final season of The Office, laying the foundations to wrap up the story in a satisfying fashion for long-time fans. We start off with Kelly's in-your-face departure for the University of Miami, not realizing it's the Miami U located in Ohio, followed by Ryan leaving separately for Ohio because it's "the new Silicon Valley ... Silicon Prairie." Although Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak may return for an episode or two later in the season, this was a good way to send them off without completely writing them out.
Over the summer, The Office saw the arrival of two new employees named Pete and Clark who resemble younger versions of series mainstays Jim and Dwight. The resemblance is so uncanny that the other office workers have taken to calling them "New Jim" and "Dwight Jr." Initially taken aback, Dwight quickly grows to like the idea and attempts to act as a father figure to his surrogate son before paranoia overtakes him when Clark asks to see his list of clients. At first, Jim denies any similarities to Pete, but by the end of the episode, he realizes that it's true after hearing Pete talk about his possible plans for the future, echoing comments made by Jim himself in the first couple of seasons. He had always believed that his office job was just a temporary station in life and he would be moving on to bigger and better things, but nearly a decade later, he is still selling paper for Dunder-Mifflin. The new cast members seem to fit like a glove, with Clark Duke especially having good chemistry with Rainn Wilson in their scenes together.
Throughout the series, a re-occurring theme for Jim has been the realization that he hasn't accomplished any of the professional goals he set for himself. At one point during the show's run, Jim seemed to be on a career track reminiscent of former boss Michael Scott. Now with the arrival of his younger doppelganger, reality has set in and Jim knows he must make a move soon or risk being stuck at Dunder-Mifflin forever. During the summer, Jim received a job offer from an old friend, but declined because it meant moving his family from small-town Scranton to the big city of Philadelphia. After the events of this episode, Jim made a frantic phone call to his buddy and apparently secured the position. Since this was done without Pam's knowledge, we should see how she reacts to the news next week and then how the rest of the staff will handle their exit. Although it's "just a comedy," The Office has also featured layered characterization and great storytelling, as in the case of Jim's personal journey. Along with Pam, they have always been the most realistic and relatable characters on the show and their payoff will hopefully be satisfying.
Another interesting occurance that hints at future developments was Jim and Pam addressing the off-screen producers of the documentary that has ostensibly been filming since the beginning of the series. For possibly the first time, the off-screen voice of the filmmakers was heard when Pam asked how much more they needed to film after following the Dunder-Mifflin paper company for so long. According to the producers of The Office, all of the questions about the faux documentary will be answered before the series finale, which is something that long-time fans have been wanting. That is definitely a hook that will keep me watching.
I have been watching since the premiere of the very first episode and I am looking forward to seeing where the characters end up. "New Guys" was a good start on the road to the end of The Office, and Creed summed up the episode in his own inimitable style: "In the parking lot today, there was a circus. Copier did tricks on the highwire. A lady tried to give away a baby that looked like a cat. There was a Dwight impersonator and a Jim impersonator. A strongman crushed a turtle. I laughed and I cried. Not bad for a day in the life of a dog food company."
FINAL GRADE: B