Integration Celebration: The Branches Merge on The Office

I don't know about you but one of the highlights of my week is catching up with the gang at Dunder-Mifflin on Thursday nights. While there have been a few noticeable duds this season (ahem, "The Coup" and "Initiation"), I'll take my Scranton-based laughs over any other comedy on television right now.

So I rushed home last night for NBC's revamped Thursday night single-cam comedy lineup, this week presented in super-sized episodes. The Office is undeniably the jewel in NBC's comedy crown, and I'd been waiting all season for last night's episode ("The Merger") to see how the Scrantonites would react to intruders from Stamford in their midst. Oh, yeah, and for a reunion between Jim and Pam.

But I really wanted to see a showdown between Office sycophant Dwight and the even more nauseatingly sycophantic Andy (Ed Helms), and newbie writer Brent Forrester (whom I must applaud for writing this, his first episode of The Office, with such ease and, well aplomb) doesn't disappoint. Dwight and Andy are immediately at one another's throats, with Michael siding not with protege Dwight, but with new guy Andy. For his part, Andy has a shock-and-awe approach to sucking up, complete with mirroring and name repetition. Michael's under his spell as soon as Andy walks through the door to collect his niftygifties (um, pencils and coupons). And thus a new Office rivalry is born, one for the ages. I can't wait to see how this plays out over the next few weeks, but Andy's arrival has shaken things up at Dunder-Mifflin even more than Jim's return to the branch he fled.

I would be absolutely remiss if I didn't refer immediately to Michael's hilarious "Lazy Scranton" video, which he proudly prepared for the new employee orientation meeting. I had to go back and watch it again because I was laughing so hard the first time around. Poor Michael; he just doesn't get that his employees are not an audience there to see him perform. That said, I do wish I could have seen more of his "Scranton Witch Project" video. Classic. (You can catch the entire full-length "Lazy Scranton" video on The Office's site on

I'm getting a little wary of the NBC promo department, who seem to be on a mission to turn Jim and Pam into this decade's Ross and Rachel and keep cutting together these promos, complete with Very Special Music, that seem to make the show seem as though it's a romantic drama between Jim and Pam. I loves me my Jim and Pam as much as the next fan of The Office, but it's not the only thing this series is about. And, believe it or not, NBC Promo Department, it's actually a comedy. So drop the somber music, etc. It just gets on my nerves.

Whew. It felt good to get that out (it's been plaguing me all season, every time there's another Jim-Pam beat coming up). Speaking of the best non-couple couple of television, I'm glad to see that Jim has returned to Scranton with the tension between them fully intact. While Pam is thrilled to have her friend back at the office, things are definitely weird, no matter how much either of them try to sugarcoat things. I loved the little scene between them in front of the vending machines when Pam was surprised to find that Jim had purchased bottled water rather than grape soda. It was a subtle reminder that things have definitely changed between them and a sign of the distance (both temporal and physical) that has passed. I'm sure Pam never imagined that Jim would blow her off when she asked him to go for some coffee. At least he never would have in the old days.

Even better was the scene at the end of the episode when Jim takes a call from Karen (Rashida Jones) in his car and breaks off the call when he sees Pam, but only after agreeing to meet up with Karen an hour later at a local bar. Jim gets out and it's apparent that the void between them has remained just as large as it would have had Jim not returned to Scranton. Color Pam shocked, meanwhile, when she learns that Jim is seeing someone, especially as she knows that someone is Karen. (LOVED Pam's reactions earlier to seeing Jim put his arm around Karen in the parking lot and walk off and Karen's furtive gum-handing to Jim during the orientation meeting.) Jenna Fischer is a joy to watch, and I am amazed anew each week by her subtle (and yet profound) reactions; they are so naturalistic and understated that I sometimes forget that she's not really Pam, thanks to the way she just effortlessly inhabits the role.

Personally, I'm really glad that the show's producers threw Karen into the mix. Much like the Brit version's Rachel, there needs to be a love triangle going on between our central non-lovers in order to keep things interesting. We all know that Karen's not in it for the long haul, but in the meantime, it's great to see Pam squirm a bit, knowing that she had the opportunity to be with Jim and didn't go for it. And it's great to see Jim happy with someone that's not Pam. In your face, Beesley!

Were you laughing your butts off at Karen's Italian voicemail message as much as I was? ("Leavuh me the message.") I loved how she was playing around with Jim so openly and then as soon as he walked away, changed the message to just plain "Karen Filippelli ." A great character moment. Some have complained about Karen being Italian, but I am not quite sure why that is, or why she couldn't be Italian. (Sicilian, even.) I think it adds to her character; I'm also glad that Michael immediately made an ass of himself upon meeting her by commenting on her exotic looks and asking if her father was a G.I. Priceless.

But one of the very best moments of the episode came when Karen commented on how she was allergic to Phyllis' perfume, and Phyllis said that it was made from pure pine and Bob Vance brought it back from Metropolitan Orlando, leading Karen to ask who Bob Vance was. A furious Phyllis, used to name dropping, turned on her heel and uttered the now-immortal line, "You've got a lot to learn about this town, sweetie." You don't want to mess with Phyllis. So it was only fitting that Phyllis bestowed one of her trademark smiles upon Karen at the end of the episode when Karen asked her if Bob Vance was "Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration?"

Something tells me Karen is going to fit in just fine.

In two weeks on The Office ("The Convict"), chaos ensues when Michael discovers one of the new Dunder-Mifflin employees has a prison record, in this episode written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the creators of the original UK version of The Office!

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Jace is an LA-based television development and acquisitions junior exec who watches way too much television for his own good and would love a TiVo for every room in the house. (He’s halfway there.) His blog, Televisionary, can be found at