I’ve witnessed my share of uncomfortable dates (several of them firsthand), and I’ve been in social situations where I’ve been at a serious loss for words. But man oh man, thank goodness I’ve never been to dinner at Casa Scott/Levinson.

And yet, how good it is to have The Office back in all its squirmy glory.

(You know, in Spain they often don’t even start spoilering until midnight.)

The script for Thursday’s episode was pretty well finished before the strike, and maybe because of that it doesn’t show any of the rust that’s affected some of the other returning shows, comedies especially. And although it might have been nice to see a little bit more of the rest of the Dunder Mifflin crew in the first new episode in nearly five months, but that’s a minor detail. This was some good, good stuff.

The pathology starts right from the top, as Michael runs a fake assignment from corporate just so he can catch Jim and Pam without an excuse and get them to come over for dinner. In its very odd way, it’s kind of brilliant, which Jim acknowledges to the camera. And since Michael and Jan have six wine glasses, Andy and Angela get an invite too (much to Dwight’s anguish; I liked the take of him crying to the camera more than the one of him running out of the room NBC showed in promos).

And oh yeah, it’s every bit as bad as you might expect. I was a little worried, having watched a couple of preview clips and seen lots of commercials, that NBC was offering up all the best bits of the episode. But the dinner party was practically a bottomless pit of uncomfortable/hilarious moments. Let’s run down a few of them, shall we?

  • Jan’s continuous patronizing of Pam — with Angela all too willing to help throw her under the bus — leading up to the revelation that Michael had told Jan that he and Pam dated.
  • The sliding glass door story: Michael ran through it because he thought he heard an ice-cream truck, and also because was so clean that "it looked invisible." "Because before I lived here the glass was always covered in smudges," Jan replies. "Then I cleaned it, so I guess that makes me the devil." To which Michael spits back, laughing all the while (but not really), "You are, you are — you’re the devil I’m in hell."
  • Michael’s bed at the foot of the bed, his hand chairs in the garage, his teeny tiny plasma TV.
  • Jan’s repeated playing of ex-assistant Hunter’s song ("You took my hand, you made me a man. That one night, you made everything right…"), the last of which leads up to the most hostile "That’s what she said" in Office history.
  • The way Jan and Michael tried to keep up a cheery facade — I swear, there must have been more "babe"s in that episode than in half a season’s worth of The Amazing Race.

Best of all, though? The fantastic reactions, both verbal and non-, from Jim and especially Pam. Their little showdown when he tries to bail for a flooded apartment — "You wouldn’t want to leave this party here all by itself, would you?" — played fantastically (and Jim, dude — you never leave someone behind in a case like that. That would have been a point-of-no-return moment for you and her) — as did her whispered "Awesome!" when Dwight showed up with his former babysitter (that was Beth Grant, of No Country for Old Men, Jericho and about a million other things).

There are almost too many great little lines and looks and moments for me to list, but I’d like to point out just one more: During the little musical wrapup when Andy tries to kiss Angela and she smears her waffle cone on the car door. In the show’s absence, I think I forgot what a completely frigid and closed-off character (see also her complete ignorance of Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger during the party game) she is. Wise move to hide her pregnancy, Office team — it’d just be too unbelievable.

Your turn, fellow Office lovers: How’d you like the show’s return? Too squirmy, or just what you’d been hoping for? And what were your favorite moments from the dinner party?

Posted by:Rick Porter