Spoilers for "The Office" coming up just as soon as I do some online shopping...
Welcome to week three of analyzing this four-week experiment of making "The Office" an hour-long comedy. In week one, I wasn't crazy about the episode as a whole, but felt there was more good stuff in the first half than the second. Last week, I felt they made it about three-quarters of the way through the hour before going off the rails (or, rather, into the lake). As for last night, I thought the first half-hour was the funniest the show's been all year, while the second was mostly forgettable.
No matter how you do the math, I think it's obvious that "The Office" works much better as a half-hour (40 minutes would be ideal but would create a lot of annoying scheduling). Much as I like getting bonus moments from the supporting charactes like Stanley's chair dance to the Dunder Mifflin website music or Meredith asking Jim to sign her crotch, this show's stories are small-scale by design, and they don't seem to be stretching out well. When these episodes get split in two for syndication, it's going to seem even more troubling, because most of the good jokes and all of the real plot will be done by part one, and part two will play like some kind of weird extended outtake.
All that said, the first half hour of "Launch Party" was awfully good. It brought Jim and Pam back into the workplace dynamic like I had asked, with a hilarious prank on Dwight (and one that turned incredibly poignant in that way that "The Office" sometimes does when Pam took pity on Dwight). It featured a great Dwight story as he tried to prove his relevance to both Angela and the company. It put Angela at her absolute nastiest (and funniest) as she bulldozed through all of Phyllis' internet-suggested coping techniques. It had Ryan being even douchier than ever with that cliche-filled talking head (and I need to give credit to Throwing Things commenter Christy for her brilliant insight after the season premiere that Ryan has become all the leftover elements of David Brent that the American writers didn't put into Michael), Daryl showing Kelly that there was other romance to be found in this branch, a callback to the Staples episode that doubled as a "Glengarry Glen Ross" homage, the hysterical pre-credits scene about the bouncing DVD logo, and the aforementioned Stanley chair-dance and Meredith crotch-signing.
Really, the only pieces of part two that I'd need to preserve at all was the staff's indignation about Michael's Alfredo's Pizza Kitchen/Pizza By Alfredo confusion (Kevin on Pizza By Alfredo: "It's like eating a hot circle of garbage!") and the wonderful half-smiles displayed by Dwight and then Angela at various stages of Andy's pursuit of Angela. Michael kidnapping the delivery guy was yet another colossal overreaction by Michael to a slight from the first half of an episode (though it was slightly funnier here than last week because we got the staff's reactions to it, like Oscar and Kevin looking up the criminal statutes), and while the Jim and Pam rooftop scene was a sweet callback to a similar scene from season one, we've had enough PB&J schmoopiness already that it could have easily been cut.
So far, nearly all my problems with the season have been about the length, which is good, because it suggests that Daniels and company are still very good at what they originally set out to do, and are just struggling a bit with this expanded format. One-hour episodes can work on occasion, as with a high-stakes episode like last season's finale, but hopefully there will be some lessons learned and either NBC won't ask them to do it again, or Daniels will just insist on doing two separate episodes with unconnected storylines next time.
What did everybody else think?