Now that's what I'm talking about. Spoilers for the best "The Office" of the season coming up just as soon as I get my fake mustache waxed...
A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in your pants. "Branch Wars" had a little bit of everything that makes "The Office" great, from the broad but in-character antics of Michael and Dwight ("The eyes are the groin of the head!"), to the pathos of Karen realizing that Jim's presence in Utica has nothing to do with her, to the wistful, dryly funny Finer Things Club subplot.
Even without Oscar hilariously declaring, "Besides having sex with men, I would say the Finer Things Club is the gayest thing about me" -- or, for that matter, Michael's reaction to seeing Toby with a bowtie holding a tea set -- I was going to love that subplot, because it felt so quintessentially "Office." It was a dead-on depiction of people trying to better their lot in this world in some small way with the resources available to them, and the world -- in this case personified by Andy, Kevin, Phyllis and even Jim -- doing their best to spoil things. I loved Andy looking at the Club like one more thing to join back at Cornell ("Kevin's band is my safety"), that Phyllis didn't want to make her popcorn in the kitchen microwave because that one smelled too much of popcorn, and that there are certain things about BMOC Jim that bother not only people like Oscar, but even Pam herself. Just a perfect small-scale B-story, and one that made the wacky hijinks of the A-story palatable. In the world of "The Office," you can have Frank McCourt jokes and Dwight peeing in a soda can, and it's all good.
It occurs to me, by the way, that the roster for the Utica road trip -- six hours round trip, by the way -- was identical to the one that drove a concussed Dwight to the hospital after Michael cooked his foot. Dwight + Jim + Michael + moving vehicle = gold, apparently. Also, I was too busy laughing during much of Michael's panicked walkie-talkie communication to Jim as Karen showed up, but I definitely caught him ordering Jim to host the Dundies without him and to "climb on top of (Karen) and think about Stanley."
I'm glad that the show isn't quite done with Karen just yet. The PB&J development necessitated her exit from Scranton, but Rashida Jones brought a lot to the table comedically, and it makes sense that she might be able to swing a branch manager job after impressing David Wallace so much in her interview in the season three finale. (If only she'd dazzled him with talk of websites and Power Point, maybe she could be the d-bag in Jan's old office.) I don't wish failure on people, but assuming her lousy Fox midseason sitcom fails (and that's assuming it even airs, strike or no strike), I hope she can come back from time to time as a thorn in both Michael and Jim's side.
If I had any real problem with the episode, it was that the payoff to the possibility of Stanley's transfer was underwhelming. I assumed he wasn't going anywhere, because Leslie David Baker has established himself as the show's go-to supporting player -- you can get a funny Stanley reaction to any situation -- but I was hoping for something more inspired than Stanley not wanting to go in the first place.
A really funny episode, and no pacing problems of any kind.
What did everybody else think?