"Maybe you shouldn't fake fire people anymore." -PamThe Michael Scott Paper Company arc was so glorious, so clearly one of the best things "The Office" has ever done, that there's been some very understandable concern that bringing things back to the status quo would suck a lot of life out of the series. Instead, "Casual Friday" showed just how much things have changed -- not just since the formation of the MSPC, but since the beginning of the series.
The very first episode of American "Office" was a straight translation of the pilot for the British "Office," and it didn't work -- at all. Where Ricky Gervais was able to play the fake firing of Dawn with the right amount of cheekiness, Steve Carell seemed oddly menacing and cruel in the comparable scene with Pam. Greg Daniels and company wisely never attempted to just copy another British script, and Michael's sense of humor quickly diverged from David Brent's. But now, five seasons in, the writers have such a firm handle on Michael, and the relationship between Michael and Pam has evolved so much, that they could do another version of that scene and make it funny, and poignant, and generally as awesome as some of the better moments from the MSPC era. You can see that Michael means no harm, and you can see that Pam understands his mindset enough to let it wash off her back once she recognizes what he's doing. A great scene for Carell and Jenna Fischer, who have turned into an outstanding duo this season.
Beyond that, the transition of the MSPC staff back to the D-M Scranton branch appropriately didn't go smoothly. Michael, Pam and Ryan acted like soldiers who fought a war together and now can't relate to the civilians they left behind, the remaining D-M sales staff predictably rebelled against the idea of Pam and Ryan keeping all the appropriated clients(*), and Jim tried to stay out of it all by spending a dream-like day with Creed.
(*) Other than Pam's promotion, the best post-MSPC element of the show looks like the end of Dwight's hero worship of Michael. I think the two of them work much better as adversaries than as partners in buffoonery.
And if there was a downside to the MSPC storyline, it was the marginalization of the D-M supporting characters. After sitting on the sidelines for the last few episodes, everybody got a moment to shine, whether it was Meredith obliviously (and repeatedly) flashing the office, Phyllis turning sweetly vicious to Pam ("Close your mouth, sweetie. You look like a trout."), Toby taking charge to shut down Casual Friday (and Meredith being turned on by his assertiveness) or, hysterically, the teaser scene with Kevin's homemade chili. (What made that so brilliant was that they kept playing the audio of Kevin excitedly describing the chili even as we saw him in the present desperately trying to get it back in the pot before anyone else came in to notice.) These actors are all too funny -- and, when needed, good actors (like Phyllis getting to Michael with her rant about how they're supposed to be a family) -- to be marginalized for too long.
Some other thoughts:
• Dwight brought a "pony sandwich" to work? Ugh.
• Michael knows "The Wire" but not "The Shield." Interesting. Also, remember that he's "not to be truffled with."
• I liked seeing a Ryan who's now 100% loyal to Michael, but I wonder if that's a one-and-done thing now that he's been demoted again.
• Dwight doesn't know Stanley's last name, but he does know where to find Ryan's mug when he needs to mix up some more of his "invisible ink."
• Meredith: "I don't know. I saw a crowd; I thought there might be a dog fight or something." She is so hilariously creepy.
• Looks like Erin's around for a while, at least. Always good to have someone who isn't quite used to these people yet.
What did everybody else think?