I said a fair amount about tonight's "The Office" in today's column, but I'll have a few additional thoughts on the arrival of Baby Halpert coming up just as soon as I cradle a gourd...
Whether you view "The Delivery" as a one-hour episode or as a two-parter that wound up airing together, there's no doubt that the first half was far stronger and funnier than the second. Nearly everything was clicking for the first 30 minutes. The pre-credits scene, with Dwight becoming jealous of Jim and Pam's impending arrival on both a personal and professional level, was the funniest the show has had in a while. And Pam's obsession with not going to the hospital before midnight was a believable kind of insanity that opened the door to lots of funny business, including Jim's growing panic about his wife not listening to reason, Michael's sheer joy at hearing the sentence "Distractions are good" (possibly the greatest collection of words Michael Scott has ever heard), Kelly compulsively reading up on pregnancy issues, and the various distractions concocted by the staff(*). And the random funniness just kept on coming: Meredith having a shirt with nipple holes in her car, or Oscar reacting to Michael's need for a dictionary with, "The hospital provides dictionaries! Bring a thesaurus!," or Stanley holding up the elevator because he's going to be damned if he has to leave work even a minute too late.
(*) Phyllis's offer to apply lipstick like Molly Ringwald in "The Breakfast Club" was a reminder, however, of how much "Community" has come to own the films of John Hughes among NBC's Thursday comedies.
Jim and Pam still got their sweet moment in the car when she told him that they were having a girl, and it was a very smart touch to keep the documentary cameras out of the delivery room. (Steve Carell also nailed the expression on Michael's face after he saw too much, even if the joke itself has been done many times before, notably in "Knocked Up.")
After little Cecilia Marie Halpert arrived, though, the pace and the laughs cooled down quite a bit. Having spent a few days and sleepless nights in the hospital with a newborn not that long ago, I could relate to a lot of what Jim and Pam were going through with their nursing panic(**), and the montage of Jim diapering everything in sight (including Angela's cat Bandit) was a nice touch.
(**) Not to open up a Nursing vs. Bottle-Feeding debate - which I feel would become so heated that I would need to invoke the No Politics rule somehow - but I will say that the nursing side has by far the better PR people. My wife and I took a parenting class before our daughter was born, which mainly involved a nurse showing us movies about things like diapering and baby-proofing. One week, she showed a pair of films about feeding. The one about nursing was bright and lively and full of testimonials from really excited, happy women who couldn't possibly convey all the joy they felt at being able to bond with their babies in this way. The bottle feeding one was maybe one-third the length, seemed to have been filmed on a very gray day, and had only one testimonial, from a very pale, sad woman who said, in a very resigned tone of voice, something like, "Well, I really tried hard to nurse, but it didn't work out, so I wound up using the bottle, and... it was... okay... I guess." I can only imagine Pam saw a very similar juxtaposition of videos, and was thus extra-freaked about getting the baby to nurse.
But overall, the second half was much flatter than the first, and the stuff with Dwight ripping up Jim and Pam's kitchen was just ridiculous, even for Dwight. Fienberg argued in this week's podcast that Dwight needed Angela to stay grounded, so I was pleased when it looked like they might be getting back together to produce a mutually-beneficial baby. But then Dwight got the hots for Pam's bridesmaid again (and she seems to not care that he both blew her off the next day and kicked her in the face during the ceremony) and seemed to recognize that it wasn't right to have a baby with a woman he no longer loves, so it looks like we won't be returning to that relationship.
On the plus side, Michael used the baby's arrival as an excuse to play matchmaker around the office, and Andy in turn used that as an excuse to finally ask Erin out. And about time, too; much as I like those two characters together, it was getting incredibly stupid that neither one would just up and say, "I like you; wanna go out?" This wasn't like Jim and Pam in the early days, where there were other people in the way most of the time. It was on the verge of getting stupid, and now we get to see what these two goofballs are like when they're together instead of just pining.
So, not an instant classic like the wedding episode, but still very funny and sweet for a while, and the show had problems with its hourlongs even in stronger seasons than this one. I can only hope that this is the start of a comeback and not a one-time anomaly.
What did everybody else think?