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Well, it beats the horizontal tango.

‘The Office’: Yes, Michael, You Are Special

After three aimless episodes (and one terrific exception), The Office returned last night to its snug half-hour format, with immediate dividends. There were no unnecessary subplots, no self-indulgent filler riffs (when does one use “who” or “whom?” Whom cares!), and nobody driving his car into a lake. It was clean and mean; it made its points and jokes and got out of there.

Meanwhile, the show implied more strongly than ever that Michael might not be a total idiot. (Which we prefer to Michael as Homer Simpson.) We know he’s a skilled salesman, but last night we learned that his desperate grasps at being “creative” might have some tiny basis in reality. His “commercial” for Dunder Mifflin was charming and funny in its Michael Scott way, almost accidentally. He might want to make everybody a star, but really, people just like to see themselves on television. Wanting to make himself feel special, Michael made everyone feel special. Aww.

We also had incremental movements on the show's two major relationships. Dwight — crestfallen after listening to the hilarious “updates” from Andy on how he’s “close to getting to first base,” yet hopeful after an accidental admission from Angela — is becoming legitimately sympathetic. And the first signs of potential trouble for Jim and Pam popped up on the horizon, with Jim — finally not the Perfect Guy — quietly dismissing Pam’s creative desires to focus on his (and, for that matter, Dwight’s) own business. (When he barged in on Pam when she was trying to illustrate the Dunder Mifflin ad, he resembled the boorish Roy a bit.)

One final note: The more Darrell, the better. Oh, and Sue Grafton is crazy hot. —Will Leitch

Photo: Courtesy of NBC