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The Office Season Premiere: Year of the Nard Dog

Since we last visited with the people of Dunder Mifflin, the cast has gained a movie star. Office stalwart Ed Helms, the Nard Dog, now has major box-office cred: This summer he co-led a movie (The Hangover) that grossed more than three times The 40-Year Virgin, the film that catapulted Steve Carell into movie stardom. Office executive producer Greg Daniels — now over at Parks and Recreation, which also premiered last night and is clearly hitting its stride — once said that seeing what Carell was capable of in Virgin helped him and the other Office staffers better write for him. It sharpened their focus and made him a better character. This is obviously about to happen for Ed Helms; he’s about to become a much bigger character.

And thank heavens for that. The Nard Dog has always been the show’s secret weapon, a paralyzingly insecure man who is so desperate for love and so unsure of his ability to find it that (like in this episode) if he hears a rumor that he’s gay, he’s liable to believe it. (Even if he admits, almost in defeat, that he’s not actually attracted to men.) As for that larger role, our bet is on an interoffice affair with Kelly Kapoor.

The rest of the premiere let everyone know Dunder Mifflin is back in order. There’s no Charles Minor, no David Wallace, and no hints of the Michael Scott Paper Company. The gang has settled back in — other than Jim and Pam, of course, who are hiding the fact that Pam’s four months pregnant. That’s not the hot gossip, though: Stanley, of all people, is having an affair — with his nurse, fittingly. Michael finds out about it from the interns and can’t help but tell everyone. By the end, Michael’s making up stories about everyone else to cover over his Stanley scuttlebutt, and Pam’s pregnancy and Stanley’s affair are broadcast. We fade out with Stanley destroying Michael’s car in a rage, which would be a darker ending if Michael weren’t standing there watching, resigned to what he probably deserves.

All in all, this is what we expected: a transition from the risky season five, in which the whole structure of Dunder Mifflin is almost destroyed, back to normal. Our only question: When did the office get interns? There’s a joke about having had to end the intern program when Michael refused to stop making Monica Lewinsky jokes, but clearly this was an oversight by the show's writers — who wouldn’t watch college students dropped into the world of Dunder Mifflin? It could be the new Melrose Place! Though if Michael cast it, the show would star “Jet Li, Julia Stiles, and Alan Thicke.” That might earn good ratings, actually.

Photo: Courtesy of NBC