When we left off in May, it looked like The Office might be running out of ways to waste workdays in an entertaining fashion. With Jim and Pam nesting and the future of Dunder Mifflin somewhat secured by Sabre, its new parent company, there wasn’t a whole lot left to really care about. But Steve Carell’s impending departure at the end of the show's new and seventh season changes things. Now we wonder: How will the staff say farewell to their ridiculous, bumbling, big-hearted boss?
In an opening worthy of that eventual finale, last night’s episode begins with a long-take shot of the staff lip-dubbing to Human Beinz’ “Nobody But Me.” After the gimmicky wedding-dance entrance at Jim and Pam’s nuptials last year, this stunt, another nod to an outdated viral video, could have come across as uninspired, but instead it felt like an appropriately energetic way to snap out of the summer slump.
Speaking of summer, how did the Scranton team spend their vacation? Gabe, still the office’s biggest misfit, started dating Erin (she explains: “Thank God he’s my boss because I would not have said yes to a first date if I didn’t have to”). Kelly enrolled in a Minority Executive Training program at Yale, where she learned how to fetishize becoming a better employee without actually becoming one. And Michael brought on a new assistant — his nephew, cineaste Luke Cooper (favorite films: Citizen Kane, Boondog Saints). The hire was an attempt to get back into the good graces of his estranged half-sister after once losing her son in a forest following a screening of Ace Ventura 2.
As it turns out, Luke inherited his uncle’s unimpressive work ethic but he refuses to fail at his job with the same laudable earnestness, instead carelessly botching coffee and ice-cream orders (the latter prompts a rare sarcastic zing from Andy: "Clutch cream run, bro"). The guy finds one admirer, though. Creed defends his decision to follow Luke on Twitter with the episode’s freshest line: “Everywhere I look it’s Betty White this and Betty White that. Finally, a kid who’s not talking about Betty White. Of course I follow him.”
Meanwhile, Jim passes the hours by pranking Dwight, who maintains an even tighter surveillance on the building now that he owns it. It’s a relief to know that the arrival of little Halpert last season probably won’t lead to too many predictable parenthood pratfalls but, seeing as Jim’s priorities remain single-minded as ever, it does seem like Cecilia is, like so many sitcom babies before her, a formerly convenient plot twist. When Pam accidentally foils one of these schemes, she makes it up to Jim by rewiring the elevator buttons, which leads to her getting trapped in said elevator with Dwight. At this point, it’s almost a challenge for Dwight to surprise us. Sure, his unnecessary survival instincts are amusing, but sometimes a simple beet-farming joke will suffice. So when he immediately urinates, saying, “I have 56 ounces of fluid in my bladder and we have to establish a pee corner!” — well, that was as funny as it was unexpected.
Finally, there’s Michael. He had a relatively somber quality to him last night. After spanking Luke for misbehaving (we said relatively somber), he watches the staff mock the ordeal from his office window, already at a little bit of a distance, then ambles out with a wistful voice-over: “It would have been nice to work with family I don’t know how Ringling Bothers do it. Night after night, town after town, you would think they’d be sick of each other by now.” Of course, the truth is that Michael is running a circus most of the time, and he does work alongside the people he considers family. As the series tries to reestablish itself in preparation for his absence, the season will ideally play out like this episode did: with a mix of high jinks and heart.