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The Office Recap: Junk Toucher

THE OFFICE -- "Pam's Replacement" Episode 807 -- Pictured: (l-r) Brian Baumgartner as Kevin Malone, Ed Helms as Andy Bernard -- Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

For a show that employs many hilarious female actors and writers, more than many of its competitors, The Office has always been disappointingly light on female-driven episodes. That was sort of excusable for the first seven seasons in which Michael Scott presided, while the entire ensemble took B- and C-story duties. But this season, some fans were hoping for more. Tonight, we got it.

Enter Cathy, the temp who will be filling in for Pam. She is pretty. Super pretty. It's easy to imagine her standing out in Scranton, Pennsylvania, people asking her if she is an actress researching for a television show. Now, I have no experience being pregnant, but the thought of an impossibly beautiful woman working next to your husband (who has a history of boyishly obsessing over cute co-workers) while you are on maternity leave must cause some anxiety. Pam, sweet and trusting as she is, can’t contend with her neuroses. (We will note here without further comment that this plot, about a woman who wants her partner to admit he finds another woman attractive and gets crazy when he won't, recently appeared on an episode of Whitney.) She’s sure Jim thinks Cathy’s hot, and she wants to hear him say it, because hey, she’s about to pop, and no one is dumb enough to stop a pregnant woman from doing whatever the hell she wants.

The officemates only incubate Pam’s fears. They cannot stop dancing around how pretty Cathy is, which drives Pam bonkers. Demoralized, and weirdly determined to get Jim to squeal mercy on this Cathy thing, Pam turns to Dwight, the single colleague who won’t feed her baloney. Dwight can’t impregnate her. Objectively speaking, he says, that’s a huge turn-off. Jim thinks Cathy is pretty and Dwight knows he can prove it. Pam makes him a bet, and like that, poof, the first Pam A-story exists!

Dwight and Pam is a great “What If” pairing. Like what if Joker teamed up with Batgirl. Or Bowzer with Princess Peach. They’re fragile alliances that only show up in “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” scenarios.

Weirdly, Dwight’s first idea isn’t an idea at all. It’s a person. Kelly Kapoor, a time-proven terrible judge of male behavior (see: Ryan). Her strategy is called the Matchmaker Test. Pam asks Jim for a friend to set Cathy up with. If Jim picks a hot friend, then Jim thinks Cathy’s hot. Reading the play, Jim plucks out Mike Tibias — the most boring-looking guy he knows. Kelly’s plan was an appetizer for the main course. Dwight plans to go right to the clearest proof of whether or not a man finds a woman attractive. While Jim is making Cathy laugh over who knows what, Dwight pratfalls and grabs onto Mr. Halpert’s crotch. He rushes to Pam and delivers the line of the night: “Does your husband typically have very soft erections?"

Meanwhile, at the warehouse: California invites a few local celebrities to join in Andy’s jam session with Daryl and Kevin. Andy is flattered at first, only to realize his band's been edged out of the band. Val — who still is more of a motivational prop than a fleshed-out character — points out the obvious: that Andy once again isn’t standing up for himself. He tries to be a little more vocal, but ultimately he, Daryl, and Kevin take their music to the curb, playing on acoustic guitars and a plastic bucket. It’s cute, but also confirms that Andy really is the biggest pushover. And not much of a leader.

Pam isn’t satisfied with Dwight’s amateur urological exploration. She wants the truth, so she resorts to the nuclear option. The three visit a pharmacy blood-pressure machine where Dwight can perform an ad hoc lie detector test. Okay, at this point, Pam’s craziness is teetering from pregnancy-crazy to the brink of crazy-crazy, but Jim is still plenty willing to tag along. He’s a good husband and besides, they need to pick up a new toothbrush for Cece.

Dwight performs the perfunctory lie detector stuff we’ve all picked up watching Law & Order reruns. What’s your name and so on, working his way to the big one. Does Jim find Cathy attractive? Jim says no, but Dwight says he’s lying and Pam gets her big gotcha moment. In fact, Dwight adds, Jim’s lied on every question. His blood pressure was high even when asked his name. Obviously Jim has high blood pressure. And it runs in the family. And with that realization Pam’s anxiety washes away. They leave. But before they’re out the door, Dwight reminds them not to forget Cece’s toothbrush. Okay, I know this is silly, but man, this line is sort of perfect. And in a way, it validates the ending of last week’s episode for me, when Dwight called off the e-mail that would have cost everyone their jobs. Dwight really cares about these people. I know, I know, one line. But it really clicked.

Photo: Chris Haston/NBC