I don’t care if there’s not a single funny moment for the rest of the season, you guys get a pass for the not only the best premiere opener, but the best Office opener period. Seriously, I rewatched it before it was over the first time. Not sure how long it took to film, but the sight of Gabe doing the Charleston, Creed rocking out, and Erin going nuts in the background all in a single, unbroken shot was worth it.
As the season officially begins, it’s revealed that over the summer Corporate Weasal Gabe (that sounds like something from a rejected line of bobbleheads) has stolen Erin “I-wouldn’t-have-gone-on-that-first-date-were-he-not-my-boss-and-I’d-have-to” Hannon; Dwight bought the building; Kelly took a correspondence course from Yale; and the office has hired an obnoxious assistant named Luke who can’t properly get the coffee…and also happens to be Michael’s nephew.
Luke sucks at pretty much everything he does, from forgetting to mail customers account-sensitive information to giving the staff shoddy nicknames (Andy: “I am not the Nard Man, I am the Nard Dog. The Nard Man is my father”). Luke’s sent on an ice-cream run while the rest of the gang is dragged into the boardroom by Michael, who tells them to lay off before revealing the fact that he and Luke are (not really surprisingly) related.
Things reach a head when Luke returns with a single pint of soy-based ice cream and some bagel chips, and Michael and Gabe awkwardly sit down for a video-conference with Sabre head Jo (Kathy Bates!) to sort out the mess. Actually, things reach a head when Luke misuses a laser pointer and prompts Michael, in one of the eeriest scenes ever recorded on the show, to spank him.
Elsewhere, Pam blows one of Jim’s pranks on the increasingly power-drunk Dwight, who’s suspended the air conditioning, forced the rest of the office to drink from backpacks, and…tries to rid the office of raccoons with the aid of a stethoscope and a hammer? Anyway, Pam tries to make it up to Jim by treating him to whatever he wants from the vending machine, professing her love, and, finally, enlisting Kevin to mess with the elevator as sort of a “please forgive me” prank (though not in that order).
The episode ends with Michael having to undergo several weeks of counseling for physically assaulting Luke—that or be terminated. And the camera lingers on Michael’s conflicted face once he realizes that his counselor will be Toby.
Actually, I was about two paragraphs into this recap when I saw that the episode was nearly over. This isn’t one of the plot-heavyiest Offices, and I suspect that the whole introduction of Luke and ambiguous ending was more of a setup to get Michael’s send-off moving (seeing as how this is Steve Carell’s final season on the show).
But the lack of a story doesn’t prevent it from being a fine episode. There’s a lot of great moments, from Andy’s fantasy of Gabe being eaten by a whale to Gabe’s restrained self-mocking to the long debate over Michael’s visual aid when he implores them to stop bothering Luke (which consists of the phrase “Don’t Bother Luke” encased in a circle with a line through it [like the Ghostbusters logo]—and yes, that does mean “Don’t don’t bother Luke”).
It’s also a consistent highlight to learn what everyone did over the summer because it gives each member of the cast a chance to shine. A lot of critics of The Office tend to groan at the interviews, but I can’t think of many other ways (save a boardroom conference, which this episode also has) to get some use from the vast and very talented supporting cast when they’re not part of that week’s story. And they certainly do.
In all, The Office deserves a hearty “Welcome Back.”