After a week off for the Vice Presidential debate, The Office returns tonight with “Work Bus,” an episode that feels more like classic Office than anything from this show in the past couple of years. So far, Season 9 has been successful for the series. Even episodes and storylines that don’t work have been so toned down from what we’ve seen over the past few seasons that one doesn’t leave each episode angry with the show or its characters, a marked improvement from even the latter Michael Scott days. But “Work Bus,” written by long time show producer/writer Brent Forrester, pulls off the humor, relationships, and even emotions that have eluded the show recently.
Tonight, Dwight learns that his building may be unsafe because of electromagnetism caused by uninsulated wire. Instead of shutting it down due to the costs of repair and lack of proof of actual harm, Jim pranks Dwight into closing up shop as a favor for his wife by putting a half-popped bag of popcorn in his desk. Instead of everyone getting a week off, Dwight books a “Work Bus”- a giant bus for everyone to perform their Dunder Mifflin duties. With Plan A a failure, Jim leads his crew in a chant to get Dwight to take them to a pie stand, which is what he promised his wife he’d do with their time off. After Andy approves the voyage from his back “office,” complete with its own curtain/door, a depressed Dwight begrudgingly drives them away from the industrial park and towards the roadside pie stand. In addition to Dwight’s emotional problems and Jim’s desire to make his wife happy for being so cool with the Philadelphia job thing, Nellie needs an uncooperative Andy to sign a letter of recommendation because she wants to adopt a baby.
The work bus, which could have easily been another wacky “The Office Is Going To…” storyline, is played, more or less, down to Earth- at least once you accept the concept. The space is cramped, but it doesn’t lead to injury or calamity. People get used to it pretty quickly.
Jim once again reclaims his role as the show’s heart. His motives come from a real place, and the scene shared by him and Pam at the end has a genuine, quiet tenderness that has been missing ever since the Halperts became a quite boring, ordinary couple. Jim has another good moment when he comforts Dwight, who it turns out is upset that he might be barren, “neutered by my own building.” After suggesting that everyone in the building is his children, Dwight is comforted by the German phrase buildenkinder, which was used by childless landlords. Last year, I complained about the pep talks Jim gave to Andy in “Gettysburg” and “The Incentive,” and the nonsensical hallway fight Jim started to help Dwight keep his job in “Last Day in Florida.” But this sequence seemed more in-character for both of them, and with Jim’s detachment and Dwight’s delusions, it felt like earlier seasons when Jim provided a shoulder for his frenemey without actually opening up.
Over the past four episodes, I’ve complimented this show on returning Andy to his original position as a dick, and his treatment of Nellie this week firmly plants him with the negative group of the show’s characters. Even his softening up due to Erin’s sobbing after seeing Andy mock Nellie for wanting to adopt does not make him a “better” man. He does the right thing, but the show doesn’t show him as a decent human being because of it. It’s an important difference to me. Additionally, these three storylines, which are all tied together through the work bus, are handled better than in the other Season 9 episodes where the different plots felt too disconnected.
Another way The Office succeeded tonight was the humor, and in my notes, I jotted down many more memorable lines than I usually do when it comes to this show. Darryl and Clark have apparently forged a relationship that shows a lot of depth and comic potential. It’s been awhile since the show figured out an unexpected pairing, yet in two short scenes, I wanted to see more of those two together. Even Andy got a laugh out of me with his all-hope-is-lost “Banana cream’s the first to go! We’re lucky to get pumpkin at this point!” followed by him angrily “slamming” the curtain. However, the biggest laugh, probably the biggest laugh from this show in years, came from Creed “playing hooky from work today.”
• The Creed scene was great as much because of his outfit as his reaction.
• I realize that because of how small the work bus was, and how many angles we got in the scenes, we should have definitely seen the cameramen. I’m not complaining about it, I’m just saying it was pretty obvious.
• The singing roll call was pretty annoying, but I can accept it as their attempt to get to curmudgeonly Dwight.
• Kevin can do math in his head for pie but not for anything else. I know that earlier seasons established Kevin as a pretty decent card shark, but that was long, long ago. Before Kevin became… what he is now.
• Why was Stanley smiling and waving during the softball opening? That’s not a very Stanley thing to do.