‘The Office’: Can we stay in Florida for a while?

Thank Catherine Tate?

For many years, “The Office” was a show that was hip for people to like — it was new, trendy, and boosted by a strong performance from Steve Carell. If you didn’t watch the show, there was supposedly some sort of gaping hole of coolness inside of you.

As any fans knows, though, that feeling was lost a long time ago. After hitting its peak in season 2, the show slowly started to go downhill, only to jump off a cliff at the start of this season. The laughs were gone, the stories felt like re-treads, and James Spader honestly never caught on as Sabre CEO Robert California. (With that, it’s no surprise to hear that he is leaving.) By the time Carell left, the show suddenly had become the one that the cool kids pretended was canceled years ago.

However, something rather remarkable has happened since a good chunk of the characters moved down to Florida to help launch the new Sabre store — the show is funny again. Thursday night’s new episode may have been the best of the season, and it marked the third straight week of high quality for a show that was once nearing “Two and a Half Men” levels of irrelevance.

Celebrating Catherine Tate – Obviously, the biggest difference here is that Catherine Tate’s Nellie has more or less swept in and taken over much of the screen time once occupied by Spader’s Robert California, and it seems like a much more natural fit. While Robert is still very much around, the character was often confusing and hard to really wrap your head around — meanwhile, Nellie is crazy in a good way, and we’ve somehow had enough of her backstory fleshed out to us that we don’t want to see her ever leave. (She was actually the favorite of many critics to replace Carell last year, but some prior commitments on her part kept it from happening.)

A change of scenery – Having half of the Scranton team in Florida has made for some fantastic social dynamics. Now that Jim doesn’t have Pam to rely on, he’s forced to fend for himself (which led to him this week doing Dwight of all people a favor to get the Sabre Store off to a strong start). Meanwhile, Erin has been able to emerge from under Andy’s shadow to become someone interesting, and Stanley and Ryan have had their best material in years as they each played a strange role in the store launch.

Exploring new situations for these characters has allowed the writing staff to think up some creative ideas. Over the past few feelings, there was almost  “what now?” sense to what was going on.

For Andy, less is more – We’re going to go as far as to say that having Ed Helms as a boss hasn’t worked out, but it has definitely forced him into a place where many of his old eccentricities (including his anger issues) have fallen by the wayside.

Now that there is more of an ensemble feel to the show, we’re able to appreciate what Helms brings to the table more. While him getting punched by a little girl was not necessarily high-brow humor, it did lead to a fun story about Toby being the worst self-defense teacher ever.

We haven’t said this in a while, but we’re starting to get excited again about watching new “Office” episode. We are getting so many new opportunities to learn about the characters, but most importantly the writers are starting to rediscover what they originally did to make this show fantastic to begin with.

Let’s just hope that we never run into Dwight Shrute at any point in the future. We now know just how he feels about the media…

Photo: NBC

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