Rating: ★★★½☆

Whew! That was close; for a minute there I thought season eight of The Office was going to be some kind of subpar shut-out, but thankfully “Doomsday” has lifted the series out of the rut it’s been in, at least for now – “Curse broken, people!” This episode surpassed its predecessors for several reasons: better jokes, better story – but most importantly I feel “Doomsday” was successful because it captured a sense of ease and fluidity the show’s been lacking severely since Michael’s departure. This episode didn’t feel forced or gimmicky, but instead cohesive and consistently funny, a welcomed return to the show’s glory days.

Before getting to the episode, however, I have to ask – what’s up with the apocalyptic titles exhibited by The Office and Parks and Recreation this week? At first I thought there was some sort of new macabre theme NBC was playing with, but since the titles of both the struggling Whitney and the peerless Community did not adhere, I guess it’s just a coincidence. Still, seeing as how Parks and Office are each helmed by the same showrunners, I can’t shake the feeling there’s something more to it. I did not get to watch “End of the World” as of yet so if someone knows the deal, please clue me in.

Moving on, I was immediately optimistic about “Doomsday” because its cold open was not only funny, but it felt true to the character of Andy. Theatrics and music are a huge aspect of Andy’s identity and watching him (and I think the real Number Two of the staff, Erin) perform the “Closing Time” end-of-day tradition demonstrated an authenticity which has been sorely missed lately. Plus, Pam’s inability to learn the lyrics after 105 daily renditions contrasted by Stanley’s bright, enthusiastic embracing of the song coupled with his dour talking head and listless farewell cracked me up and served as a worthy punch line to Andy’s delightfully desperate set-up.

This season’s episodes have been plagued by especially weak subplots so I’m pleased to report that the secondary story of Gabe and Daryl each noticing and asking out Valerie, a new warehouse staff member, was short and sweet yet still packed lots of humor and character development. When “Lotto” introduced but did not follow up on Daryl’s disappointing liaison with his ex-wife Justine, I wondered if the audience would soon learn more about the unfortunate tryst and I’m relieved to now know this arc was not forgotten. Last week I was very disappointed with how little effort I felt the writers put into eliciting sympathy for the absence of romance between Erin and Andy due largely to a lack of focus and detail regarding Erin’s ex-boyfriend, Gabe’s status and seeing him fall for Valerie definitely helped remedy that concern for me. Not only was it funny to hear Gabe’s idea of a good first date (drinking wine in a cemetery), but it was satisfying to know that Valerie told both Gabe and Daryl that she does not date coworkers as a rule because it shows she’s a reasonable character with integrity, someone who could serve as a successful straight-woman and who I would not mind seeing again.

Despite a strong subplot, I was happy to see the primary story of the episode take up the majority of “Doomsday” because no matter the medium, any story benefits from a sense of unity, a sense which has been noticeably absent from recent episodes and this one brought everyone together against a worthwhile challenge – in this case, convincing Dwight not necessarily of realizing or admitting his own flaws, but to feel sympathy for his coworkers whom he has consistently regarded with disdain and for the most part, barely tolerated. We did not have to witness another useless squabble between Jim and Pam or endure any tired remarks from Angela on her or Pam’s pregnancies, instead we got to see everyone band together for a cause that had the potential to pose a real threat. While I didn’t believe the entire branch was in any real danger this early in the season and without much build-up, I did think there was a possibility of Robert California firing certain individuals because he is a fairly unpredictable character with little connection to any of these people.

This is the season where the audience needs to see Ed Helms’ Andy act as a worthy successor to Steve Carell’s Michael so it was good to see Andy screw up by misplacing his trust in Dwight and also successfully organizing an effort to combat said mistake because it establishes Andy as a leader in his own right as oppose to being a lame Michael fill-in. The efforts of the characters were full of hilarity. Jim’s reaction to realizing he knew Dwight’s mother’s name was priceless. I also thought Jim’s awkward squash game-I mean, match with Robert as well as Pam’s subtlety with Dwight were excellent uses of the characters. It was hilarious to not only see Jim rip the cardboard from his brand new racket but also to toss Robert’s phone across the court. I also like to see Pam exhibiting her own expertise since she stopped fulfilling the unattainable girl to Jim’s hopeless romantic and clearly did not do well as a sales person. The group’s willingness to help dig a horse grave coupled with Pam’s knowing how to yield desirable results from a man as resolute as Dwight reveals strong maternal prowess on her part, as well as the genuinely intimate familiarity Dwight refuses to acknowledge outright but which is at the core of what keeps all of these characters together and the audience watching. I also find it endlessly fascinating every time I learn something new about Schrute Farms, including the fact that the newest edition has served as a tuberculosis treatment facility from 1808 to 2009.

Aside from strong story telling that included development and cohesion, the other main reason the episode worked so well is that it made incredibly efficient use of its timing to actually make me laugh! Honestly, I don’t mean to harp on it, but if I weren’t such a dedicated fan of The Office I may have already written off trying to continue watching this season because thus far it has more often than not squandered opportunities for relevant, intelligent jokes that fit these unique characters. “Doomsday” on the other hand had me laughing out loud with more than a dozen excellent one-liners scribbled in my notes. When Dwight discussed his dream of Number Two being the most coveted position in the world in sports and gender relations revealing his own sexism and then attributing said dream to his fear of immigrants, I burst out laughing at the absurdity of such a clearly intelligent character holding such antiquated beliefs – a character trait of Dwight’s the audience has not been reminded of in quite some time. When Dwight reminded everyone of the disparaging emails they’ve written about Robert California – the description of his eating pudding with the kind of anger exhibited were he punishing it, and someone else’s claim that Robert must have strangled multiple prostitutes – I was thrilled with how I identified with the characters’ impressions of such an intensely foreboding superior. When Stanley’s new catchphrase was introduced I thought it was stupid and cheap but I must admit, even when I saw it coming, I thought when he used it this week it was very effective; I just hope it continues to be used well and sparingly in the future.

Maybe I’m just drunk off the relief I’m feeling since I’ve concluded that deep down I don’t have to completely give up on what’s still one of my all-time favorite series, but I thought “Doomsday” was an excellent return to what made The Office great besides Jim and Pam’s romance, and it served as a beacon to what it could be in the future. Though it did not reach the emotional or intellectual heights of other episodes, there was a compelling story that felt complete and natural with lots of original jokes as well as great throw-backs from the entire cast. The caliber of this episode is what we should’ve been seeing since the season premiere but we all knew it’d be a rocky transition and I just hope we’re over the worst of it and can continue to look forward to episodes like these.

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This article was first posted on November 4, 2011