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"The Office" Season Premiere Recap: New CEO, Boss Revealed

Stephanie Case |
September 23, 2011 | 2:05 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Rainn Wilson and James Spader (Courtesy of Slate)
Rainn Wilson and James Spader (Courtesy of Slate)
After seven years of laughs, awkward silences, jello staplers and "that's what she said" jokes, Steve Carell is gone and a new boss is in town.  "The Office's" Season 8 premiere was highly anticipated all summer after May's star-studded cliffhanger finale.  Questions were swirling: Who is the new boss?  Will it be one of the guest stars from Season 7's "Search Committee", or will it be an old cast member?  Will Kathy Bates reprise her role as CEO, or will someone take her place?  And most importantly: Has "The Office" jumped the shark?

The premiere starts by answering every lingering question.  Robert California (played by the wickedly hilarious James Spader) was offered Michael Scott's old position as branch manager, but he smooth-talked his way into becoming CEO instead.  He then appointed Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) as the new Scranton boss, much to Dwight's (Rainn Wilson) aggravation.  Pam revealed that she is carrying her second baby, a storyline that was written around actress Jenna Fischer's own pregnancy.  Angela (Angela Kinsey) is also pregnant with the baby of her potentially gay husband, "the Senator".

The main plot of the episode revolves around a list written by Robert California.  The list is split into two columns, with the names of every Scranton office member on either the left or right side.  After receptionist Erin (Ellie Kemper) finds the note, everyone gathers to read it, and hilarity ensues.  They speculate what each side could mean (employees to keep vs. employees to fire, cool vs. uncool, etcetera).  They eventually discover that the two sides are "the winners vs. the losers" in California's eyes.  Each of the employees' reactions to this are delightfully true to character.  Kevin (Brian Baumgartner), finally finding himself in an in-crowd, gleefully boasts that his parents, teachers, friends, and doctors were wrong about him all along.  Narcissistic Ryan (BJ Novak) strokes his ego by telling his fellow losers, "Doesn't the fact that I'm in this group make anyone else feel better?"  Toby (Paul Lieberstein) feels over his head in the cool group and leaves the winners' lunch outing, glumly saying that he doesn't belong.

When confronted about the list, the new no-nonsense CEO delivers a blunt monologue that puts the future of the season into perspective: "If I invited you to lunch, I think you're a winner.  If I didn't, I don't.  But I just met you all.  Life is long.  Opinions change.  Winners: prove me right.  Losers: prove me wrong."

In a way, this episode is a statement about first impressions.  The Season 8 premiere was the very first impression of the world of Scranton functioning post Michael Scott.  It had its charming moments, but not nearly enough laughs to call it a success.  I'm sure many viewers are ready to throw in the towel, seeing this lackluster episode as an indicator for a terrible season to come.  But remember: we've only seen one episode.  It'll be a long season.  Opinions change.  So what if Steve Carell is gone?  Let's give "The Office" a chance to prove that they've still got it.

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