Some quick thoughts (with spoilers) on the "Office" premiere:
Over the past few years, there's been a definite sense that "The Office" is a series on a major downward spiral. The past two seasons have been a mixed bag, although the show did manage to rally enough to give Michael a terrific send-off last year. It's clear at this point that it's never going to recapture its former brilliance for any substantial length of time. And yet... I had hope after the casting of Spader was announced. He was a highlight on last season's surprisingly solid finale, and the enigmatic character that is Robert California seemed like it could breathe new life into a show that truthfully should have ended last season (if not earlier).
As such, I thought it was worth checking in on the premiere to see how he did, as well if the "Office" has anything left to offer in terms of the strong character-based humor it used to have. The results are mixed. Spader is funny: talking Jo out of her own job (sadly not shown) and engaging the employees in "intense small talk". His list of winners and losers wasn't all that interesting, but it led to a great moment where new manager Andy stood up and told California about the great qualities of all the people in the office.
On the flip side, not much else worked. Stanley's new catch-phrase is just a terrible, unfunny idea, and Pam crying at everything is almost as bad even if it did result in a really nice tag scene. The planking stuff in the cold open seems to prove that the show's running pretty dry on ideas: though I liked Dwight's over-the-top attempts to deal with the problem. Overall, it seems a shadow of its former self, a fact that's all the more obvious when it's watched directly after the two best comedies on TV.
This wasn't a terrible episode. It had some laughs (most of them provided by Spader), and a few solid individual moments. As such, I intend to keep watching for a while. But "The Office's" decline into the slightly above-average territory occupied by many sitcoms is a sad sight for TV fans. And judging by this first episode, there doesn't appear to be much room for optimism.