There are a number of TV shows currently appearing on network television that I follow, but none of them are quite as essential viewing as The Office. Skeptics doubted it would even approach the genius of the BBC original, especially considering the first season's parroting of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's creation, but it has since blazed new ground, finding its own equally funny niche.
The comedy engine was firing on all cylinders in seasons two and three, but sputtered quite a bit in the strike-shortened fourth season, which had its share of problems before getting truncated, including the ill-conceived initial four hour-long episodes that essentially mashed two different half-hour episodes together awkwardly.
But season five spells good things for the series heading into its sixth season premiere on NBC Sept. 17. While not quite up to the level of seasons two and three, this collection of 26 episodes keeps things fresh with storylines that break a number of characters out of their boxes and new characters that seamlessly fit into the only slightly absurd world of The Office.
The show's foundation built around bumbling boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell), sycophantic weirdo Dwight (Rainn Wilson), and comparatively normal lovebirds Jim and Pam (John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer) continues to be a strong one, but the writers know The Office thrives because of its large cast, some of whom only get one line in a particular episode. There's a great balance of bringing in these supporting players at just the right time for just the right amount of time.
For my money, quality assurance man Creed (Creed Bratton) has the greatest laughs/screen time ratio of anyone on the show, but season five saw accountant Oscar (Oscar Nuñez) and salesman Stanley (Leslie David Baker) get more well-deserved screen time.
The season also benefits greatly from the guest starring arc of Amy Ryan as HR rep Holly Flax, who first appeared in the season four finale. This genius bit of casting gives Ryan the chance to stretch her considerable comedic skills, and the resulting match made in awkward heaven between her and Michael makes for some of the most memorable moments of the season.
There's a bit of a mid-season sag where some of the episodes don't click as well — Andy (Ed Helms) and Dwight's rivalry over Angela (Angela Kinsey) grows a little tiresome — but the season picks it up again strong for its concluding arc where Michael looks to start his own paper company, dragging along Pam and former temp then executive then temp then bowling alley employee Ryan (B.J. Novak).