The Office season 4 episode 9

Back from its enforced break (as a result of the writers' strike), The Office came back to our screens with some style...

Just how much have we missed The Office? One of the first programmes to come back to life post-writers’ strike, its comeback episode just oozed the comedy class that’s made it one of the very best programmes on US TV right now.

What’s more impressive is that it took a central concept that has been plundered many times over in comedies – the dinner party – and managed to sidestep the bulk of the pitfalls, and delivered an episode that was akin to welcoming a bloody funny old friend back into your front room.

It starts when Michael seemingly shouts at corporate down the phone that no, his staff aren’t staying late tonight, they’re going home. But is this just a trick to check out Jim and Pam’s availability for a dinner party later that night? Seemingly so, and with all excuses exhausted, the pair reluctantly accept, where they’re joined by Angela and Andy. Dwight, naturally, breaks down in tears at the snub, although he does find a way to ramraid the party later on (and the plus one he brings along is quite brilliant).

But this is an episode about the increasingly one-sided relationship between Jan and Michael. So we find out that Michael has little say what goes on in their home, doesn’t get to sleep in the main bed (did you catch the video camera pointing at it though? Shudder….) and sacrifices most of the space in there to Jan’s thus-far unsuccessful candle business (the dinner party turns out to be Jan’s idea, too, as she’s hunting for investors).

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In some ways, it was quite a melancholy episode by The Office standards, not least when Michael and Jan starting arguing, but there were some healthy belly-laughs in there anyway. Michael’s pride-and-joy plasma screen, Jan’s suspicion that Pam fancied Michael, the poison… it certainly packed a lot into 25 minutes.

The Jan and Michael material has proven the gold of season four thus far, and this episode was no different. Granted, part of the joy here was that the show was back in the first place, but coupled with the earlier episode that ended with Michael and Jan sharing a tender moment sitting on a train, this was superb piece of television. Season four for my money has been a bit patchier – although still kicking above the vast majority of other comedies around right now – but this was Office gold. Welcome back…