‘The Office’ – ‘Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager’: Keep it in your holster

A review of last night’s “The Office” coming up just as soon as I really embrace the whole Bond villain aesthetic…

“I love you guys, but don’t cross me, but you’re the best.” -Dwight

“Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manger” opened with Jim Halpert giving voice to those fans of “The Office” (and, I suspect, certain members of “The Office” creative team) who don’t want to bring in a big name – or any new name – to succeed Steve Carell as boss. He notes that, amazingly, the branch has been doing just fine since Deangelo’s horrible accident, and argues that they may be better off without someone moving into Michae’s old office.

And though Dwight (and then, predictably but hilariously, Creed) took over that physical space at different points, the episode as a whole did a very effective job of proving Jim’s larger point. For one week, at least, this was a show in absolutely no need of a Very Special Guest Boss. This was just a fun episode of “The Office,” and a drastic improvement from “The Inner Circle” last week.

Dwight’s been one of the three internal candidates to replace Michael that Paul Lieberstein keeps discussing, and I’ve been concerned that being placed in charge long-term would exaggerate all of Dwight’s worst, most cartoonish qualities. Like Michael Scott, he’s a tricky character tone-wise, and in a role that prominent needs more humanity than I feared he would allow himself while getting drunk with power.

As a one-shot deal, though? Splendid.

Dwight did, indeed, become an insufferable tyrant, but in the short-term his new rules and regulations were quite funny. (The tag with Kevin struggling to enter his 21-digit copier code was priceless.) More importantly, though, was what making Dwight the boss did for Jim. The writers haven’t known what to do with Jim for nearly two years now. There’s an occasionally good Jim episode (“The Lover,” or the snowball subplot from “Classy Christmas”), but now that he’s matured a bit and accepted that this job is his career – and for the most part cut out all the pranks and time-wasting activities that so defined the character in the early days – he doesn’t seem to have a defined comic role on the show anymore. But placing Dwight in charge gave Jim license to torment him in a way he largely hasn’t had since he got promoted over Dwight in season 3, when many of the post-merge practical joke subplots tended to make Jim seem like a bully. Jim was finally the underdog again, and it was so nice to see that side of him, whether asking Dwight to define “foment,” putting up his fliers for The Fist, or reacting to Dwight’s pre-firing of him with a whispered, flirty, “If you get promoted, and if you haven’t fallen in love with me by then.”

The Dwight/Jim dynamic was so terrific, in fact, that I briefly rethought the idea of Dwight as long-term boss. But I think Jo’s right: he’s not the man for that job, and within 3 or 4 episodes, dictator Dwight would get old and/or uncomfortable. In this context, though – and particularly with his grip on the office falling apart halfway through after the gun incident – it was quite funny, and gave Rainn Wilson lots of great gags to work with. I loved the uncomfortable slapstick of Dwight trying to give Kevin a proper back massage, as well as Dwight trying to give a Michael-style conference room meeting, complete with a character to play, before giving up almost immediately because it’s not his style.

Again, much of this worked because it was a one-shot thing. And given how flat the Andy-as-Michael-2.0 episodes have been this year, that leaves Darryl as the only one of the favored internal candidates who I think is a viable permanent boss. So if NBC isn’t sold on Craig Robinson, the show may well have to reach for an outsider to take over the branch next season.

Last night, though, “The Office” did just fine without Carell, or Will Ferrell, or any of the big names who are going to pass through in the finale. This was an episode of “The Office” filled only with familiar characters (even Jo’s been around long enough that she counts), and a pretty good one, at that. I said last week that I didn’t really want to start judging the post-Carell version of the show until Deangelo was gone. Well, he’s gone, and the first real impression of the show after Michael was a strong one.

Some other thoughts:

• I’m surprised the show didn’t take advantage of Kathy Bates’ availability to have Jo become aware of Gabe’s recent, um, behavior. Reports are that “Harry’s Law” is coming back next season, so who knows when the writers will be able to have Jo visit the branch again.

• Brian Baumgartner was on fire in this one, between the massage, the copier code and, my favorite, Kevin’s reaction to finding the piranha in the toilet. One of the show’s best-ever uses of strategic bleeping.

• Deangelo is gone, but Jordan sticks around. At this point, the branch is starting to feel overpopulated, no?

• I liked Toby’s glee at getting to use all sorts of new forms and binders to deal with the gunshot incident.

• Interesting to see yet another contrast between Jim/Dwight and Tim/Gareth from the UK. Here, Jim turns down the (interim) boss job and is horrified when it goes to Dwight, where in the UK a depressed Tim actually suggested Gareth get the job when he declined.

What did everybody else think?