Moments before the third season of The Office began, I realized I would have to dial down my expectations. The second season ended on such a high note, and rewatching episodes over the summer (something I rarely do with shows these days) only made me more appreciative of its brilliance.
Watching the Office webisodes online over the summer, however, served as a reminder of the show's fallibility. To be sure, the webisodes were never meant to be a full-fledged version of the show on any level, but for the most part, I think one would have to say they were nothing more than an acceptable diversion or time-kill. They were forgettable.
Nevertheless, televised Season 3 opened with a solid episode - neither a classic nor a letdown, but one that again showed the series' sophistication in attacking tricky subjects.
The Jim-Pam-Roy storyline took the next step, and once more we find that The Office can plot a love story as well as any show on television. For the first time, we saw a side of Roy, the vulnerable side, that helped explain Pam's interest in him in the first place - addressing perhaps the show's greatest weakness right off the bat. Jim has handled his current fate with an endearing maturity without losing his sense of humor, and of course, you still just want to cry for Pam, or at least get her the therapy she needs. Well done.
On the work front, The Office took on a plot about Oscar coming (or being pushed out) of the closet, and for all the sweetness of Jim and Pam, reminded us that the show will always be about incompetent people and uncomfortable situations. In the face of the possibility that the show might try to reel in Michael in hopes of making him more tolerable to a wider audience, The Office presented him at perhaps his most distasteful - and at the same time, revealed even more of his inner torture and confusion. Steve Carell, by now we know, is a real actor disguised as a silly comedian, and Oscar Nunez (Oscar) offered outstanding work as well.
Does any show get more comedy out of pain, or vice versa? It's really something.