Despite a successful move to Thursday nights, the third season of Grey's Anatomy had to be considered somewhat of a mess.
Behind the scenes, it was a nightmare of epic proportions, playing out like a distaff version of The Bronx is Burning. No one was happy with their contracts and the disputes worked their way into the press; a lot of cast members grew insanely jealous of Kate Walsh when she was given her very own spin-off, the horrendous Private Practice; and, of course, Isaiah Washington called T.R. Knight--well, you know, it rhymes with maggot.
On the creative side, the show took a big step back from the high-octane excellence of season two. By the time Meredith Grey (the disgustingly thin Ellen Pompeo) actually died during sweeps week, only to be brought back to life like Jack Bauer, the show had degenerated into almost self parody. It's not that the third season was terrible, it just wasn't particularly good. There were times during the season when I'd watch Grey's and feel like I was sitting through a completely mediocre and unrewarding class in school. It was on the schedule, I had to be there, and I was making the best of it.
In the season finale, things got more cluttered: Burke (GLAAD's Man of the Year Isaiah Washington) left Christina (Sandra Oh, who possesses the emotional range of a Post-It Note) at the altar. Meredith maybe-kinda-sorta broke up with Derek (Patrick Dempsey, y'know, Mc-What's-His-Face). Izzy (Katherine Heigl, hot) told George (T.R. Knight, Isaiah Washington's racquetball partner) that she loved him, which kinda put a crimp into George's marriage to Callie (Sara Ramirez, completely unlikable). Meanwhile, George also failed his intern exam, meaning he'd have to repeat his entire internship, with among others, Meredith's half-sister Lexie (Chyler Leigh, a black widow spider for television shows--beautiful, but deadly to their futures).
Add all that to the fact that the show lost Kate Walsh and Isaiah Washington, two of the shows best actors and best characters, and well, the writing was on the wall for a complete meltdown in season four.
And then, I saw the season premiere.
Like Prison Break before it, Grey's fourth season has no reason to work. And like Prison Break before it, against all odds, the show really does. The premiere was spot-on in every way that Grey's can be. It was full of humor, the drama was both soapy and palpable and the overall estrogen level only reached a three out of five, which means I don't have to feel like a complete woman for liking it. The season premiere was like a greatest hits of everything that Shonda Rhimes knows how to do with these characters. And sure, Grey's is always one step away from degenerating into terribleness, but if the season premiere is any indication, season four should be very good.
Sadly, I don't know that I can say the same about The Office.
I love The Office. After the "funny, but not great, because it ripped too much off from the British version" first season, the show reached its zenith in season two, which featured moments and episodes that could certainly be placed alongside their British counterpart without making one feel dirty. That sheer level of awesomeness carried over, for the most part, to season three. Sure there were some slow episodes--Dwight taking Ryan into the beet field jumps to mind--but overall, the tone of the show remained perfect. The first three seasons of The Office were a complete success of believable awkwardness.
During the summer hiatus, NBC announced that this year, The Office would have a total of five "one-hour episodes." When I heard this, I was concerned. Outside of the brilliant season two finale ("Casino Night" still ranks as my favorite sit-com episode, ever), when The Office ventured into hour-long territory, the quality of the show invariably suffered. Every joke is a matter of timing, and though logic would dictate the longer the awkward moment the better, that never seemed to be the case with the American incarnation of the show.
It was with that concern in mind that I sat down to watch the season four premiere of The Office. Good news though--the "hour-long" episode was nothing more than two half-hour episodes stuck together, but with only one set of credits. The problem of timing had been solved.
Bad news? The problem of the show being good was another matter entirely.
Yes, I laughed.
Yes, I enjoyed the fact that Jim and Pam are finally together and their relationship is completely and utterly boring, as it should be.
Yes, Steve Carrell, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson and the rest of the cast are all uniformly brilliant.
So what's the problem? For some reason I just felt like every single action and reaction tonight was a matter of going through the motions. Whereas Grey's attacked their greatest hits season premiere with gusto and joy--the vibe was of a party guest that you wanted to hang around with--The Office felt kinda stale--the vibe was of a party guest that might have overstayed their welcome.
I thought that maybe it's just that The Office has been so good, that for me it has become a victim of success. But I really don't know if that's the case. The season premiere was, in my estimation, the worst episode of the series that I've seen in a year. Granted the worst episode of The Office is infinitely better than almost any show I watch, but that doesn't mean it wasn't sub-par. I'm not ready to hit the panic button just yet, but if The Office isn't careful, it'll become Curb Your Enthusiasm--the show that used to be hilarious, but now just skates along on the road to mediocrity.
I've long been in the camp that The Office should end its run sooner rather than later. It's episodes like the season premiere that completely reinforce that notion for me. Like Michael doing a 5K Fun Run (which he thought was a 5,000 mile marathon), The Office is getting a little fatigued.