"A real man swallows his vomit when a lady is present."
Just when I started to feel like I was running on empty watching The Office, it swung back with a comparatively solid episode with only one fault — for all the almost-hookups in "After Hours," couldn't just one come to fruition? The most obvious is the great Cathy/Jim mystery, which is quickly squashed when Jim turns her down after much teasing, and he ends up bunked with Dwight and eating chocolate cake. While the hookup theme spun a little out of control — Erin and Ryan, Val and Darryl, and Dwight and Nellie — The Office finally seems to know how to use its characters in a way that doesn't make me feel sleepy. Rejoice for shameless flirtation!
Now that only half the seats are filled back in Dunder Mifflin Scranton, Andy has to make up for the lost labor by having his remaining employees work overtime. With the exception of Kelly (who belts out a nice boredom scream in the conference room), the Scranton workers are surprisingly good-natured about picking up the slack of their colleagues — or they at least find ways to keep themselves distracted — and it's always good to see them actually doing some work. For Angela, Pam, and Oscar it's an aggressive competition over whose baby/dog is the biggest handful, and for poor Darryl and Val it's having their gently blooming crush on each other broadcast for everyone to hear thanks to Jerry Minor, who delivers trays of Jamaican slop for Dunder dinner and turns out to be Val's jealous but clearheaded boyfriend. Minor does a great job amping up the tension for the others and allows for a few hilarious one-liners, like when Phyllis says "If I wanted Jamaican food, I'd just hire a bunch of bodyguards and go there." It also gives Darryl a chance to level with Val about their relationship, and his "dot dot dot" comment made me smile.
Down in Tallahassee, Catherine Tate continues to bring the Michael Scott-style crazy element to Nellie — last week she was using reverse-sexism to keep her underlings uncomfortable and telling the men to stop looking at her penis, and now she's playing a drunken love game with Packer and Dwight, taunting them each to impress her in hopes of landing the Vice President of Special Projects gig (Packer loses his opportunity when he pukes all over Gabe's lap). At one point Dwight describes the British as "mean but incisive," and that fits Nellie perfectly, even though we don't know much about her yet. Tate's around until at least the end of this season, so Nellie still has plenty of time to develop.
For me, the best and worst part of "After Hours" is when Cathy frolicks into Jim's room wearing nothing but short pajama shorts, a white tank top, and Ugg slippers and asks if she can hang out, making up complaints about how the heater in her room doesn't work and that she's bored. I don't know what was more painful to watch — her aggressive flirting followed by her quick denial after Jim confronts her about it, or just seeing Jim passive-aggressively try to get rid of her and slide down the front of his bed like a confused puppy while there's a hot woman lying up there who's not his wife. For this stretch of extreme pleasure in the potential future drama between Jim and Pam I have to thank The Office, because Cathy's advances make him much more interesting. Jim might not ever snap out of his droopy comfy young father mold, but what part of happy little parent couples is exciting to watch week after week anyway? "After Hours" ends with a bunch of wussy men hiding from strong-willed women who aren't afraid to hunt down what they want, but that doesn't mean that drama's not still in the cards. Take it from Florida Stanley when he thinks Jim's about to go to Tallanasty with Cathy: "Careful Jim, it gets easier and easier."
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.