'The Office's' little bundle of joy

office-baby-320.jpgWedding episodes and baby episodes are some of the more difficult ones for a sitcom to pull off without going into sappy-schmaltzy territory. So it's downright paradoxical that, in what's generally been a down season of "The Office," the wedding and baby episodes have been by far the strongest episodes the show has done.

And "The Delivery" was strong from start to finish. The first half -- with Pam becoming increasingly more obstinate in her desire to hold off going to the hospital -- delivered some of the biggest laughs the show has had in a while, and while the second half backed off on the joke onslaught, it featured some lovely, heartfelt moments between new parents Pam and Jim. So welcome to the world, Cecilia Halpert. It's nice to have you here.

Pam is resisting going to the hospital, even though she's having contractions, because if she checks in after midnight their insurance will give them an extra day before they go home. Jim is increasingly not on board with this arrangement, especially when the contractions start coming closer together and, uh, HER WATER BREAKS. I'll grant that Kevin's Hollywood-themed Ultra Feast sounded good ("We have ratatouille from 'Ratatouille.' And we have tandoori chicken from 'Born into Brothels' ... and by the way, there really is a "Twilight" cookbook), but come on.

Watching Jim and Pam get increasingly more frantic as the moment arrived -- and later, seeing Pam not really having time for any of Jim's loving mockery -- provided a great changeup for the two of them. Pam's outburst about being too scared to go to the hospital and Jim's escalating freakout about getting her there (especially the bit with the baby books) were both standouts.

What I think I liked most, though, was the fact that writers Daniel Chun (part 1) and Charlie Grandy (part 2) didn't let Michael take over the episode. He was as overbearing and needy as you might expect -- parroting Jim's pep talk before they left for the hospital, whining about learning the baby's gender, hug-blocking Jim after Jim delivers the good news -- but he didn't descend into the out-and-out buffoonery of Michael at his worst. Honestly, I had visions of him hip-checking doctors out of the way in his zeal to be part of the birth, and I'm exceedingly glad the show let the focus be on Jim, Pam and Cecelia.

Plus? The look Steve Carell gave to the camera ("I've gotta go wash my eyes") after sticking his head into the delivery room was pretty priceless. We've seen that joke before, but Carell played it just right.

Away from the hospital, finally -- finally -- Andy and Erin got on the same page enough to go out on a date. It took Michael setting up Erin with Kevin first and Andy's bonehead move with the fax -- dude, if you send a fax to yourself, the line's going to be busy -- but we can now see them be different kinds of awkward together instead of continually crossing their signals.

The only real false note "The Office" played tonight was with the thread of Dwight tearing apart Jim and Pam's house to rid it of mold. Dwight doesn't work all that well for me when he's that broad, and I can do without seeing Rainn Wilson's pixellated nether regions for a good long time, thanks.

The other part of Dwight's story, however -- his baby contract with Angela -- had some great bits (in particular the recitation of baby names: "Ebenezer." "Jebediah." "Honus." "Jedediah." "Worf." "No 'Star Trek' names!") and showed what weirdo soulmates those two might be. At least until Dwight runs into Pam's bridesmaid again; oof. Those are pretty small complaints, though, for an episode as satisfying as this one.

Other notes on "The Delivery":

  • How do we feel about the nursing-the-wrong-baby bit? It felt like a very sitcommy sort of thing to do, but John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer's terrified, silent reaction to their coverup sold it for me.
  • Understatement of the year, decade, whatever goes to Michael: "I'm sort of a master of distraction." That he followed it up with a demonstration of his grade-school distraction technique only made it better.
  • Two standout moments for Meredith tonight. First, of course she has a shirt with holes in the chest in her car. And second, her reaction to Michael's offer to fix her up: "I am never gettin' married [cut to talking head] ... like Clooney!"
  • Just as good as Michael's reaction to witnessing the miracle of a child being born was the look of fear on Kelly's face when she discovered all that giving birth can entail: "And you can poop yourself."
  • Michael: "Should I bring a dictionary?" Oscar: "The hospital will provide dictionaries. Take a thesaurus."

How'd you like "The Delivery"? Where does it rank in the baby-episode pantheon for you?

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Photo credit: NBC