TV | Ken Tucker's TV

'The Office': Birth of a baby, and a better health-care insurance-reform argument than Obama's?

As The Office proved with Pam and Jim’s wedding, the series knows how to make life-changing shifts for its characters work as both comedy and this self-conscious show’s version of sincerity. Last night managed to combine a thoroughly believable and funny central idea – that Pam would try to delay going to the hospital to get some extra time, gaming the office’s “stupid HMO” – with

a batch of fine Michael scenes and a thoroughly didn’t-buy-it-for-a-second Dwight subplot. (I’m talking about his destruction of Pam’s kitchen, not his legal and binding child-bearing contract-making with Angela: that was totally Dwight-able.)

And so well before Cecilia Marie, all seven pounds, two ounces of her, arrived in Office world, we got to see Jim "frazzled" (John Krasinski always rises to a manic occasion), and Pam telling Michael after he announced he'd

baby-proofed the office, "You know the baby isn't going to live here, right?" Steve Carell's crestfallen look was matched only by his Edward G. Robinson impersonation, smoking a big cigar in the hospital a few minutes after the baby's birth.

Hour-long episodes are always a gamble, and the first half was a lot stronger than the second, and since the second was mostly about Jim, Pam, and the baby, I think we should all hope that Cecelia is going to be a good TV-baby and be heard-about but not seen very often as the rest of the season proceeds. I'm sure you saw the breast-feeding the wrong baby gag coming a bed-length away, but I loved Nurse Josie. That character was drawn precisely right: She was cheerful and efficient in the beginning, but had no patience for opinionated first-time parents ("Oh good -- you know everything"). And I wonder whether Jim and Pam have double-handedly done more to help health-insurance reform than most of what President Obama has done, with their withering critique of the "stupid HMO"...

It’s kind of remarkable that, in an episode designed to showcase Pam and Jim while taking Dwight out of the office for a subplot (really, mold under the sink? Pam, even in her distracted state, not knowing it was very suspicious when he said he didn’t need a key to her house?), The Office used this week to

put Andy and Erin on the dating path. Ed Helms has become one of the show’s greatest assets, and proved it in every brief scene, especially when he accidentally made Erin cry (congrats to Ellie Kemper for her quick mood-changes).

So one big bottom-line question here: How does the arrival of Jim and Pam’s kid change The Office? Does it become a workplace comedy with a playpen off in one corner, where Cecilia can be checked on by her parents and Uncle Creed? (Let’s all shudder at once.) I doubt the playpen will appear. Do you?

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Originally posted March 5 2010 — 1:30 PM EST

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