For seven zany seasons, “The Office” navigated the choppy waters of primetime comedy with remarkable ease, helmed by the capable Michael Scott (Steve Carell, “Crazy, Stupid, Love”). There seemed to be an infinite number of ways for him to sabotage his own well-meaning attempts to be the “World’s Greatest Boss,” but Dunder Mifflin’s rag-tag team weathered the storms and he finally earned the respect (and the lady) he so desperately sought. Tempting as it was to sound the series’s death knell when Michael departed, however, the ship sails on.

The Office

Season Eight Premiere
Thursdays at 9 p.m.
NBC


Granted, it’s scary at first — the cold open’s homage to the “planking” sensation throws the whole crew into a bandwagon of overdone pop culture parodies, but it’s not for nothing. We quickly learn from Jim (John Krasinski, “Something Borrowed”) that after the enigmatic Robert California (James Spader, “Boston Legal”) got the regional manager gig, he immediately became CEO, choosing Andy (Ed Helms, “The Hangover Part II”) as manager in his stead. Andy appoints Dwight (Rainn Wilson, “The Rocker”) the new office “enforcer,” and Dwight kicks his officemates off the planking wagon one by one, violently and hilariously.

From then on, the show’s new strategy comes into clearer focus. It was hard to appreciate the excessive screen time dedicated to Michael before — his antics were a show of their own. But now, the rest of the ensemble comes out of the woodwork to get their 15 minutes, and it’s startling to see how much they’ve changed in such a short time.

Andy’s nothing like the awkward, sycophantic spaz we remember from seasons past — instead, he’s shrewd yet loyal, political but practical. Dwight is still the same zealous sociopath, but it’ll be interesting to see how far he goes with his new “enforcer” role (let’s hope it’s a running theme). Stanley (Leslie David Baker) shows a boisterous side of himself we’ve never seen before. And Robert’s “promotion” to CEO is an especially brilliant move, since he conducts his CEO duties furtively from the Scranton branch’s conference room. His constant, eerie presence in the office along with his one-of-a-kind temperament guarantees plenty of episode springboards.

It’s anyone’s guess where the show will go from here, but there’s still plenty of ground to cover if the show’s writers take advantage of their new template and explore the office’s lesser-known funny(wo)men. Was the scarcity of crucial characters like Creed and Kevin in past episodes neglectful or deliberate? Time will tell.

Amid the uproar of new characters and evolving old ones, there’s at least one certainty: “The Office” hasn’t overstayed its welcome; it’s simply outgrown Michael Scott.

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