Picks and Pans Review: The Office

updated 12/18/2006 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/18/2006 01:00AM

NBC (Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
BY JENNIFER WULFF
COMEDY

I get why the writers want to keep Jim and Pam apart for as long as possible. But sending Jim (John Krasinski) out of state for the first seven episodes of this season? Cheap move. The tension whittled away. And now that he's back at the Dunder-Mifflin branch in Scranton, so has the intrigue of his and Pam's (Jenna Fischer) relationship. He's come off as a tease ever since, rubbing his new romance with Karen (Rashida Jones) in his former crush's face. Meanwhile, Pam's gone from aloofly charming to just plain pouty. That said, this week's one-hour Christmas episode is the most joyful of the season. Besides the Jim-Pam plot making a promising new turn, the neuroses of the rest of the Office staff are a gift that keeps on giving. Michael (Steve Carell) hits a new low when he awkwardly picks up a Benihana waitress, while Angela (Angela Kinsey) picks on the new girl by kicking her off the party planning committee. How can so many unlikable individuals make for such a beguiling group?
STARS "3"]

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