"The Office" is back in business.
After a four-month hiatus thanks to the Hollywood writers' strike, the NBC comedy returns tonight (9 ET/PT) with play, not work, in the form of a dinner party hosted by boss Michael (Steve Carell) and his lover/former boss, Jan (Melora Hardin).
Their stress is heightened, "Office"-style, because of Michael's disastrous deposition, which sunk Jan's lawsuit against the company in the last new episode from November.
"It's an evening of dinner and games, and it is cringy and uncomfortable because Michael and Jan get in one of those passive-aggressive fights … where you're fighting but you say it all with a smile on your face," says Jenna Fischer, whose receptionist Pam attends the dinner with boyfriend/colleague Jim (John Krasinski).
And that doesn't even account for the fury of Dwight (Rainn Wilson), who is left out of the couples-only dinner party, while his ex, Angela (Angela Kinsey), attends with another Office mate, Andy (Ed Helms).
"The Dinner Party" kicks off six new episodes that bring the season total to 19, shorter than the usual.
"There were certain big story moves that we were going to do this year that we're saving for next year," executive producer Greg Daniels says. Although he acknowledges the hardship the strike caused, "From a creative standpoint, it was good for the writing staff. People are juiced. We've had a billion ideas. A lot of them will spill out over the next season."
What viewers can expect this spring: Michael's interest in a woman modeling in an office supply catalog; Michael and Dwight clubbing with hotshot Ryan (B.J. Novak), a supervisor who was once a subordinate; and Ryan's problems with sexual predators accessing the company's website. "The character of Ryan is getting a little out of control," Daniels says.
Somebody will be leaving Dunder-Mifflin, too. "It's kind of a shocker," Fischer says. "It's not me and it's not Steve. I can say that."
Fischer, who says the six post-strike scripts rank with the show's best, says the dinner party provides an interesting glimpse into the Jim-Pam relationship outside the office. "That's kind of cool for fans of Jim and Pam," whose numbers are substantial.
In a later episode, viewers will learn one of Pam's quirks that comes out at the office after she has spent the night at Jim's place. "Michael and everybody have a good time with that, teasing her about it."
Daniels won't say much about the "Office" spinoff to premiere after the 2009 Super Bowl, other than that none of the main characters will leave the show for it. Fischer says she found out about it at work: "I was sitting at Pam's desk in the background of a scene, and I read it on the Internet."