As The Office enters its ninth and final season, it’s hard to believe how much time has passed since it all began. More so, it’s difficult to recognize the original show.

The Office

Years ago, when Jim and Pam finally got together, the core driving story of the series was resolved. Afterwards the show seemed lost. For a while it began to focus on manager Michael Scott, but as soon as everything seemed to work again, star Steve Carell left.

The writers tried to compensate in many ways. By introducing new relationship dynamics, such as those between Kelly and Ryan or Erin and Andy. By focusing more on other characters, like Dwight, Darryl, and Angela. By introducing new cast members, Robert California, Nellie Bertram.

None of the formulas really stuck. But with the series’ final season opener, it looks like the writers found a way to fix everything; by returning to the original formula and making the show laugh out loud funny again.

The episode, titled “The New Guys,” introduces two new characters immediately nicknamed New Jim and Dwight Jr., and says good-bye to Kelly and Ryan.

It is immediately established what we’ve all known and what has made the show great. It really is centered on Jim and Pam’s relationship. The problem is that their marriage has been too perfect. Conflict is, for the first time, introduced between the two and drama is sure to ensue. Pam is perfectly happy with her “dull” life and nothing will ever change that.

Jim, on the other hand, observes New Jim’s youthful optimism and realizes that he doesn’t want to be stuck at Dunder Mifflin forever. He decides to take a partnership in a start-up venture that would ultimately relocate his family, and provide little job security, at least in the beginning.

Jim’s ambition and Pam’s contentment are sure to cause the first fractures in their relationship that the audience has seen so far. As the conflict draws them apart, and their love ultimately brings them back together, viewers will once again have a baseline that The Office has lacked since the two became a couple in the first place.

It also turns out that Michael Scott can only be replaced with Michael Scott. Andy Bernard, having previously been reinstated as manager, returns from a month long retreat where he honed his leadership skills and came home as “New Michael.”

The New Michael version of Andy learns that he too hates Toby and finds a fondness in ridiculing both he and his nemesis Nellie. This point is proven in a very Michael-esque time wasting activity of walking on a slack line, where he insults Toby and pushes down Nellie.

Dwight takes an initial fatherly liking to Dwight Jr., particularly after the unwelcomed news that Angela’s baby is not his. This soon turns into a rivalry, however, after Dwight feels threatened by Jr.’s sales ambitions and balancing skills. Like Jim, Dwight too seems too ambitious to remain a salesman, but it’s unclear what lies in his future.

It is later revealed that Oscar is having an affair with Angela’s husband, and that Creed is becoming senile.

The season is set up for one arching Jim and Pam focused story line, where they’ll fight, reconcile, and probably become totally wealthy, while humorous subplots unfold around them. It is almost certain that this will be the best season since Michael left, and rumor has it that he may make an eventual appearance.