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NBC's 'supersizing' doesn't quite fit all

Maureen Ryan
Chicago Tribune

It's the moment "The Office" fans have been waiting for: Dwight vs. Andy.

Wait, was there something else that "Office" fans have been dying for - and which they'll also get on Thursday's supersize editions of three NBC comedies?

Oh, yeah. This episode of "The Office" (8:40 p.m. EST) features Jim and Pam - together again. The twosome shared a kiss at the end of last season, but Pam told Jim they'd have to stay friends, and he wanted more than that. A crushed Jim took a job at the Stamford branch of Dunder Mifflin, and fans of "The Office," most of whom appear to have spent their summer composing YouTube tributes to the would-be couple, have had to wait patiently for the two to be reunited, even as work buddies.

Thanks to cost-cutting, Dunder Mifflin's Stamford and Scranton branches are merged in Thursday's episode, with comically disastrous results. Michael Scott (Steve Carell) welcomes the new employees with his own parody of "Lazy Sunday": It's called, of course, "Lazy Scranton," and it extols the virtues of the Electric City, including the anthracite museum. Go figure, the new employees think it's lame.

Other welcoming gestures go amiss, and the new Scranton employees are soon up in arms over Scott's bizarre management style, to his consternation. "The word merger comes from the word marriage and that was what today was supposed to be - the loving union between people," Scott says. "Instead it has been like when my mom moved in with Jeff, and once again, it's my job to fix it."

The reunion between Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) is full of awkwardness, not surprisingly. The show's writers have done a wise thing by making Karen (Rashida Jones), a Stamford-ite who's attracted to Jim and who makes the move to Scranton, a likable and credible potential love interest. Still, the potential weirdness among those three is far from the only enjoyable thing about the merger episode: You could call the increasingly vicious verbal battles between Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Stamford-ite Andy (Ed Helms) a battle of wits, but by the end, they're like two snotty 12-year-olds having it out on the playground. In the funniest possible way, of course.

Thursday's supersize "30 Rock" (9:20 p.m. EST) has some good scenes between Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin, whose comedy superpowers are such that he just about salvaged last weekend's "Saturday Night Live"). The fictional NBC executive takes a role in a skit on Lemon's sketch-comedy show, but his nerves are nearly overshadowed by the shenanigans of cast member Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), who pretends he can't read to get out of rehearsals.

"Tracy took advantage of my white guilt, which is supposed to be used only for good - like overtipping and supporting Barack Obama," Lemon fumes. Still, there are two big flaws in the episode of this increasingly watchable comedy: There's nary a glimpse of Kenneth the page, and too much attention paid to Jane Krakowski's neurotic-actress character.

Finally, what I saw of Thursday's "My Name Is Earl" (8 p.m. EST) is a waste of a fine guest star, Christian Slater, who plays an amiable pothead who had been robbed by Earl in the past. There's also some stop-motion animation of the characters for reasons that were unclear to me.

This episode, in which Earl hangs out at the stoner's environmentally conscious commune, is far more preachy and less dexterous than the finest "Earls" have been. The show's usually worth a look, but nothing of late has really matched the delirious fun of Season 1 episodes such as "Joy's Wedding."

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