In the inaugural episode of its fourth season, “The Office” manages to address nipple chafing, bat birth control and a Race for the Cure benefit run to increase awareness of rabies (which, incidentally, already has a cure).

The show’s downplayed, absurdist humor has earned it a steady fan following as well as critical acclaim. “This is going to be a very good year,” according to boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) on his way to the office — right before he accidentally runs over his employee Meredith (Kate Flannery) in the parking lot, a laugh-out-loud scene that sets the tone for the rest of the episode.

For fans of the show, the episode will likely feel like a reunion with old friends. Rainn Wilson is still in fine form as oblivious office lapdog Dwight Schrute, who mercy kills girlfriend Angela’s (Angela Kinsey) ailing cat and voices suspicion over Meredith’s pelvic fracture. Michael is still reliable for classic blunders (like pulling out Meredith’s IV in the hospital as he tries to tie balloons to her bed) and improper word choices (“I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little stitious.”)

The first few episodes of Season Four will run for an hour instead of their usual 30 minutes, and it’s evident that some of the material used in the premiere would have ended up on the cutting room floor or on the outtakes section of the DVD, such as some of Michael’s too-long monologues. But it’s still a wonder that these cast members can keep straight faces when Carell utters presumably unscripted lines like, “something with the body of an egret and the head of a meerkat” when contemplating animal sacrificing rituals.

Last season’s finale ended with a cliffhanger (or, at least, as much of a cliffhanger as is possible in a series about desk jobs), when Jim (John Krasinski) at long last asked Pam (Jenna Fisher) out on a date and she accepted. Their newfound romance isn’t directly addressed until midway through the season premiere, when the omnipresent camera crew inexplicably shows the pair a tape of them kissing.

But while viewers will undoubtedly be satisfied to finally see Pam and Jim as a happy couple, their relationship could be a double-edged sword by removing much of the suspense that kept viewers tuned in every week. A return appearance by Jim’s ex Karen (Rashida Jones), whose dismissal early on in the premiere felt too quick, might make for an interesting plot twist later in the season. For now, viewers can rely on nipple chafing and bat birth control to keep them entertained.

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Elizabeth Raftery is senior editor of Blast. Follow her on Twitter.

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