James Spader Makes Life Hard on “The Office”

But Ed Helms steps up in "The Office" season premiere

Oh, James Spader, you are the new tough cookie at "The Office", as promised.

And Ed Helms, you are the still the place's super nice guy. But you're getting a bit more of a backbone.

"The Office" returned to NBC Thursday night, sans star Steve Carell for the first time since the show's  2005 debut. 

Spader stepped into Carell's spot, but not his role: As Robert California, he is the new CEO of Dunder Mifflin Sabre, not the Scranton office's regional manager. And he is neither insecure nor a team cheerleader.

In fact, he is a little bit mean, and not in the charmingly-misguided-naif way Carell's Michael Scott could be.

(Warning -- or as Kevin would now say, "warning, warning, warning"--spoilers ahead.)

Here's how we know that: After taking half the staff to lunch, California admits to everyone he invited only those he considers winners. Not a big deal, he tells them. "Life is long. Opinions change," he declares in a thoroughly emotionless montone. "Winners, prove me right. Losers, prove me wrong."

Which is where Ed Helms' Andy Bernard comes in. Promoted to the actual regional manager job, Andy faces down California and lists his colleagues' strong points, winning points from his team and perhaps a bit of respect from California.

Which he promptly squanders with a silly request. Hey, it's still "The Office".

It's unclear whether Andy will remain regional manager, as producers have hinted there may be another cast addition in the future.  But the first episode sets up lots of fun ahead:

  • If you've kept up with the private life of Jenna Fischer, you won't be surprised to know her character, Pam, is pregnant. But guess what? Angela (Angela Kinsey) is too.
  • Andy has tapped Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) as his enforcer, a role he is taking extremely seriously.
  • Biggest news of all: Stanley (Leslie Davis Baker) developed a sense of humor. He even has a signature schtick. Which we choose not print on a family Web site. You'll just have to tune in.
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