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'Office' Poly-Ticks

September 25, 2008 By:
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Paper chase: The gang of "The Office." Photo by Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

 Got Staples? Yeah, we got that.

Makes sense; after all, how can ya run "The Office" without staples?

Never thought of that, muses Paul Lieberstein, a graduate of Staples High School in Westport, Conn., who portrays the hit NBC series' outgoing human resources staple, Toby Flenderson -- the brooding bobblehead of benign neglect who deals with all the dunderheads of Dunder Miflin, as the award-winning series gets ready for its fifth-season premiere Sept. 25.

But not all is stationary on the series; on paper, Toby was tout-ed and sent off with a first-rate No. 2 of a pencil farewell party at the end of last season, replaced by Amy Ryan (Holly Flax).

But fans of "The Office" well know that not all that stays in Scranton remains in Scranton; whether seen on screen or not, Lieberstein remains a presence as exec producer of the show, as well as one of its writers.

He is, fact be known, one of its best human resources.

Even if his character's not around right now to bend, staple or mutilate -- in an existential sense, of course -- lead Dunder head Michael (Steve Carell), Lieberstein leads by example.

And in the paper chase that is the ratings race in which this colorful quasi-Xerox of the Brit series upon which it is based has moved to the front desk, fun is never more than a FedEx package of quips away.

After all, Paul is so revered, they're not going to send his character away on horseback never to be seen again? "I think," reveals Lieberstein, "what brings him back is failure to escape."

Failure is seemingly not an option for the writer/producer/actor, whose credits include "Clarissa Explains It All" -- and as she was doing just that he moved on to "The Naked Truth" and "King of the Hill."

It's good to be king -- and the winner of two Emmys. But, it's the "Office" poly-ticks that keep the characters so intriguing and amiably annoying.

Surf's up ... Maybe

Factory and factotums factor in the fun: You're not the boss of me? Wanna bet? "There was a friend of mine -- who's actually one of the writers here -- [who] decided about 10 years ago [that he] collected enough money to live poor in Hawaii, and he was going to just do it and surf.

"And he made a big deal of it, had a going-away party -- and he was back in two weeks because he was lonely. Nobody talked to him.

"He was robbed on the beach, and that was it."

The surf's not his turf, but being a crashing wave on Michael's board room of boring behavior certainly is Toby's M.O. amid the paper(light)weights. Lieberstein is lithe and lively, even if his Scranton scarecrow of a sidekick is a sad sack.

"I must draw on myself [even if] I never" thought of himself as such a sack of potatoes, says the 41-year-old actor of how his behind-the-screen role soon found a before-the-camera counterpart.

As happy as he is to add humanity in his roiling role as human resources guy, Lieberstein doesn't know if Toby has what it takes to turn a frown upside down in the off-kilter world of "The Office."

Sure he finds satisfaction being the millstone around Michael's neck at the paper mill. But ... "I don't know if happiness is in Toby's future," he says.

But it certainly is in Lieberstein's. The man who wrote for Drew Carey and Bernie Mac sitcoms -- and who penned such "Office" episodes as "The Coup," "Dwight's Speech," "Health Care" and "The Carpet" -- marched down his own recently, as yarmulke-clad friends and family craned heads to get a look at Lieberstein exchange vows with Janine Poreba this past July.

From lovesick Toby to love-healthy Lieberstein is quite a romantic stretch. But then, the actor doesn't have to put up with the monkey business that "The Office" seems to require of its characters.

How best to impress Pam, the Scarlet O'Hara of Scranton? Obviously, says Lieberstein, Toby has only to ape his experience away from "The Office" to seem appealing: He would impress her, he says, by regaling anecdotes about "the time his camera was stolen by a monkey or the time he was attacked by a monkey in Costa Rica or the time when a monkey took his wallet."

What's in his wallet? A capital sense of quirky humor to be sure. And as far as those staples that every fan loves -- the season spoilers? As producer/writer/ star, Lieberstein seems to be in an unenviable position of planning way beyond the 9-to-5 "Office" officiousness.

Care to share? There will be a baby shower at work, he hints.

But given Michael's penchant for unanticipated projects, that may not mean a wedding at all, but just a new bathroom for toddlers.

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