In 10 Words or Less
Heading back to Scranton for more of Pam and Jim
Loves: Steve Carell, "The Office," the Pam/Jim dynamic
Likes: Toby, the British "The Office"
Dislikes: most sitcoms, Dwight
The Story So Far: After failing miserably to adapt the British hit "Coupling" into a hit for an American audience, NBC gave it another try with an unlikely inspiration: the dry-wit comedy "The Office." A faux documentary about the sales and accounting staff at a small paper company branch office in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the show is hilarious and extremely precise in parodying the stultifying details of office life, to the point where it can be slightly depressing. A healthy dose of surrealism helps pull it back from the brink though, along with a fantastic cast, led by Steve Carell of "The Daily Show" and The 40-Year-Old Virgin fame, and John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer, our heroes, Jim and Pam. The first season of the show was released on DVD in August of 2005, and DVDTalk has a review here.
The first season of "The Office" ran just six episodes, as NBC hedged its bets on a series with dry wit, uncomfortable jokes, dark humor and no laugh track. The series didn't light the world on fire, but it built enough of an audience to earn a second season. If anyone wondered if this adaptation had legs, it was obvious right from the start of the second season, the hysterical episode "The Dundies." A pointless awards ceremony held in the glamorous local Chili's is the scene of embarrassment for branch manager Michael Scott (Carell), who MCs the event with the help of his wannabe lackey Dwight (Rainn Wilson). Along the way, he insults his staff, is heckled by the natives and performs an awful imitation of his Chinese-food delivery man, while Pam drinks to forget how bad her fiancee Roy treats her. This results in a momentary, but shocking kiss between Pam and Jim, which sets the stage for a season of teasing and flirting, perfect for the hopeless romantics in the audience.
The first season established the main characters, including Michael, Dwight, Pam and Jim, as well as Ryan the temp (B.J. Novak), leaving the rest of the cast to play in the background. This time, the supporting players took a much bigger role, with HR rep Toby, salespeople Stan, Phyllis and Kelly, and oddball Creed joining the accounting staff of Oscar, Kevin and Angela in the spotlight throughout the season. Though they are never the focus of an episode, their personalities are so strong, whether it's Kelly's hyper-perkiness or Kevin's creepy perversions, that they steal scenes constantly from the rest of the cast. It's rare that Toby or Creed is on the screen without saying something hilarious. Part of why it works so well is that fact that several of the cast members also write for the show, so they are in tune with the actors' voices, making the dialogue sound naturally perfect.
In the second season, the personal lives of Dunder-Mifflin's best come to the forefront, as office relationships abound. Pam and Jim walk the tightrope of friendship as they enjoy an office marriage that threatens the real one Pam is engaged to enter with warehouse worker Roy. There's not a viewer who wouldn't hope for Jim and Pam to get together, and despite plenty of opportunities and an abundance of close calls, they just can't do it. The resulting tension powers the show and their playfulness makes for some very funny scenes, but every time that Pam is mistreated by Roy, it gets sad, and makes for some moments of true emotion. When the documentary camera goes into observation mode, and catches her unaware, or during the revealing confessionals, Fischer displays some of the best acting on TV. As the pursuer, Krasinski plays the Everyman like few others can, and gets the audience in his corner with his low-key personality and non-threatening looks. His delivery, whether through dialogue or just a raise of an eyebrow, is perfect every time.
Michael also gets to be in a relationship this season, as he ends up in an unusual situation with his boss Jan (Melora Hardin), who has gone through a divorce and is a bit unsure of herself. A late-night of drinks during a business deal lets her see Michael in a different light, and her actions put her in the awkward position of being a boss to a man who's obsessed with her. It also sets off a series of troubles for her, as Michael can't keep his mouth shut. Though he's cast to be the bumbling villain of the show, Carell makes it hard to root against Michael, even when you want to hate him. He may ruin his workers' lives one moment, as he does to Jim in "The Secret," but when you see his horrible heartbreak in "Take Your Daughter to Work Day," you can't help but feel for him, as it's absolutely one of the saddest moments I've seen in recent memory. It's that duality that made him the perfect choice to head up this series. If he was evil, the series just wouldn't work, because he would devolve into one of the many overused stereotypes of bosses, and this show is all about originality.
One of the show's best assets, and one of it's most underrated, is Novak, who is a triple-threat as an actor, writer and co-producer. Playing the part of the outsider in the office, Novak frequently is called upon simply to make observations about what's going on, often in the interview room. It's amazing how he cuts through the BS with straightforward comments that works both as set-up and punchline. His mistake in getting involved with Kelly results in some of the show's best in-office lines, with his thoughts on hooking up with her in "Valentine's Day" being one of the funniest lines in the entire season.
Novak's performance is on the other end of the scale from Wilson, who goes all-out as Dwight the office nerd. Though he's worthy of your scorn, as a schemer, social pariah and general freak, you can't help but enjoy the madness he brings to Dunder-Mifflin. If not for his character, classic episodes like "The Fight" and "Christmas Party" wouldn't be nearly as entertaining. While his featured turn in "Dwight's Speech" is great, nothing he does compares to the flat-out strange behavior he exhibits in "The Injury." There's not an episode in the second season that is more dominated by a character than this one, as Dwight gets his freak on while helping Michael cope with a self-inflicted wound. And even Dwight gets a girl, though as you might expect, it's far from the traditional courtship.
It would be easier to pick out a low-point from this season's episodes than to pick out a highlight, and even that's an impossible mission. Every episode has something memorable in it, but none more than when the two main relationships come to a head on "Casino Night," as Michael invites both his real-estate agent and Jan out for a night of gambling in the warehouse, and Jim contemplates some major decisions. Here, the set ends on one of the greatest notes ever for a season finale, leaving everyone hanging on for the next season. Though the first 24 minutes of the episode feature hilarious moment after hilarious moment, bringing back some characters from earlier in the year and allowing the supporting characters get the big laughs, the show drops a major bomb, and switches gears hard. It's such an emotional earnest moment, and one fans have been waiting for, that it can give you chills to watch it unfold. As the culmination of the season, it works perfectly, using the show's strengths to deliver a gutpunch. After watching this conclusion, you'll need to tune in for the premiere, to see what happens next.
After needing just one disc for the first season set, the 22 second-season episodes are spread out over four DVDs, which are packed in a three-panel, two-tray digipak, wrapped in an embossed slipcover. (Yes, that means the discs are overlapped. It's the way it's going to be. Get used to it.) The discs have subtly animated, anamorphic widescreen main menus, featuring a choice of an episode index, bonus features and language set up. The menus used across these discs are diverse and nicely designed to fit the show by portraying the characters' workspaces. A play-all option is available on the episode-selection screens, and subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish. There are no audio options.
A note on the packaging: for some reason, it looks like they photoshopped Jenna Fischer for the cover and digipak, to the point where she doesn't really look like herself on the cover. Considering that a large part of Pam's appeal is her down-to-earth good looks, this was an off choice on the part of the designers.
Presented in anamophic widescreen, these episodes are as good as you could hope for from a network sitcom. With spot-on color, excellent detail and not a spot of dirt or damage in the transfers. The quality of the video on these discs are all we can ask for until the high-definition thing settles itself out.
The audio, done in Dolby Digital 5.0 (the box says 5.1, but I don't see an LFE channel), handles the dialogue perfectly, which is the most important thing about this series. There's nothing about the sound that's going to stress your speakers, as the show is dialogue-heavy, but atmospheric sound gets fed to the sides and rear to fill out the scene.
The first season set played it safe in terms of the content, as the show wasn't the hit it became, but the new set leaves nothing out. The extras start with 10 episode-length audio commentaries, featuring several members of the cast and crew. There are more participants this season, including Hardin and some of the accountants, but unfortunately, Carell is missing in action (reference is made to him shooting a movie), and the final episode doesn't have Krasinski on-board to talk about it (again, because of a movie.) The commentaries are of the friendly type, with plenty of credit-grabbing and joking, to go along with some behind-the-scenes info and notes about the show from the creators. Because of the tone and the infusion of new voices, they are fun to listen to, especially to see a different side of Wilson, who tends to throw in the most jokes.
The who and where:
- "The Dundies" - John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, B.J. Novak, Mindy Kaling, Paul Lieberstein, David Denman, Editor Dave Rogers and Executive Producer Greg Daniels
- "Sexual Harassment" - Brian Baumgartner, Rainn Wilson, B.J. Novak, Oscar Nunez, Paul Lieberstein, Angela Kinsey, Melora Hardin, and Larry Wilmore
- "The Client" - John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Melora Hardin, Brian Baumgartner, B.J. Novak, Paul Lieberstein, Writer Mike Schur, and Executive Producer Greg Daniels
- "Performance Review" - Rainn Wilson, Oscar Nunez, Paul Lieberstein, Angela Kinsey, Melora Hardin, Writer Larry Wilmore, and Director Paul Feig
- "Christmas Party" - Jenna Fischer, B.J. Novak, Kate Flannery, David Denman, Editor Dave Rogers, Writer Mike Schur, and Executive Producer Greg Daniels
- "Booze Cruise" - Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson, B.J. Novak, David Denman, Angela Kinsey, Oscar Nunez, Director of Photography Randall Einhorn, and Executive Producer Greg Daniels
- "The Secret" - John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Brian Baumgartner, Angela Kinsey, and Writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky
- "Valentine's Day" - John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Angela Kinsey, Mindy Kaling, Melora Hardin, Writer Mike Schur, Co-Executive Producer Kent Zbornak, and Executive Producer Greg Daniels
- "Drug Testing" - Rainn Wilson, Paul Lieberstein, Jenna Fischer, Oscar Nunez, Brian Baumgartner, B.J. Novak, Angela Kinsey, Director of Photography Randall Einhorn, Writer Jen Celotta, and Executive Producer Greg Daniels
- "Casino Night" - Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson, Melora Hardin, Paul Lieberstein, David Denman, Brian Baumgartner, Director of Photography Randall Einhorn, and Executive Producer Greg Daniels
The next biggest extra is the immense amount of deleted scenes that are included. There are over two and a half hours of deleted scenes, pulling from every episode this season. Because the show tells its stories in a disjointed way, context isn't always important, and many of these scenes, including the great interview moments from Toby and Creed, stand on their own. Here you get deleted subplots, scene extensions and alternate takes, as well as some material that just doesn't work as well as the others. Seeing how some of the stories were wrapped up or continued past the final episodes is great, and results in the equivalent of over six new episodes of "The Office," which any fan will certainly want to see. These can be watched by episode or in a pile for each disc's episodes.
A great deal of found material made its way onto these discs, starting with the "The Faces of Scranton," on Disc Three. This was the two-minute film Michael put together for his presentation in New York, complete with its U2 soundtrack. It's a chance to watch this goofy plot device on its own, and see the end tag in all its glory. It's too bad they didn't do the same thing with Michael's diversity day video, the Dundies tapes or Kevin's band video.
Though they don't work as well as the standard episodes, the 10 webisodes of "The Office" that NBC offered up between seasons two and three were much appreciated, and are presented in a more appealing size and quality on Disc Four. Oddly, there's no play-all option, so you'll have to click through them like you would on your computer. There are some giggles here, as the accountants try to find some missing money, but they are more of a distraction than a destination. More amusing are the 19 fake "The More You Know" PSAs the cast made, which aired on NBC and are available on the show's site. These range from dull to hilarious, and are perfect parodies of the genre. Again though, there's no play-all function, which got annoying after three or so clips.
One extra that pretty much all fans will love is the blooper reel, which runs a fantastic 17 minutes, and features the majority of the cast breaking character or flubbing lines. This was a very entertaining featurette and shows how hard it is to be funny in a deadpan way. This kind of extra can be hit or miss, but here it hits hard.
The bonus features wrap up with a reel of four funny Olympics-themed promos, which ran while the show was off the air for the Games, and three intro clips of Carell interviewing Carell for a "The Office" marathon, promoting "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," complete with the film's trailer (and some bonus Jenna Fischer!)
The Bottom Line
It's not the British version's fault that it can't hold a candle to the American "The Office." It's simply the result of the show's growth over 28 episodes, whereas the British series ended after just 14. In the second season, having cut free from its inspiration, the show came into its own, becoming the best half-hour show on TV. Filled with fantastically real characters and one of the best-handled romances in TV history, the show is enjoyable in so many ways, including as a way to just laugh for 30 minutes. The DVD collection presents the show in terrific condition, with a very deep collection of extras, including a lengthy blooper reel, that expands one's fun by at least double. If you're a fan of the series, there's plenty of material you'll need to see, and if you've never caught the Dunder-Mifflin fever, here's the perfect way to catch-up.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.