At this point, it's hard to talk about the season without a few spoilers, the biggest being where Jim's actions in the Season Two finale lead him to in Season Three. Instead of keeping the entire focus of the show on the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin, the series shed some light on the much-discussed Stamford office, which introduced a new group of damaged people, including Karen (Rashida Jones), a new love interest for Jim. A beautiful woman with a solid sense of humor and a willingness to be a bit silly, she was the right fit as the third piece of a love triangle with Jim and Pam, as she is, in many ways, similar to Pam, but being more exotic, is just different enough to give Jim something to choose between. Their similarities put the audience in an uncomfortable position as well, since, after pulling for Pam for two season, there's another acceptable option for Jim out there.
As for Pam, Jim's actions put her life into tumult as well, which leaves her questioning herself and trying to discover what makes her happy. Unfortunately, things don't go as well for her, which leaves her in a limbo-like void, and she really needs to hit rock-bottom in order for her to move ahead, setting up the important episode "Business School," in which she shows her art in a local show. Suffice to say, it doesn't help her delicate emotional state, with the exception of one of the most admirable Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) moments in the show's run. It marks the start of a new Pam, followed by one of the show's most uncomfortable episodes, "Cocktails," and builds to the season's final two episodes, which set up another semi-cliffhanger to be settled in Season Four. It also put Fischer in place to give a performance that's alternately heartbreaking and hilarious. Watching her face in the season's final scene still gives me chills.
Interestingly, the two episodes most pivotal to Pam's new life weren't even directed by series' regulars, as outsiders Josh Whedon ("Buffy, the Vampire Slayer") and J.J. Abrams ("Alias") lent a hand on "Business School" and "Cocktails," respectively. Helming an episode of the office seems to be a draw now, after Paul Feig ("Freaks and Geeks") stepping in during Season Two, and Whedon and Abrams were joined by Harold Ramis and Roger Nygard (Trekkies) this time around. Their turns at Dunder-Mifflin fit in perfectly with the work of the usual gang, including Greg Daniels, Ken Whittingham and Ken Kwapis, who pulled the long straw it seems, getting the seat behind the camera for the premiere and finale.
While the Jim/Pam/Karen storyline is the meat of Season Three, Michael's personal life has plenty of twists and turns too, starting with his unusually clingy relationship with his real-estate agent Carol (Carrell's wife Nancy Walls) and his intense efforts to naively sabotage it. Once he manages to drive her away, he turns his attentions back to his boss Jan (Melora Hardin.) Incredibly, she's a perfect match for him, as she's nearly as damaged as he is, which she shows through her increasingly unstable behavior, including getting a breast enlargement. At first, the pairing makes little sense, as little sense as it did in Season Two, but slowly, it becomes obvious why she's with him, a situation that hits its peak in "Women's Appreciation," a late-season gem that gets Michael out of the office for a bit of "girl talk" at the mall.
Though they are somewhat in the background, with the exception of Dwight (Rainn Wilson), the rest of the office crew is extremely important to the series, as they all get a chance to carry the comedy torch, including a group of newcomers led by Andy (Ed Helms), who threatens Dwight's position in the office with his constant ass-kissing to Michael and underhanded efforts to get over on his competition. He doesn't blend in though, like some of the others, as his aggressive personality stands out against his laid-back coworkers. It also lets the show have some fun with corporate policy, as his aggression has consequences, which are as funny as any other part of his character, especially when Dwight takes advantage of them. I can't think of a series that has so many regular feature players (over 20 at last count) and has managed to make each one unique and memorable.
Though the third season has plenty of excellent episodes, including "Product Recall," which shows Michael trying to deal with a crisis, "Traveling Salesmen," an out-of-the-office episode, the Kelly-focused Diwali and the silly lead-up to Phyllis' wedding, "Ben Franklin," but more memorable are the smaller stories told inside the episodes. Ryan (B.J. Novak) helping Creed set up a blog is a riot. Michael and Dwight's "Lazy Scranton" video is ridiculous. The guys checking out the ladies' room is not only funny, but very, very real. (What's with the couch?) In these ways, the show stays true to its roots, reflecting the humor in the everyday life amongst the cubes and under the florescent lights, which is made up of little moments of sunshine in a larger beige world. It's just like the place you work in, just with much more interesting people.
The 23 third-season episodes are spread out over four DVDs, which are packed in a four-panel, two-tray digipak (with episode descriptions, still photos and a breakdown of the extras), wrapped in an foil-embossed slipcover. Oddly, the episodes "Traveling Salesmen" and "The Return" have been combined into one extended episode. It makes sense in a way, considering how the storyline carried from one episode to the next, but it's not like they are even on separate discs. They are right there. Weird. And for those wondering, "Branch Closing" and "The Merger" are both the extended cuts, running 30 minutes each.
The discs have fun, animated anamorphic widescreen main menus, based on locations in the office and storylines on the disc and feature a play-all option, episode selections, bonus features and language set-up. There are no audio options, while subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish, along with closed captioning.
Though it's not noted on the packaging, the episode "The Merger" is edited, removing the hideous product placement. It might be the first time a show has been edited and come out better for it.
Presented in anamophic widescreen, these episodes look fantastic, as close as SD DVD could get to the way they looked when they aired on HDTV. With a crisp image, vivid color, excellent detail and not a spot of dirt or damage nor digital artifacts in the transfers, these discs are as good as it gets.
The audio, done in Dolby Digital 5.0 (the box says 5.1, but nothing comes across the LFE channel), is solid, delivering the dialogue perfectly, which is all it really needs to do for this series. Some light atmospheric effects make their way to the sides and rear speakers, but the majority of the sound is center-focused and clean.
The most impressive and enjoyable bonus material is the pile of deleted scenes, which are spread across the four DVDs, matching the episodes on each disc, and presented in letterboxed full-frame. In all, there's 188 minutes of cut footage (just over three hours worth), and incredibly, most of it would have been broadcast worthy. Among the highlights are just about any talking head by Pam, the personal revelations about the characters (especially the looks into the madness of Creed), the "getting to know you" scenes from "The Merger" and most anything with Ryan. It seems like many of the scenes were cut either for pacing or because they might have been slightly offensive or over-the-top, like the breast-pumping scene. You can watch these all together on each disc, or by episode, and you will absolutely want to watch them all.
There are eight commentaries on nine episodes included in this set (two episodes are combined.) The count is down by one from the previous collection, but the tracks are excellent, with participation from most of the main cast (Carrell is missing once again.) The groups are very chatty, praising each others, having fun joking about everything (including Fischer's off-season injury) and providing a ton of behind-the-scenes info. Despite the participants not being together, with Krasinsky in New York and Ramis in Chicago, the tracks are well done, filling the two important roles of a commentary: be entertaining and be informative. The only negative I could note is not having Fischer discussing two of her character's biggest episodes, "Business School" and "Beach Games."
Here's the breakdown:"The Coup": Krasinski, Wilson, Jones and Angela Kinsey (Angela)
"Initiation": Novak, Wilson and Leslie David Baker (Stanley)
"Traveling Salesmen/The Return": Krasinski, Wilson, Jones, Helms, Baker and editor Dave Rogers
"Business School": Novak, Wilson and writer Brent Forrester
"Safety Training": Novak, Mindy Kaling, and Ramis
"Women's Appreciation": Fischer, Kinsey, Kate Flannery (Meredith) and writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky
"Beach Games": Helms, Brian Baumgartner (Kevin), Ramis and writer Jennifer Celotta
"The Job": Krasinski, Fischer, Jones, Hardin, Kwapis and Rogers
Disc Two features the bulk on the bonus material, starting with "Kevin Cooks Stuff in the Office," a cooking show hosted by Kevin, in which he shows how to make lunch from snacks in the vending machines. Appearances by some of hisoffice-mates makes this more fun than it might have been, but it's a cute bit of original material.
"The Office" served as host for the NBC Primetime Preview last year, and their scenes are included here. Removed from their original context, they still work, but there's an odd sense that maybe something's missing, as the scenes acted as lead-ins to clips from other series. Even so, they are pretty funny, especially the saltines scene. "Toby Wraparounds" were also taken from a different use, but they also work quite well, as he lets loose about the hell that is working with Michael Scott. If you enjoy his low-key comedy, you'll love this stuff.
The Dwight Schrute music video is way better than anyone could have been expected, with a rocking little song about Scranton's favorite nerd, and lots of silly moments from the show, but the Joss Whedon "interview" is a disappointment, clocking in at just one minute, and serving mainly as a joke about his background. The disc wraps with six videos from the "Make Your Own Promo" contest. Most of it is cute, and some are even impressive, but it's not likely to be something you revisit.
Disc Four has a blooper reel that is just over 13 minutes long, which makes one wonder how they ever film a single episode, no less a whole season, with the amount of crack-ups they have. It seems like they just try to make each other laugh, with Fischer being one of the key offenders on both sides of the equation. Plus, you get a short montage of her sneezing, which is just adorable. There's also the full "Lazy Scranton" video, a parody of the "SNL" "Lazy Sunday" video, which is even more ridiculous in this form, and the very funny "Office" scene from Conan O'Brien's Emmy Awards opener.
The Bottom Line
Though it may not have turned out the way many of the fans had hoped for, Season Three's cliffhanger-resolving opener was just the start of an outstanding year for the Scranton crew, focusing on the personal relationships that tie the office together and risk tearing it apart. And once again, the show managed to hit the perfect note in the finale. Oh yeah, there's an unbelievably funny 21 episodes in between with more of the show's uncomfortably realistic office humor mixed with surreal comedy that acts as a pressure valve. If you've ever worked in an office, you will relate to this series, and if not, the wonderfully developed story of Jim and Pam should speak to anyone. The DVDs once again look and sound great, while the extras are quite in-depth, though slightly lighter in quantity than Season Two. I wouldn't recommend this season as a jumping-on point for anyone, as the stories have much more impact if you have some investment in the characters, but even so, it's a great stand-alone season from easily one of the funniest shows on TV.
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 follow him on Twitter
*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.