The Office from UK's BBC was only a whopping 14 episodes in its entirety, where NBC's hit variation of the show runs 26 episodes in its most recent full length season alone. The minds behind the British version of the acclaimed series believed there's only so much you can do with a handful of office associates before the concept would grow stale, yet after the success NBC had with The Office's first short season run (6 episodes), they laughed in the face of such a challenge and produced 22 episodes for its follow-up year. The Office has been able to thrive ever since by taking normal office situations practically everyone can relate to, and twisting them just enough to provide a bellyful of laughs without making the show seem like it's overly farfetched. Even more impressive has been the show's ability to provide an incredibly dynamic cast that the audience truly cares about. Following the personal lives of those from Scranton Pennsylvania's Dunder Mifflin branch brought a bit of a darker tone to the show in its fourth season, a trend that continues as the fifth season heavily experiments with themes of deception and heartbreak. Does The Office go a little too far this time however, finally tipping the scale closer to disappointment than ever before? The fans may have been torn by this question, but I have no qualms with saying 'absolutely not'.
The end of the fourth season left a lot of things up in the air. Michael seemingly met the girl of his dreams when Holly took Toby's place in HR, Dwight was wedging himself between Angela and her fiancé Andy, and Pam revealed to Jim that they would have to strain their relationship with long distance for a few months while she pursued a dream in New York City. Although the personal lives of those from Dunder Mifflin was always an important aspect of The Office, the storyline was pretty much restricted to the budding relationship between Pam and Jim. The fourth season expanded on the lives of the rest of the popular characters we know and love, quickly transforming the show into sort of a 'dramedy'. The laughs were still plentiful, but the mounting tension added a new layer to the mix to ensure the same product wasn't being churned out week after week. Bringing all these new storylines to the fold was daring, albeit a very challenging move. If anyone had any doubt as to how The Office would maintain so many important storylines at once, the fifth season addresses those concerns immediately with an impressive and unconventional turn in storytelling (for this particular series) by showing us a progression of events over a period of time in a single episode.
Michael's managing style might be groan inducing enough for his staff, but the addition of Holly seems to double the ante as their methods of trying to bond with the associates are identical. Instead of getting straight to the point, they throw together meetings that end up looking more like a five year olds dance recital than anything that comes even close to resembling professionalism. Having so much fun while trying to pep up the staff brings Michael and Holly's relationship to the next level, which unfortunately forces corporate to move her to another branch. Heartbroken from having his soul mate ripped away by the very company he's dedicated so much of his life to, Michael is forced to spend most of his time soul searching. It's a path that will prove to be difficult to say the least as problems arise from his ex-girlfriend Jan, a new Regional Vice-President that doesn't find Michael's managing skills amusing in the least, and he even takes a stab at launching his very own paper company.
Angela is also facing a revelatory time in her life. She's always made it abundantly clear that she was a hot tempered control freak, but control is a commodity she's clearly run out of this season. Despite being engaged to Andy, she's been having an affair with ex-boyfriend Dwight and everyone in the office knows it... except for Andy of course. Dwight, tired of being Angela's sex-toy waiting in the shadows, gives Angela an ultimatum that she's less than receptive to. Unsatisfied that Angela decides to continue planning her future with Andy, Dwight falls back on his evil manipulative ways to sabotage their union. Dwight's problems are also twofold this season, as he finds himself pitted against Michael in a not so friendly battle between Dunder Mifflin and the newly formed Michael Scott Paper Company.
With so much going on with the rest of the cast, the developing relationship between Pam and Jim easily could have fallen through the cracks, but the writing team did a fantastic job at making sure the longest running, if not central story of the series didn't become a casualty of dramatic experimentation. In fact, their romance is probably still the most cleverly written aspect of the show. The writers continue to keep their ongoing romance fresh and exciting by using classic misdirection to keep new ventures in their relationship a welcome surprise every step of the way, and believe me, there are some very big developments that are sure to keep fans plenty happy. Just like the rest of the cast this year however, they have worries of their own. Besides the strain on their relationship caused by long distance, they both face roadblocks with their careers. Pam rethinks the path she needs to take in life after receiving some bad grades in art school and decides to embrace change, which ultimately lands her side by side with Michael Scott in his new paper company. Jim's future with Dunder Mifflin was looking bright, but that changes once he leaves an unfavorable impression with the company's new Regional Vice-President.
The rest of The Office cast doesn't end up falling by the wayside either. The fifth season brings Toby back to HR, Ryan gets a second chance to work in sales thanks to the ever trusting Mr. Scott, Kevin is mistakenly thought to be mentally challenged, Phyllis finally finds some inner strength, Oscar offers some important advice to Andy and Michael, Meredith is still a sex-a-holic, Creed makes an unforgettable appearance as the Joker from The Dark Knight, and Stanley changes his lifestyle after falling prey to a nerve-racking fire drill stunt that comes (of course) courtesy of Dwight.
The only character that rubbed me the wrong way this season was Kelly Kapoor. She gets quite a bit of attention as a minimally supportive cast member, a decision that's highly questionable at best. Although it's true many of the characters in the show portray some kind of employee stereotype to a certain extent, Kelly is by far the worst offender of the bunch. I can't pin the blame on the lovely Mindy Kaling for her pop-culture loving valley girl portrayal however. She's spot on with her delivery, an impressive feat considering the amount of energy I'm sure she drains doing numerous takes for any given scene. I'm not sure if the writers truly believe she's an interesting character, or if they're trying to appeal to other demographics that might not be turned on with an office setting for a comedy, but it would probably be best if they restricted Kelly's role so the audience doesn't find themselves grinding their teeth any time she has a scene. Kapoor is a laugh and a half in small doses, but too much of a good thing can sour pretty fast.
That being said, I actually have to stand in awe with how well this show is written and produced. Steve Carell is a hard act to follow no matter what project he participates in. He's so energetic and likeable, and one might think he'd steal the thunder from any other actor or actress that's in a scene with him. Although Carell's character does in fact have more than a fair share of the most hilarious moments in the series to date, nobody exactly has their performance dwarfed in comparison because of it. That fact alone just blows my mind. The entire cast on display in The Office are given a generous amount of time to shine, and always complement each other in a very structured and balanced way. Despite the fact the cast is made up of personalities that couldn't be any different from one another, they gel together enough to compose one of the most well rounded casts currently on television. It's quite obvious that the talent behind the screen knows exactly how to utilize each and every cast member, and they deserve just as much credit for making this show as successful as it is today.
Honestly, The Office is just as strong in its fifth season as it ever was, if not more so. It may have met some mixed reception during its run on television, and I guess it isn't hard to guess why. The Office took some pretty bold turns this year, departing further and further from the format fans have come to grow and love as the season pushed forward. But how is that a bad thing, especially when the theme of the season appears to be 'change'? Sure, we may miss having as many Jim vs. Dwight moments, or any of the other simpler themes that made the show work so well for so long, but there's one constant that everyone can relate to - Life goes on. Time is always moving forward and things always change as a result, so it's only suitable these changes reflect in the overall tone of the show. It's an inevitability that's not taken into consideration for television enough nowadays, you know? Sure, storylines always change and the characters may grow along the way, but every episode feels the same in almost any other sitcom I've seen as of late. NBC avoided the pitfall of a concept growing stale over time because they knew they had to connect each and every character in that office with the audience. Now that we're all truly invested in the characters, it's only now that such a change in the show can actually make sense, and actually work. The fact that The Office was able to wait five seasons before truly bringing the pot to a boil was an incredibly smart move, as the heightened dramatic element ensures the show will have important and relevant stories to share for years to come.
The episodes included in this four disc season set are:
-Prince Family Paper
-Lecture Circuit Part 1
-Lecture Circuit Part 2
-Michael Scott Paper Company
This VC-1, 1080p encode (at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1) is definitely a step up from the high definition broadcast I'm used to seeing on NBC. The Office is already fairly impressive looking over the air, but it sure is nice to see the high-def presentation without the nasty artifacts and blocking caused by a pesky bandwidth restriction imposed by our loving cable companies. Nope, you can expect an incredibly clean transfer here. For one thing, the clarity is absolutely stunning. Edges are defined very well without the presence of hair pull inducing edge enhancement, and sharpness never robs the picture of dimensionality or depth. This Blu-ray set also does a better job at presenting detail, at least most of the time. The Office is better known for a clean 'HD pretty' image as opposed to having film like grain structure. This can cause one to wonder, "Am I seeing all the facial features I should be?" At a distance, not really, but this is faithful to the on-air presentation of the show however, so if you've seen The Office in HD before, you already know what to expect. Everything else retains an impressive amount of detail however, and 'floating head' shots still retain an impressive amount of facial detail.
Another aspect of the Blu-ray presentation I'm pretty pleased with is the contrast. My television set is of course calibrated, but NBC-HD comes across looking a little hot for me (at least for this particular show). Blacks come off a tiny bit crushed, and some of the brighter spots of any particular shot have a tendency to bloom just a tad. I don't know if that's due to my cable provider or what, but it's apparently no indicator of the source material, as I find the contrast to be a nice improvement on this Blu-ray set. Blacks are bold without ever hiding detail and the light blooming is also no longer an issue. Skin tones appear as they were intended to, and colors are vibrant and lifelike without ever appearing to be overly saturated.
If I had to use one word to describe the presentation on this set, I'd have to go with 'natural'. The image practically looks like I'm staring through a window and spying on Scranton Pennsylvania's Dunder Mifflin branch. If you're a fan of the series but can't decide if this is worth picking up on Blu-ray over the DVD, the answer is a resounding yes. After watching The Office in this 'better than broadcast' HD presentation, you'll never want to go back, I guarantee it.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is, in a word, flawless. The show is dialogue driven more often than not, and it never comes across sounding unnatural or tinny. This means that most of the sound is going to come out of your center channel, but surrounds are utilized appropriately for music scenes (such as in the Café Disco episode), as well as some environmental sounds whenever appropriate (which isn't very often). Once again, the sound is definitely a little better than I remember it sounding during broadcast, and definitely rounds out a very nice high-def presentation from NBC overall. Don't expect anything too fantastical though, because the show doesn't really have that kind of sound design, but what's there sounds better than ever.
Commentaries - (Weight Loss with Randy Cordray, Michael Gallenberg, Brian Wittle, Nick Carbone, Ben Patrick, Alysia Raycraft, Kelly Cantley and Jake Aust - Business Ethics hosted by B.J. Novak with Peter & Vartan (Craft Services) and Sergio & Alan (Catering) - Employee Transfer with Dave Rogers, Anthony Farrell, Veda Semarne, Chuck Canzoneri, Kyle Alexander and Phil Shea - Customer Survey with Stephen Merchant, Paul Lieberstein and Mindy Kaling) -
The commentary tracks on the first disc are a pretty decent listen. There are tons of behind the scenes people that give us an incredible wealth of information about what it's like to work on The Office. You'll hear about what it's like to work with the cast, unscripted jokes that ended up making it to the finished product, collecting ideas for bits on an episode, rewrites, and much, much more. The Business Ethics episode took a fairly large risk having B.J. Novak (Ryan) sit down with the caterers so they can discuss the cast members favorite foods, but this fresh take on commentary was actually humorous enough in concept to keep me hooked. I wouldn't want this to be a trend on television commentaries in the future, but it was certainly entertaining and refreshing this time around!
Deleted Scenes - There's about an hour and two minutes worth of deleted scenes from the six episodes that appear on this first disc alone, and you know, it's actually a pretty decent way to kill some time. Sure, it's easy to understand why most of these scenes would have messed with the flow of any particular episode, but the scenes that have been clipped are still about as hilarious as most of the stuff that was left in the final products. Fans should have a blast with the wealth of material that's here from the cutting room floor, and they'll certainly have plenty of chuckles along the way.
One-Liner Soundboard - Ever use a soundboard online? You know, one of those things that let you take various sound clips of actors and actresses and play them in any order you want? Well, that's exactly what this is, and it's a blast! You can select one-liners from Michael, Pam, Phyllis, Dwight, Andy, Angela, Jim, Stanley, or Meredith, put them in the order you want so you can play them, save them, and even upload them! The Office is certainly not a show that's short on hilarious one-liners, so this is definitely going to be a bit of fun for hardcore or casual fans alike.
Commentaries - (Moroccon Christmas with Kate Flannery, Angela Kinsey and Brian Baumgartner - The Duel with Rainn Wilson, Rusty Mahmood, Jennifer Celotta and Dean Holland) - These two commentary tracks cover background info on how ideas were collected for these particular episodes, props, why certain jokes or scenes were deleted, why certain jokes were debated heavily amongst writing staff, and more. They're both pretty fun interviews, despite the fact there are some silent moments here and there.
There's also another hour and seven minutes worth of Deleted Scenes for the corresponding episodes.
The lone extra available on this disc is another twenty four minutes of Deleted Scenes for the corresponding episodes.
Commentaries - (Dream Team with B.J. Novak, Aaron Shure, Charlie Grandy and Matt Sohn - Michael Scott Paper Company with Jenna Fischer, Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg and Justin Spitzer - Casual Friday with Creed Bratton, Mindy Kaling, Ellie Kemper, Brent Forrest and Claire Scanlon - Company Picnic with Paul Lieberstein, Ken Kwapis and Jennifer Celotta) - These commentaries go over improv jokes, people stressing out over lines, wardrobe decisions, camera shooting challenges, why certain scenes were taken out (which can be seen in the deleted scenes on this disc), visual jokes, and why certain people were nervous about taking The Office in a direction that followed so many people outside of the main office we've seen since the beginning. As with the rest of the commentary tracks available on the other discs, the discussions are generally fun and a pretty easy listen. There are some silent moments and the discussion might not always be as relevant as one would hope, but they're still entertaining enough to keep any fan listening throughout their entirety.
Gag Reel - The gag reel doesn't disappoint. It's clear the cast of The Office have a blast on set, and that's conveyed through this featurette plain as day. Even if you're not a big fan of special features on any given release, you'll definitely find the good times loaded with laugh out loud moments and more than worthy of your time.
Another forty minutes of Deleted Scenes are available for the final episodes of the season as well.
100 Episodes, 100 Moments - As the name implies, this is pretty much a montage of clips from the first one hundred episodes of The Office. The older seasons of the show may not be on Blu-ray just yet, but you can catch some of your favorite moments in HD with this nine minute long featurette!
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Presents The Office - The cast sits down for a half an hour for an in-depth, yet light and fun interview session. A must watch for any fan of the series.
The Office Promos - Some special promos aired during both the Super Bowl and the Beijing Games, and are included in high definition on this disc. Together these promos run just over four and a half minutes in length, and are funny little tastes of The Office in bite size form that aren't to be missed.
Webisodes - Kevin's Loan/The Outburst - The Office's website featured two spin-off webisode series in 2008, both of which are available on this disc in full. Some of the secondary cast members (those that aren't Michael, Dwight, Jim or Pam for example) are plucked from the 'universe' presented in the show and given dramatic tales of their own. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these webisodes is that they expand upon knowledge we've already been given about these characters courtesy of The Office. For example, we already know that Kevin has a knack for gambling, so Kevin's Loan shows us what happens when he has an outstanding loan he needs to pay back. Oscar is usually dumbfounded over why he continues to stay with the Scranton Dunder Mifflin branch, but finally loses his cool in The Outburst. At just a little over twenty minutes in length total, I think you'll find these short spinoff series to be pretty entertaining. They're not as good as the series they've spawned from, but then again, I doubt anyone is expecting them to be much better than The Office in the first place.
The Office met some criticism during its fifth and most recent full length season, as some claimed the writing took a bit of a dip and that the concept driving the show was growing a little stale. Different strokes for different folks I guess, because all I can do is stand here, cross my arms, raise a quizzical eyebrow and say, "Seriously?" This season definitely felt a bit weightier in story content and tone, and if you ask me, this couldn't have happened at a better time. The Office was light fun with intriguing characters you really wanted to get to know inside and out, and after four seasons, these characters needed to face dilemmas and life changing decisions, otherwise what's the point? The writers understood what had to be done in order to achieve longevity, and if you ask me they've done it. As long as the writing in future seasons remains to be just as clever and thoughtful as it was during this pivotal year, The Office will remain intriguing and relevant for some time to come.
This Blu-ray set is a no-brainer for any fan of the show, casual or otherwise. The audio and video quality is better than broadcast, and the extras are consistently entertaining and a pleasure to watch. This four disc set has clearly been given the attention such an acclaimed series deserves, as there's pretty much nothing that's blatantly shortcoming about its release. The Office Season 5 easily earns itself a highly recommended rating, with the only pitfall I can think of at the moment, is that I can't wait for the rest of the seasons to be released!