The Office (2005-present) is back for another season of often hilarious and occasionally very perceptive shows, Season Seven being, sadly, the last for series star and anchor Steve Carell.
It's anyone's guess how The Office will fare without him - actor James Spader has already taken his place - but over time the series has dramatically mutated in innumerable ways, including from shifting its focus on (primarily) four characters to a much wider ensemble cast of eccentrics. Indeed, not only is The Office's seventh season all but unrecognizable from the great British comedy that preceded it, a show frequently painfully uncomfortable by design, this Office doesn't even much resemble its own earliest seasons. Just as The Simpsons started out satirizing lower middle-class American families with relatively believable characters and situations, it's since morphed into a wild free-for-all collage of outrageous humor. And like The Simpsons, The Office remains a very funny show, even if it's light years removed from what it used to be.
A five-disc set containing all 24 episodes, most running about 22 minutes but including two hour-long shows plus several "producer-extended" episodes, The Office - Season Seven is bolstered by more than 100 minutes worth of deleted scenes, audio commentaries, webisodes, and other supplements, all worthwhile.
The season begins with married salespeople Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) struggling with parenthood, in one early episode unwisely hiring dimwitted receptionist Erin (Ellie Kemper) to baby-sit. Though salesman Andy (Ed Helms) desperately loves Erin, over the summer she's become involved with toady corporate rep Gabe (Zach Woods, now a series regular). Andy's attempt to impress her with his leading performance in a production of Sweeney Todd ends in disaster.
Michael, meanwhile, believing he has herpes, drives around Scranton contacting all his former girlfriends and one-night stands. This causes him to reexamine his past relationships, especially with Holly (Amy Ryan) - the one that got away.
Lazy, duplicitous Ryan (B.J. Novak) starts an Internet company, WUPHF.com, and Michael's unwavering support of all things Ryan creates tension among his put-upon employees. Psychotic Dwight (Rainn Wilson), having purchased the building paper company Dunder Mifflin occupies, creates other headaches. And Michael's long-in-gestation would-be indie film, a spy thriller called Threat Level Midnight and starring the Dunder Mifflin staff, is at long last unleashed.
Over the course of seven seasons, The Office wisely beefed-up the roles of its supporting cast. Though in its seventh year needy social cripple Michael Scott is still at the center of its universe, with Jim and Pam the only truly "normal" characters grounding the series in some semblance of reality, once-minor characters lend the same sort of memorable support as, say, the Mary Richards's friends and co-workers on Mary Tyler Moore: cynical salesman Stanley (Leslie David Baker), childlike accountant Kevin (Brian Baumgartner), alcoholic sex-addict Meredith (Kate Flannery), socially conservative Angela (Angela Kinsey), openly gay accountant Oscar (Oscar Nunez), busybody Phyllis (Phyllis Smith), office skank Kelly (Mindy Kaling), lonely HR rep Toby (Paul Lieberstein), bizarro Creed (Creed Bratton), and dryly humorous foreman Darryl (Craig Robinson) among them.
Their quirks will no doubt fill some of the void Michael's departure will bring, with Andy especially sharing much of Michael's social clumsiness. Most season seven shows revolve around or significantly feature these supporting characters. Meredith, for instance, figures prominently and hysterically in "The Sting," while Toby and arch-nemesis Michael go head-to-head in "Counseling."
Much as Jim and Pam keep the series grounded, it gratefully hasn't lost its social edginess, either. For all its broad humor The Office remains a surprisingly accurate portrait of a struggling white-collar corporate America, reflecting with unexpected honesty an American economy in the doldrums, and of a medium-size paper company teetering constantly and precariously on the brink of bankruptcy.
Video & Audio
Filmed in high-definition video, Universal's The Office - Season Seven (or, to be precise, the office - season seven) looks good on DVD, though its Blu-ray counterpart is recommended if the viewer is so equipped. The 1.78:1 aspect ratio serves the show well, especially given how much an ensemble show this has become. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 (English only), with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included on this region 1 DVD set.
The 24 episodes are spread across five extras-filled discs. The menu screens are notably easy to manipulate, with FBI warnings and disclaimers easily bypassed.
Consistent with past seasons, Universal's excellent Season Seven set is packed with worthwhile supplements, the best being deleted scenes, several minutes at least for each and every episode. Proof of The Office's quality writing is that most of the deleted footage is as good as what made it to the final cut. I'm certain most people watch these discs as I do: once an episode is over I immediately dig into that episode's deleted scenes, which usually extend these 21/22-minute shows to 25-30 minutes.
Also included are cast and crew audio commentaries on five episodes: "Nepotism," "PDA," "Threat Level Midnight," "Goodbye Michael," and "Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager." "Training Day" and "Search Committee" are "producer's extended" cuts.
The complete Threat Level Midnight, running 26 minutes, is also included and it's featured prominently in the packaging and menu screens. Webisodes (eight minutes) and a blooper reel (15 minutes) round out the satisfying assortment. The DVD set even comes with a half-sheet style poster, the cast posing like Georges Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte."
Though it has changed enormously through the years, The Office is still the same funny show with writing and performances as outstanding as ever. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.