Any show that runs longer than a few years has its fair share of bad episodes...or even worse, a turning point when it finally jumps the proverbial shark. For all but the most stubborn fans of The Office, Steve Carell's departure last year marked this turning point, yet the problems that derailed this crushingly disappointing eighth season had been slowly creeping in for years. Much like the obsolete, flailing paper company that it barely even focuses on anymore, the series has been crippled by mismanagement and lack of innovation. A few years ago, I would've said that a bad episode of The Office was still better than most TV comedies; now, I'm barely watching out of obligation. Season 2 marathon, anyone?
In hindsight, the first real glimpses of trouble appeared in small flashes during the fourth season, which kicked off with a quartet of "super-sized" episodes that each seemed about fifteen minutes too long. That, and the complete emotional unraveling of the once-grounded character of Jan Levinson (no Gould). To be fair, these small chinks in The Office's armor were mostly covered up by solid chemistry, great dialogue and uncomfortable hilarity. The fifth season helped to keep things afloat with curveballs like The Michael Scott Paper Company, but the sixth season really showed a drop in overall quality after Sabre took over and "The Halperts" attempted to become mature, responsible adults. The seventh season gave us a little bit of hope, but most fans knew what was coming: even with the mystery surrounding a new manager and the hope of changing a few stale dynamics, The Office's best years were long gone.
As "compensation" for the upcoming lack of a wacky boss, this eighth season presents us with not one but two lobotomized authority figures, Robert California (James Spader) and Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate), both introduced as potential Scott replacements during the seventh season finale. As the story goes, Tate was originally a lock but Spader's well-received performance landed him a role as the CEO of Sabre, while other candidate Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) got the in-house bump to regional manager. Unfortunately, Andy's new direction is basically "Michael Scott II": his insecurity issues frame a number of episodes that felt more like reheated leftovers than anything else. To make matters worse, Nellie quickly wriggles her way into the Scranton branch by...you know, my brain hurts just thinking about it.
During this season, Robert California gradually morphs from "compelling evil genius" to "indecisive, marble-mouthed sex freak" and Nellie manages to become the series' most irritating, useless character by a country mile. Even worse, Andy and other members of the Scranton branch---who no longer regularly perform day-to-day aspects of their job like, you know, selling paper---are basically helpless to stop the Nellie takeover. As nothing more than viewers, we're equally angered but equally helpless...and as bad luck would have it, Nellie's sticking around for the upcoming ninth and final season. How? Why?
As for the individual episodes themselves, most of them fall victim to a painfully unfortunate reality: the writers are now regularly changing the characters to fit the stories, instead of the other way around. Episode highlights are few and far between...but if there's one important area The Office never struggled with consistently, it's the knack for getting a well-earned laugh out of normal, everyday working life. On occasion, this eighth season still has the ability to generate a few chuckles, but rare season highlights like the multi-episode trip to Florida are eventually deflated by odd character codas (Jim's "admirer", for example, who somehow vanishes) and, of course, Nellie's reintroduction. By the season finale, The Office has strayed into a surreal, "alternate universe" shell of its former self...and if you can get through all 24 episodes without sensing that something's amiss behind the scenes, have fun in your bubble.
Universal presents The Office: Season Eight as a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, complete with those silly dual-format "flipper discs" that shouldn't be used anymore ever, please. There's less content than the seventh season...but everything's dumped onto five discs instead of four, which makes the packaging a little thicker than it needs to be. It's odd that the formula would change this late in the game...and at this point, it's just one more strike against a release that doesn't need any more strikes against it.
(24 episodes on five dual-format discs)
^ - Extended Episode
"Test The Store"
"Last Day In Florida"
"Get The Girl"
"Free Family Portrait Studio"
Presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratios, these 24 episodes look just as good as past season collections on Blu-Ray, if not slightly better. The natural color palette has been preserved nicely, image detail is solid and black levels are consistent. Digital eyesores such as edge enhancement and pixellation are nonexistent, rounding out the presentation nicely. I'll admit that The Office was never meant to be a visually engaging series, but there's an obvious upgrade in quality here that fans should appreciate.
As expected, the audio treatment is also satisfying. Presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, the dialogue-driven mix comes through quite clearly. Surround activity is generally reserved for background noise and occasional music cues, while most of the action is anchored squarely up front. Optional English captions and Spanish subtitles have been included during the episodes and all applicable bonus features.
The clip-heavy menu designs are presented in typical Universal fashion...but I still miss the DVD ones anyway, especially in regards to how the deleted scenes were organized. Each episode has been divided into several chapter breaks, though selection sub-menus are not present. This five-disc set arrives with a similar packaging style to Seasons 5-7 on Blu-Ray, featuring a foldout digipak case with a slipcover and overlapping disc hubs. Episode listings and descriptions have been printed on the case interior.
For the first time ever, we don't get any audio commentaries...but to be honest, the only commentaries I'd be interested in hearing are the "scathingly honest" type (and that ain't gonna happen at this point). Otherwise, it's business as usual: the main attraction is just over two hours' worth of Deleted Scenes... and for the most part, these are pretty entertaining. This season's most glaring faults don't necessarily rest on its ability to present funny stand-alone situations; more often than not, it's a lack of consistency at the heart of the stories and characters. For this reason, these bite-sized nuggets of comedy often play a little better than the episodes themselves...depending on the characters involved, of course.
On a related note, two of the included episodes are presented as "Producer's Cuts" ("Angry Andy" and "The Fundraiser"); in both cases, they're just slightly longer and don't feature any drastic revelations.
The other odds and ends include a Blooper Reel (19 minutes) featuring clips of various quality; these range from "infectiously funny" to "you had to be there". Two short Webisodes continue the non-essential saga of auto-tuned wonders "Subtle Sexuality", which include a somewhat amusing Behind the Music-style clip and a music video (6 minutes total). Closing things out is a collection of
Super Bowl Football Championship Ads featuring key cast members in and out of character (30 seconds each).
As expected, the bulk of these bonus features are presented in 1080p and look quite good, while optional English captions and Spanish subtitles have also been included for good measure.
The Office: Season Eight is basically a train wreck in high definition...and not the good kind, like Super 8. Perhaps I was a little too soft on the show in the past, but most of its initially minor problems have now completely bubbled to the surface. Amusing but grounded characters have become homogenized shells of their former selves. Gaping plot holes run rampant. Character dynamics are all out of whack. And, of course, we've still got one season to go...but in all honesty, I can't see The Office getting much worse. Universal's Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack is a step down from earlier years too: not only are we stuck with "flippers", but there's less content overall and it's been padded to fill five discs instead of four. Overall, this is the least essential The Office release since Overtime. Rent It, if only for the extras.
DVD Talk Review Link: All things The Office (British and American!)
Better Late Than Never: A few photos from the Office Convention (October 2007)
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.