Does a decent ending give an otherwise dull season of TV a free pass? Not exactly, but it helps a little. When The Office (2005-2013) finally ended after years of increasingly diminishing returns, many of those who gave up along the way came back to see how it would all turn out. I reluctantly stuck around week after week, hoping that I'd be surprised with an occasional belly laugh, clever twist or even a gut-punch of drama. These were few and far between, but things got a little better as the ninth and final season progressed. This wasn't an accident. With an end date in sight, writers and producers finally had something to shoot for; instead of just spinning their wheels, the employees of Dunder Mifflin could finally give us some closure. Ricky Gervais' original series smartly limited itself to just 12 episodes and a double-length special, reminding us that shows end better when their deaths are planned well in advance.
Some say The Office died when Michael Scott drove his car into a lake, or after Jim and Pam finally got married and had a kid, or even when Michael stepped down near the end of Season Seven. In hindsight, there were many little deaths along the way...but yeah, the departure or Mr. Scott was probably the nail in the coffin. I'll give the supporting cast credit, though: The Office had the potential to keep going for years with nothing more than a subtle shift in direction or a few changes in staff. A mid-level paper company, bought out several times over in a gradually dwindling economy would have no reason to carry so much dead weight. So why did so many of these people stick around? Why were Nellie, Gabe, etc. in the picture at all? Does anyone even remember that chick who tried to seduce Jim and disappeared?
Forgive me if some of my leftover hatred for Season Eight has spilled over into this review, yet it can't help but trickle through when so many questions were left unanswered. The truth is, there were a few attempts to right the ship during this farewell season, even if they felt more forced than natural. Pam's relationship with "Brian the Boom Mic Guy", the "Athlead" story arc, and even a partial sendoff for Andy all tried something a little different with several of the core characters, but these plots (and several others) were either abandoned or simply not given enough time to marinate. The "Brian" arc was especially insulting: it furthered the notion that our characters were actually being filmed for a reason, a plot point that gradually faded away almost half a decade ago. This cheap tension for Jim and Pam's relationship---not to mention the "documentary premiere" itself---just seemed like too little, too late.
Where Season Nine succeeds is during the final few episodes: Dwight takes over for the floundering Andy, a wedding takes place and we get just enough Michael Scott in the finale to make it feel like home again, if only for a few scenes. These final three or four episodes still aren't anywhere near the quality of the first five seasons, but they at least give The Office a partially satisfying sendoff. Under these circumstances, it was about the best we could hope for at this point. Universal's four-disc Blu-ray edition of this ninth season includes all 25 episodes and even some terrific bonus features, summarized below.
Presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratios, these 25 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 Universal's updated format...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 four-disc set arrives with a similar packaging style to Seasons 5-8 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.
Again, no audio commentaries...and not at least getting one during the finale is a pretty big let-down. What we do get leads off with another round of Deleted Scenes...roughly two hours' worth, although not all episodes include them. These have always been a highlight, even though the overall dip in episode quality means that the cut material isn't as strong. Yet again, 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 nuggets of comedy often play a little better than the episodes themselves...depending on the characters involved, of course.
Up next is "A Look Back" (29:24), which is apparently a hybrid of the pre-finale retrospective that aired on NBC and a series of cast farewells originally posted on the studio's website. Either way, this is a lightweight but enjoyable piece, featuring a number of heartfelt comments from key cast and crew members. Odd that these weren't included in full, though. It's surface-level fun, but fun nonetheless.
Also included is an extended Table Read (77:19) of the series finale, featuring all of the principal cast members except for Steve Carell, BJ Novak and Mindy Kaling. This was obviously an emotional moment for the cast and crew, who do a good job of skimming through the script and joking along the way. This isn't my favorite type of supplement (mostly because it's more of a "you had to be there" thing), but I'd imagine that plenty of die-hard fans will definitely enjoy having this for posterity's sake. It's also worth noting that certain scenes are different than the final version, so you'll get to hear some new stuff.
A short collection of 2003 Casting Tapes (5:43) is also here...although I'd imagine, like the retrospective, that die-hard fans already saw the video making the rounds a few months back. This includes a few surprising hopefuls reading for main character slots including Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Seth Rogen, John Cho and more, as well as short clips of the folks that got the jobs. Unfortunately, these clips are very short and only consist of one or two line readings apiece...but hey, at least it's something, right?
We also get the requisite Blooper Reel (14:14) featuring plenty of line flubs and character breaks, as well as the throwaway "Auto-Tune Andy" music video first seen during the series finale (1:05).
Last but not least is a 2013 Panel Discussion recorded during the series wrap party in Scranton (45:16). Exclusive to Blu-ray, this enjoyable Q&A is moderated by Monica Madeja of WBRE (NBC's northeast PA affiliate), Josh McAuliffe of the Scranton Times-Tribune, and Jennie Tan of Office Tally. Participants include showrunner Greg Daniels, editor Claire Scanlon, DP Matt Sohn, co-executive producer Allison Silverman, producer/Toby Paul Lieberstein, property master Phil Shea, line producer Steve Burgess and (eventually) writer Carrie Kemper. It features several great questions, a few softballs, some rare behind-the-scenes photos and even a short "Prop Storage" video. This four-minute piece involves a trip to the storage warehouse where treasured props are unearthed, from a genuine Schrute Buck to the "Office Olympics" doves. This needs to be an expanded extra for the inevitable series collection, please.
Ah, The Office. Such a steep fall from early heights, from the top comedy on television to...well, a series that dwindling fans watched out of pure obligation. Still, there are a few highlights during this ninth and final season, particularly those last episodes after Andy leaves, Dwight takes over and, of course, the pretty decent series finale. Most everything else feels just as forced and out-of-character as the messy, lobotomized Season Eight, but it's obvious that an end date just gave the exhausted creative team something to aim for. Universal's Blu-ray package is quite good, pairing a terrific A/V presentation with a nice assortment of season-specific and retrospective bonus features. It's not an essential purchase for casual fans, though anyone who's made it this far may as well take the plunge. Mildly Recommended.
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 by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.