Not many people expected Season 7 of The Office to be any good. Not after the mostly-disappointing Season 6, which featured a number of phoned-in episodes saved by a few big life events for several major and minor characters. These moments were brief, but they shook things up enough to make The Office interesting for a while...because sitcoms do get old after a few years, don't they? As expected, Season 7 picks up soon after the sixth one left off...and for the most part, it keeps the momentum going for quite some time. During the better half of this year's episode crop, there seems to be a creative spark that was missing since somewhere around Season 4 or 5. Jokes hit harder, stories are a bit more consistent and the characters just seem to play off each other more naturally. Unfortunately, things crash to a halt somewhere around the third act---and though Season 7 is better than the sixth by a country mile, it's best summarized as a flawed year that's still worth watching.
For better or worse, Season 7 more or less revolves around the departure of one Michael Scott (Steve Carell), who eventually leaves the company for colder pastures in Colorado with Holly (Amy Ryan). As Michael's character has been one of The Office's focal points since the very beginning, some fans have marked Season 7 as the last year they'll be watching. The British original called it quits after just two short seasons and a holiday special, but this incarnation of The Office has chosen to ride the wheels off...and though there's still gas left in the tank, it's obvious that the show's best years are behind it. The star-studded season finale "Search Committee" offers proof of this: with Carell out the door, the writers throw tons of big (and medium-sized) names at the wall, teasing fans about a possible replacement when one hadn't been formally announced yet. Do 30-minute comedies really need cliffhangers?
Will Ferrell also shows up during the season's closing episodes as the ridiculously-named Deangelo Vickers; it's not a good fit, but I've never been that big of a Ferrell fan. Here, he plays pretty much the same man-child as usual, even though his introduction seems promising. After Michael leaves, he goes full-blown psycho like Jan Levinson from a few years back, and it feels even more awkward this time around. It's as if Carell (or one of the producers) owed Ferrell a favor, so they just let him goof around for four episodes and exit just as quickly. But despite all the "new boss" brouhaha, The Office has still always been about its ensemble cast, and there's plenty of great moments to go around here. Second-string characters get plenty of time to shine, while newer focal points like Erin (Ellie Kemper) and Gabe (Zach Woods) offer a good amount of support. Even Dwight (Rainn Wilson), Andy (Ed Helms), Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) seem like they have more to do than just tread water this time around.
(24 episodes on 4 single-sided discs)
* - Includes optional Audio Commentary (see below)
I'll say it again: this is a fairly solid batch of episodes, even with a few bumps along the way. Highlights include "Andy's Play" (a fun outside-the-office romp, which includes a stirring rendition of Sweeney Todd), "Costume Contest" (the annual Halloween episode), "Ultimatum" and "PDA" (a pair of episodes featuring Michael and Holly), "Threat Level Midnight" (the epic conclusion to Season 2's screenplay reading), "Todd Packer" (another sendoff from earlier years), "Goodbye, Michael" and many more. The latter episode is particularly effective in sending off the World's Best Boss, combining nostalgia, comedy and a little drama to get its point across. Though some fans never cared for Michael and Holly's relationship, I always thought it was as heartfelt and realistic as Jim and Pam's romantic tug-of-war. The goofy pair simply needed to end up together, and I'm glad it played out so effectively.
Universal sends out The Office: Season 7 in your choice of DVD and Blu-Ray editions for the third year in a row, and this is my first time reviewing a high-def release of this series. As expected, The Office looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-Ray, even if the series never reaches very high on the A/V ladder. This four-disc collection is a bit underwhelming in the extras department, but only because we've become accustomed to such a great assortment of bonus features every year. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratios, these 24 episodes look right on par with past season collections on Blu-Ray. The series' 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. Before seeing The Office on Blu-Ray, I was initially unsure about whether the series' limited visual would be worth a 1080p upgrade...but once you get used to it, it's hard to go back.
As expected, the audio treatment is equally satisfying. Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, the natural soundstage comes through clean and clear. Surround activity is generally reserved for background noise and rare music cues, while most of the action is anchored squarely up front. Dialogue is clear and never fights for attention. Optional English captions and Spanish subtitles have been included during the episodes and all applicable bonus features.
The animated menu designs are presented in typical Universal fashion...but I kind of miss the DVD ones anyway (especially in regards to the deleted scenes). Each episode has been divided into several chapter breaks, though selection sub-menus are not present. Obvious layer changes were not detected during the actual episodes. This four-disc set follows the same packaging style as Seasons 5-6 on Blu-Ray, featuring a foldout digipak case with a slipcover and overlapping disc hubs. Episode listings and descriptions are printed on the case interior, and a nice Poster (featuring the Seurat-inspired image at top) is also tucked inside.
For better or worse, there's pretty much no extras here that we haven't seen before in one way or another. First up is a small handful of Audio Commentaries during "Nepotism", "PDA", "Threat Level Midnight", "Goodbye, Michael" and "Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager". Participants include Creed Bratton (Creed, duh), BJ Novak (Ryan), Brian Baumgartner (Kevin), episode directors/editors/producers and many more. These commentaries have been dialed way back over the years, and this season's no different: many of the "big names" are no longer present...and, of course, there are simply less than there used to be. These are still worth a listen, but they've become a little more predictable and a little less...well, fun.
For most folks, the annual collection of Deleted Scenes is the real selling point...and at just over 100 minutes in total length, there's certainly a good amount to watch after the credits roll. These deleted scenes are present during all but two of the extended episodes (as well as "Threat Level Midnight", for reasons explained below) and they're chock full of interesting side-stories, one-note jokes...and yes, a modest amount of filler that misses the mark. But that's why they're deleted, I suppose.
Speaking of the Extended Episodes, these add roughly 5-10 minutes of previously deleted scenes back into "Training Day" and "Search Committee"...and while they're far from my favorite episodes, they're still good to see in a more fleshed-out form. And speaking of "Threat Level Midnight", the uninterrupted, extended version is on here separately. It's a slightly different beast than the one we saw previously...but unfortunately, it's presented in standard def with lossy DD 5.1 audio. Who made that decision?
Last but not least, we get a funny Blooper Reel and a trio of Webisodes (8 minutes total) on Disc 4. The former has always been a pleasant diversion...but the latter, unfortunately, isn't all that worthwhile. Something about a few minor characters making a no-budget horror film, though the "trailer" is actually more convincingly bad than "Threat Level Midnight". For die-hard fans only.
As mentioned earlier, these bonus features are mostly presented in standard def with DD 5.1 or stereo mixes, while optional English captions and Spanish subtitles are included for everything.
The Office: Season 7 is a surprisingly solid run of episodes...but if the last few are any indication, this might be the critical curtain call for our paper-pushing pals. Luckily, some great "second string" character moments and a terrific send-off for Michael Scott help to keep this season memorable. Universal's Blu-Ray treatment is roughly on par with the last two collections, pairing a great technical presentation with entertainingly familiar bonus features. It's definitely worth a purchase for those who have stuck around this long, and even worth looking into if you gave up after the disappointing Season 6. Firmly Recommended.
Better Late Than Never: A few photos from the Office Convention (October 2007)
NOTE: The above images were obtained from promotional outlets and do not represent this release's native resolution.