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DVD Review: THE OFFICE: SEASON FIVE



Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Year: 2008-2009
Cast: Steve Carrell, John Krasinsky, Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson, B.J. Novak, Ed Helms, Leslie David Baker, Brian Baumgartner, Creed Bratton, Kate Flannery, Mindy Kaling, Ellie Kemper, Angela Kinney, Paul Liberstein, Oscar Nunez, Craig Robinson, Phyllis Smith
Director: Various
Release Date: September 08, 2009
Rating: Not Rated for (bleeped swears, blurred nudity)
Run Time: 10h:08m:00s
Genre(s): television, comedy

"My philosophy is basically this. And this is something that I live by. And I always have. And I always will. Don't ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what. No matter... where. Or who, or who you are with, or, or where you are going, or... or where you've been. Ever. For any reason, whatsoever." - Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), on life

THE OFFICE: SEASON FIVE

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Jim & Pam 4-evah! Dwight & Angela 4-evah! Michael & Jan 4-evah! Michael & Delusion 4-evah!

Movie Grade: A-

DVD Grade: A-

Let us ponder for a moment the improbability of the ostensible documentary that is The Office. When the show began, it, like the British original, was largely confined to the workplace. Conceivably, we could be watching some sort of PBS exploration of life among the cubicle drones at paper supply company Dunder-Mifflin. But as the show wears on, the scope has expanded ludicrously. Cameras follow characters on business trips, on unplanned nature excursions, on business trips, even spy on confidential court proceedings and employees interviews and reviews. And what is the audience for this open-ended production, which none of the characters have apparently ever seen, lest they spoil the plot for themselves?

So what do we have to look forward to in Season Five of the world's most expensive, most ambitious reality show? Quite a bit, actually—as the show stretches long beyond the shelf life of the BBC forebear, it has injected more and more soapy sidelines, to the point that its character arcs are as complex as anything on a serial drama. Though always entertaining from episode to episode, the strike-shortened Season Four got bogged down in unpleasantness—the disintegration of the lopsided affair between Michael (Steve Carrell) and suddenly shrill and incompetent Jan (Melora Hardin); the painful breakup of Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Angela (Angela Kinsey), TVs most perfect romantic match. Season Five, though it has it's chare of go-nowhere elements, is a lot stronger, and funnier for it.

The series is running into some obvious problems though—how to progress the plots without changing the fundamental dynamics of the show. Even as the long-running romance between Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fisher) is taken to the next level, the writers attempt to give Pam a little bit more depth by exploring her ambitions to succeed as an artist. The character travels to New York for an art program for a few episodes, and then just as suddenly gives up on a lifelong dream because she fails one class. Jim, who previously expressed ambition to move on from Dunder-Mifflin, is suddenly dedicated to a long career there. It's a little frustrating, and the show is a lot better when it focuses on what it does best: office politics.

Plenty of politics going on this year, too: Michael's romance with a new HR rep, Holly (slumming Oscar nominee Amy Ryan) creates some friction between the loyal corporate man and upper management. A new boss (The Wire's Idris Elba) replaces Jan and shows little patience for Jim's practical jokes or Michael's... unique management style. And, midseason, the most unexpected of characters pulls a Jerry Maguire and walks out on the job, taking a few Renee Zellwegers along with him, resulting in the most entertaining series of episodes in years.

The show has done a great job of creating a loveable supporting cast over the years (though I could really do without Stanley), which sometimes poses a problem—it's hard to root for anyone in the mean-spirited Andy-Angela-Dwight love triangle that takes up the first half of the season—but also allows for unexpected pleasures, like the brief fling between warehouse worker Darryl (Craig Robinson) and customer service rep Kelly (Mindy Kaling), who is about as complex as the fashion magazines she reads on her many breaks ("Saying exactly what he's thinking? Darryl Philbin is the most complicated man I have ever met," she muses).

I'm trying to be objective here, but I have to admit, The Office is easily one of my favorite tV shows of all time, and easily the most rewatched of late. Even when it's cringe-inducing (this year's ill-conceived Christmas episode sees Michael dragging Meredith to rehab against her will, which is hardly amusing, especially since she's clearly an alcoholic) or frustrating (am I the only one who cringes whenever Jim and Pam take center stage?), it's still loveable and familiar. I can't imagine not owning every episode, and this season set contains 26 of them.

The DVD: For the first time, Universal is releasing the show in HD. I'm torn—that's how I view the episodes live, but at the same time, more than any other show I like my collection of The Office to be extremely portable, playable on my laptop, at friends' homes, rippable to my iPod. For that reason, I actually prefer to own the show on standard DVD, despite a downgrade in video quality. The shows still look and sound great, but they don't have the crystal clarity of the HD broadcasts.

As always, the DVDs include a staggering number of deleted scenes for every episode—more than three hours. The quality of the cut material is really strong (episodes are generally edited for time rather than content), and provide a lot of extra color—look for more material with Pam's Pratt classmates early on, along with a dark vision of what happened on Phyllis and Bob's honeymoon (yikes!). For the first time, the cut material is presented in anamorphic widescreen, which is a nice touch for those of us too lazy to adjust our video settings.

There are also 10 cast and crew commentaries peppered with interesting details (the guy who plays David Wallace = a real corporate banking guy, actor on the side), the requisite blooper reel and Super Bowl and Olympics promos, and an eight-minute 100 Episodes, 100 Moments highlights reel. Two webisode series—the Kevin-centric Kevin's Loan and the Oscar-focused The Outburst—add up to an additional episode's worth of material.

There's a 30-minute Q & A session with the cast and crew taken from a presentation at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (with Andy Richter as host!). And if you buy the deluxe edition at Target, I guess you get another 45-minute session with the writers. I did not, but I'm only a little bitter about it.

Posted by: Joel Cunningham - October 5, 2009, 8:06 pm - DVD Review
Keywords: steve carrell, ricky gervais, michael scott paper company, nard-dog




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