Universal // 2006 // 477 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // September 18th, 2006
America's stuck in the office.
By now most people know that The Office is a remake of a British comedy series of the same name. The original never attained a large audience in the United States, but it still received enough acclaim to win the 2004 Golden Globe for Best Television Series: Musical or Comedy. Now its American doppelganger has just bagged a much-deserved Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series of 2006. Hot on the heels of this victory Universal is releasing the second season of the American version of The Office on DVD.
With Steve Carell's (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) rapid ascendancy into superstardom, his show has become a breakout hit. For that reason, there are few people who aren't familiar with the The Office's simple premise of a mock documentary of the banal and dysfunctional work environmental at Dunder Mifflin, a paper supply company in Scranton, PA. The documentary encompasses all of the company's employees, but its main focus is on Michael Scott (Carell), the needy supervisor whose overbearing -- and awkward -- humor thinly masks a deeply rooted self-loathing; Dwight (Rainn Wilson, Six Feet Under), Michael's obnoxious toady; Jim (John Krasinski, Jarhead), the mild-mannered pencil pusher whose intelligence is wasted in the corporate environment; and Pam (Jenna Fischer, Slither), an artist who works as a receptionist to pay the bills.
The second season of The Office contains 22 episodes spread out over four discs.
* "The Dundies"
The second season starts off strong with this instant classic. In an attempt to boost office morale at Dunder Mifflin, Michael organizes a reception to hand out his home-grown awards, the Dundies. This episode -- which culminates in a brilliantly awful emcee performance from Michael -- should have netted Carell an Emmy (voters chose to honor Tony Shalhoub's performance as Monk for a third time instead). This episode also gets special recognition for introducing Michael's sexual attraction for the office's male temp, Ryan (B.J. Novak).
* "Sexual Harassment"
After some off-color video clips are forwarded around the office, Toby (Paul Lieberstein), the office's human resources representative, must lay down some sexual harassment guidelines. Of course, Michael can't help but act out all the inappropriate behavior he can think of, which leads to 22 minutes of juvenile "that's what she said" punch lines and some great prop humor involving a blow-up doll. The joy with which this show breaks office taboos, and the inevitable awkwardness that ensues, is its stock in trade. This episode shows off The Office's strengths better than any other.
* "Office Olympics"
Michael lets Dwight tag along as he finalizes the paperwork on his purchase of a condo. While Michael is gone the office staff cease their work to engage in a series of office Olympic events, such as running with coffee and chugging M&Ms. The Olympics subplot is not so much funny as much as it is a showcase for physical activities that can be performed with office supplies. Michael and Dwight's story involving the condo is also a bit light on humor, and some of the jokes -- such as Michael and Dwight being confused for a gay couple -- are rather pedestrian considering the high standard set by the first two episodes.
* "The Fire"
Though this is the fourth episode of the season, it would be a great place to start for those who are unfamiliar with the show. After the fire alarm goes off, the office staff all mill about in the parking lot, playing games to pass time the time and, in Michael's case, making a creepy and awkward advance on the temp. This episode provides great lines and character development for practically the entire office. Oh, and it's hilarious, too.
Though this episode is named for and takes place on Halloween, the plot centers around Michael's having to lay off an employee by the end of the working day. Michael spends the entire afternoon tortured by the fear that that the laid-off employee will dislike him. This is rather a pedestrian episode until Michael begins the laying-off process, with predictably hilarious results.
* "The Fight"
After the office learns that Dwight is a purple belt in karate, he is goaded into demonstrating his aptitude by punching Michael in the stomach. His pride wounded, Michael challenges Dwight to a showdown at the local dojo. One of The Office's brilliant flourishes is that Dwight is the only employee who likes and respects Michael, and yet Dwight is also the only employee Michael dislikes. For any other show this episode would surely be one of the series highlights; for The Office it's merely average.
* "The Client"
One of the few episodes (the only episode?) where Michael shows a modicum of competence. After closing a big deal with a client (Tim Meadows, Saturday Night Live) Michael enjoys a make-out session with his boss, Jan (Melora Hardin, Thank You for Smoking). While highly enjoyable, this episode serves largely as a launching pad for Michael's hilarious ongoing delusional relationship with Jan, which pays countless dividends as the season progresses.
* "Performance Review"
Another classic. It's performance review day, but after calling employees into his office Michael plays them business-related messages from Jan and grills them on whether they can detect any sexual undertones. Later Jan comes into the office to give Michael his own performance review but he only wants to discuss their relationship. Another great performance from Carell, with outstanding support from Hardin as they both manage to inject just enough emotion into their roles to make the storyline credible, but never enough to threaten the comedy.
* "E-Mail Surveillance"
In a season full of great episodes this one may be the best. Jim's having a barbecue, and everyone's invited except for Michael. However, Michael has installed an e-mail surveillance system and learns about the gathering while reading employee e-mail. He strolls through the office trolling for an invite, and some of the most painful comedy of the series ensures. While the British version was more consistently uncomfortable, this episode contains about as many cringes as a Neil LaBute film. For those unfamiliar with In the Company of Men, that's a lot of cringes.
* "Christmas Party"
A very strong episode detailing the problems with gift giving in the office, particularly the Yankee Swap. We employed the same exact method of gift giving in my office last Christmas, though after watching this episode I unsuccessfully lobbied against it. Predictably, the results were about as awkward as those here, but nowhere near as funny.
* "Booze Cruise"
While the main plot involves Michael taking the office on a motivational boat ride in December, the episode's key occurrence is Jim dumping Katy (Amy Adams, Junebug), his cheerleader girlfriend. This adds an extra level of strain to the season-long, sweet/awkward courtship between Jim and Pam, who happens to be engaged. "Booze Cruise" is an episode that would be exceptionally strong for most any other sitcom, but is overshadowed in a season with such incredible highs.
* "The Injury"
The injury in question is Michael burning his foot on a George Foreman Grill (you'll have to watch the show to hear his explanation). This is another great episode, with Michael reveling in his complete dependency on his employees. This episode is also noteworthy for some further subtle references to Michael's crush on the temp, one of my favorite subplots of the series.
* "The Secret"
While on the Booze Cruise Jim had confided in Michael ("The world's worst confidante") that he used to have a crush on Pam. It takes Michael a little less than half a day to spill Jim's secret to the rest of the office. This is a solid episode, but lacks any of the belly laughs the show frequently elicits.
* "The Carpet"
Michael comes into work and finds a mysterious, malodorous substance in the middle of his carpet. Even after the substance is removed the office still reeks, necessitating the removal of the entire carpet. While it's being removed, Michael runs amok around the office, distracting employees and seeking sympathy for being the victim of a "hate crime." This is another solid episode, with bonus points awarded for a guest appearance by Ken Howard of White Shadow fame.
* "Boys and Girls"
Jan comes down from the corporate office for a "Women in the Workplace" seminar. Michael is offended that he cannot sit in on the seminar, and initiates a "Men in the Workplace" seminar, which largely consists of him antagonizing the company's blue-collar work force and destroying their warehouse. A solid but uneventful episode.
* "Valentine's Day"
Michael goes to New York to give a presentation on his branch's fiscal strength to the company's new CFO. Meanwhile, Dwight's relationship with the rigid account Angela (Angela Kinsey) is stepped up a notch as she buys him a bobble-head representation of himself for V-Day and he gets her a special gift of his own. Highlight: Michael's overwrought "The Faces of Scranton" presentation played over U2's "With or Without You."
* "Dwight's Speech"
One of the few misfires in an otherwise consistent season. Dwight wins the Salesman of the Year award and has to give an acceptance speech in front of a large audience. To overcome his stage fright Dwight employs aggressive histrionics, banging his fist on the podium and delivering a rousing, fascist-style speech. The episode certainly has laughs, but its humor is a bit too absurd compared to the show's usual riffs on office ennui. Still, the fact that the worst episode of the season is this good is a testament to the show's excellence.
* "Take Your Daughter to Work Day"
Another great episode. While none of the show's leads have kids, many of the supporting characters bring in their children, and hilarity ensues. There is no overarching plot, just plenty of Michael's faux pas and great support from the rest of the cast.
* "Michael's Birthday"
On the same day as Michael's birthday, Kevin (Brian Baumgartner), one of the office accountants, has a cancer scare. While everyone worries about the results of Kevin's biopsy, Michael pouts because no one is celebrating his birthday. Another good episode, with great supporting work from Dwight, who by this point in the season has clearly emerged as not only the best supporting character on the show, but perhaps the best in television.
* "Drug Testing"
Dwight is a fantastic character, but somehow the previous episode featuring him prominently ("Dwight's Speech") was one of the season's weakest. Here Dwight takes the lead again, this time after half a marijuana joint is found in the company parking lot. In his role as a voluntary sheriff's deputy, Dwight interrogates the entire staff on every aspect of their personal life. This is a far better showcase for Dwight's many charms than "Dwight's Speech." Note: to find out whose joint it was you'll have to check the deleted scenes.
* "Conflict Resolution"
The show approaches the end of the season with this strong episode. Under duress, Toby, the office's human resources manager, gives Michael access to the file containing the employees' grievances. Michael then goes through each individual complaint and tries to foster resolution, but merely manages to exacerbate the staff tension. The reading of Dwight's many complaints lodged against Jim is one of the best minutes in television produced last year.
* "Casino Night"
A great ending to an absolutely phenomenal season. For the office's casino night Michael somehow manages to snag two dates, neither of whom can believe she has competition. Also, two unlikely office mates end up getting a hotel room together. Plenty of laughs, and a cliffhanger that should have everyone tuning in for the impending Season Three premiere.
In my lifetime there have been three great American sitcoms: Cheers, Seinfeld, and The Larry Sanders Show. There have been countless very good sitcoms, but greatness is highly elusive in a medium that seems to reward mediocrity (see According to Jim) and ignore innovation (see Arrested Development). The Office has only aired two seasons, one of which only contained six episodes. Still, on the strength of its second season, The Office shows it has the potential to become the first show of the 21st century to join the pantheon of great situational comedies.
I was a huge fan of the original, British incarnation of The Office. Because of my loyalty to that show I was strongly opposed to an American remake, which I was certain would embarrass everyone involved and diminish the original by association. When I heard Steve Carell was involved it only validated my fears (I am not a fan of Anchorman and found his performance in Bruce Almighty a little broad). Still, I watched the pilot -- an almost line-for-line copy of the British show -- and though it wasn't as horrible as I had feared, I stopped watching. Over the following months I began to hear mutterings about how much the show was improving. Then, the following year, I began to hear the show was really good. Soon afterward it reached "you have to watch this!" status. Somehow the deafening buzz -- and the aggressiveness with which the series was pushed -- produced a resistance in me, and I never got around to watching the show until I was assigned to review it.
My biggest fear was that, in an attempt to appeal to American audiences, the show wouldn't retain the abrasiveness and uncomfortable pauses of the original. I suppose part of my fear was rooted in the belief that Americans don't understand or appreciate the humor that comes from the awkwardness of human interactions. It seems like most American sitcoms tend to mine their humor from quips and bad puns, and buttress these with canned laughter, the television equivalent of Astro-Turf. Thankfully, The Office employs no laugh track, and may even ramp up the discomfort of the original. There are some episodes that will probably make you cringe nearly as often as Faces of Death.
What elevates the show into greatness are realistic and well-developed characters and a cast that almost never seems to be trying to make you laugh. Though I had previously had little regard for Carell's comedic talent, The Office, in conjunction with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine, may have launched him into comedy genius territory in only a few years' time. Additionally, Rainn Wilson's performance as Dwight was criminally overlooked at this year's Emmy Awards. However, one of the most astounding things about The Office is how literally every single cast member brings something to their character. Many of the actors are experienced improv actors, many are writers for the show, and a few are actual office workers. The show's creators have done a phenomenal job of giving each character a strongly defined personality regardless of how often they appear each week. This is something that is extremely rare for a cast this large (even Cheers had nondescript barflies like Paul). But even more rare is a show that is this consistently funny.
Universal has released a fantastic DVD set for this Emmy Award–winning comedy. The video is sharp and bright and perfectly captures the numbing, fluorescent office environment. Additionally, there is a small treasure trove of extras spread out over the four discs. Most notable are the ample deleted scenes provided for each individual episode. The majority of these excised scenes are just about as funny as what made it into the show. There is also some lively commentary with assorted cast members and producers on ten selected episodes. In addition, NBC has generously provided several fake public service announcements featuring The Office cast members. While some of these are rather dull, there are a few -- such as B.J. Novak imploring viewers never to record themselves having sex -- that are quite droll. The ten "webisodes" -- a series of short clips comprising one full-length episode -- which were previously only available online, are also included here. All in all, any fan of the show will be more than happy with the hours of bonus material here. If you're a fan there really is no reason not to pick this up.
Those who can't get enough of The Office might be interested to know there is now a French version of the show, aptly named Le Bureau. As in the British version, the first season consists of six episodes. I'm currently trying to hunt down the show on DVD, which was released in Europe in August. I have doubts that lightning will strike thrice and that this show will also be highly entertaining, but hey, I've been wrong before.
The Office has quickly become my favorite show currently playing on network television. Though I had been resisting it for the past two years, I'll be there for the Season Three premiere later this month.
Not guilty. Now get back to work.
Review content copyright © 2006 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2006 Nominee
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 477 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary on 10 Episodes by the Actors, Writers, Directors, and Producers
* Deleted Scenes
* "Faces of Scranton" video (from the episode "Valentine's Day")
* Fake PSAs
* Webisodes from NBC.com
* Blooper Reel
* Olympics Promo
* Steve on Steve
* Official Site
* DVD Verdict Review of Season 1
* Official site for Le Bureau