Universal // 2005 // 405 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // September 2nd, 2008
Jim: Alright, I just have to ask. Now that we're public, um, is the magic
Pam: It's funny you bring that up because yes it is.
Jim: I knew it...Oh, man. Just like that, huh?
Pam: I think, I mean, I don't know what it is, but --
Jim: Be honest.
Pam: -- I now find you repulsive.
Jim: That's honest. (sigh) Alright, fair enough. It was really fun while it lasted, though, wasn't it?
NBC had grand plans for The Office's fourth season. They ordered 25 episodes -- made up of 20 regular-length episodes and five hour-longs -- as part of a strategy to limit reruns and give fans more of that sweet Scranton goodness. 2007 was shaping up to be a truly epic year at Dunder Mifflin. Then the writers went on strike.
After the dust settled, fans were left with just 14 episodes and the dream of what could have been. Even with the five double-length episodes, The Office fell a full 11 episodes short of NBC's much-touted goal. That may be more math than I'm used to, but it boils down to this: With the exception of the first season, The Office: Season Four is the series' shortest yet.
Length problems aside (that's what she said), the episodes that aired met with mixed reviews from a grumbling fan base. Some people complained that Jim and Pam's dating ruined their chemistry. Others didn't like the show's darker storylines. Still others felt the show focused too much on some characters while ignoring others. But The Office has always been its best on DVD, and Season Four is no exception. Separated from the strike-related hoopla of unmet expectations and a painful mid-season hiatus, it's time for fans to give this criminally underrated season a second chance.
The Office: Season Four contains all 14 episodes, across 4 discs:
* "Fun Run"
After Michael hits an employee with his car, he tries to break the office "curse" by organizing a charity fun run to cure an already curable disease.
* "Dunder Mifflin Infinity"
No longer "The Temp," Ryan makes his triumphant return as Michael's boss. But when he unveils a corporate initiative to bring the company into the 21st Century, Michael and Dwight take it upon themselves to prove that the old ways still work.
* "Launch Party"
When he doesn't get invited to Ryan's fancy New York party celebrating the launch of the new corporate web site, Michael turns the Scranton satellite party into a hostage situation.
In dire financial straits, Michael is forced to take a second job.
* "Local Ad"
Corporate asks Michael to take part in filming a commerical for the Scranton branch. What they don't ask him to do is fire the ad executives and make it himself.
* "Branch Wars"
When Michael finds out a former employee is trying to lure a current employee away to Dunder Mifflin's Utica branch, he, Dwight, and an unwary Jim set off to teach her a lesson.
* "Survivor Man"
Inspired by a weekend-long corporate camping trip he was not invited to join, Michael asks Dwight to drop him off in the middle of the woods so he can prove...something.
* "The Deposition"
Michael is deposed in Jan's wrongful termination lawsuit against Dunder Mifflin, putting him in an unfortunate (and inarticulate) position.
* "Dinner Party"
Uncomfortable silences and simmering tensions are on the menu, when Jim and Pam are invited to a dinner party at Michael and Jan's condo.
* "The Chair Model"
Newly single, Michael decides the woman of his dreams has been right in front of him the whole time -- in the office supply catalog.
* "Night Out"
Michael and Dwight join an suspiciously peppy Ryan for a night of clubbing in New York City.
* "Did I Stutter?"
Stanley's insubordination leaves Michael in the uncomfortable position of actually having to do something about it.
* "Job Fair"
Armed with a single sheet of blank paper and Pam as "eye candy," Michael searches for the perfect summer intern, at a local high school job fair.
* "Goodbye, Toby"
It's like Christmas morning wrapped in a lifetime of birthdays for Michael on Toby's last day at the office -- even more so after his attractive replacement, Holly, shows up.
The Office: Season Four suffered as much from unfair expectations as it did the strike-shortened season. For three years, things at Dunder Mifflin had stayed pretty much the same. But after the game changing third season finale -- Jim asking Pam out; Ryan getting promoted; psycho Jan moving in with Michael -- did fans really expect the next season would be business as usual?
Season Four is all about relationships -- from the good (Jim and Pam) to the bad (Michael and Jan) and the ugly (Dwight and Angela...Andy and Angela...Michael and Ryan) -- and how those relationships blossom and grow, or wither and die. Faced with change, some characters thrive. Others spiral out of control. Messy? Yes. Necessary? Definitely. In baseball, it's called a rebuilding year. On The Office it's just good TV.
Unlike certain heartless fans, I love seeing Jim and Pam together and happy. Does that happiness make their interactions less compelling? Not at all. At least I don't think so. Of course, given the season-ending cliffhanger, happiness haters might get their wish. I'd better be wrong about that.
If things are going great for Jim and Pam, that must mean they're falling apart for someone else. No longer king of his fluorescent-lit fiefdom, Michael spends most of the season backed into an emotional corner by his toxic relationship with Jan, and unrequited man-crush on Ryan -- lashing out at employees, ex-clients, and an unsuspecting pizza delivery boy.
Surpassing Michael in hellish misery is the one person you'd want to keep happy, if only for your own protection. Dwight's downward spiral begins when his mercy-killing of Angela's cat destroys their relationship. Knowing that he brought it on himself doesn't make it any easier to watch, especially when she starts dating again.
Michael and Dwight's emotional pain isn't comfortable to watch, but it does generate some classic material, including Dwight's foray into Second Life, his opening up the Schrute Beet Farm as a bed and breakfast, Michael's assault on Utica, and his sorta-declaration of bankruptcy.
But nothing at Scranton compares to Ryan's transformation from lowly temp to corporate villain. Having leapfrogged his co-workers, Ryan succumbs to the worst that the big-shot New York lifestyle has to offer: Buzz words, internet initiatives, $200 haircuts, and a ridiculous half-beard. B.J. Novak deserves credit not only for acting like a jerk, but for helping to write his own downfall. I'm not sure what the future has in store for The Man Who Would Be Temp, but if this is it for Ryan, what a way to go.
With Jim, Pam, Michael, Dwight, and Ryan front and center, their co-workers get less screentime than seasons past. But even with fewer storylines to spread around, the writers let everyone share in the spotlight. Season Four has plenty of memorable supporting cast moments, including Phyllis's party-planning coup, Creed's lame attempt to look younger, Stanley's showdown with Michael, Kelly's table tennis trash-talk, Toby's swan song, and a hilarious misunderstanding about Kevin's mental state.
Last year's TV season was all about the writers' strike, and so, in a way, are this set's extras. As a pre-emptive rebuff to those who'd complain about the writers whose strike ruined half the season, The Office: Season Four has several subtle reminders that making this show is hard work. The scaled-down reproduction of an early script for "The Dinner Party" (included in the packaging for a limited time) is more than a cool keepsake. It's also proof that without The Office's top-shelf writing talent there wouldn't be a show for fans to get mad about missing. And for a more personal look at the people who work their keyboards off every week, the fourth disc features a 50-plus-minute writers' roundtable, including cast members Novak, Mindy Kaling, Michael Schur (Dwight's cousin, Mose), and 10 of their colleagues -- recorded at last fall's Office convention in Scranton. When a show feels this natural, it's easy to underestimate the importance of writers. They want to make sure that we don't.
Like the previous sets, The Office: Season Four's wealth of extras is as good a reason to buy as the episodes themselves. By far the longest and best of the bonus features are over two hours of deleted scenes. Unlike most deleted scenes, what got left out of The Office is still better than 90% of anything else on TV, including more of Jim and Pam's stay at Dwight's farm, Andy's attempt to bribe his way into the Finer Things Club, and a producer/director role playing exercise between Michael and Jim gone awry.
Rounding out the extras are a blooper reel (my wife's favorite), a "The More You Know" rabies PSA, the full Dunder Mifflin commercial, a pre-season NBC promo, and cast and writer commentaries on the episodes "Money," "Local Ad," "The Deposition," and "Did I Stutter?"
Here's hoping things are back to normal for Season Five. The Office: Season Four is another winner, but I can't shake the feeling that fans are being charged full price for an incomplete set. The episodes and deleted scenes are great, but the lack of any "extra" extras to sweeten the digital deal is disappointing. Only four episode commentaries? That's half as many as last year. And while I dug the hour-long writers' roundtable, why weren't the internet-only "webisodes" included? With fewer episodes on the same number of discs, I can't imagine there wasn't enough space. And though this is about as nit-picky as you can get, what's up with the cover art -- Ryan, Pam, Michael, Jim, and Dwight photoshopped onto a fake-looking parking lot? It's lazy design, and does a fantastic set the disservice of making it look like it was rushed out the door.
For the second year running, my biggest complaint is the lack of widescreen for the extras, especially for the deleted scenes. The episodes get the crisp, beautiful anamorphic treatment. The deleted scenes -- some of which run nearly as long as the episodes -- don't. Why detract from the set's biggest selling point by giving the extras short shrift? It doesn't make sense.
If you were disappointed by The Office: Season Four, all I can do is beg you to give it a second chance on DVD. Yes, things have changed. No, there aren't as many episodes or extras. And yes, it costs as much as the previous sets. But is it overpriced? No way. The Office is great television, and whether or not this season is as good as years past, supporting the show is worth every penny. If you need to scrape together some extra money, maybe I can help. I know a guy who can get you a good deal on copy paper. Seriously.
Review content copyright © 2008 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 405 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* "Rabies: The More You Know"
* Episode Commentaries
* Blooper Reel
* "The Office Convention: Writers' Block"
* Michael Scott's Dunder Mifflin Ad
* Summer Vacation Promo
* Official Site