Case Number 19622

THE OFFICE: SEASON SIX

Universal // 2009 // 604 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // September 7th, 2010

The Charge

"It's not been a blockbuster year for me, financially. My Blockbuster stock is down."
-- Michael Scott, "The Whistle Blower"

Opening Statement

I'm a diehard fan of The Office, and for its first five seasons it was my favorite show on TV -- if not one of my favorite shows of all time. In fact, every year before the new season begins, my wife and I rewatch the series from the beginning. I can't say that about any other show.

But watching Season Six in its original NBC run this last fall, something about the show seemed different. Changes were being made that weren't working. Jokes were falling flat. For the first time, The Office seemed to be running on fumes. Now, with the newly-DVD set of the season, we can revisit the last 24 episodes and hopefully answer this question: is Season Six when the show finally jumped the shark?

Facts of the Case

Here are the episodes that make up The Office: Season Six:

* "Gossip"
Picking up the summer after the Season Five finale, Michael Scott (Steve Carell, Dan in Real Life) decides to spread rumors around the office after learning something about Stanley (Leslie David Baker); Jim (John Krasinski, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men) and Pam (Jenna Fischer, Blades of Glory) come clean to the office about their big news.

* "The Meeting"
Jim's meeting with Dunder Mifflin CEO David Wallace has Michael very nervous; Dwight (Rainn Wilson, Monsters vs. Aliens) and Toby (Paul Lieberstein, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard) take it upon themselves to investigate a worker's comp claim from Darryl (Craig Robinson, Hot Tub Time Machine).

* "The Promotion"
Jim and Michael have to make a tough decision regarding company bonuses; Pam tries to convince her co-workers to give cash for her upcoming wedding.

* "Niagara"
The whole office travels to Niagara Falls for the wedding of Pam and Jim, while trying to keep the couples' news a secret from Pam's conservative grandma; Andy (Ed Helms, The Hangover) suffers an injury while dancing; the weekend goes badly for Pam.

* "Mafia"
Andy and Dwight convince Michael that a pushy insurance salesman (guest Mike Starr, The Ice Harvest) is tied to the mob; the office won't leave Pam and Jim alone on their Puerto Rican honeymoon.

* "The Lover"
Michael reveals the identity of his new girlfriend to Jim and Pam, who don't take the news well; Dwight attempts to spy on Jim.

* "Koi Pond"
Michael embarrasses himself by falling into a koi pond on a sales call, but there's more to the story than anyone suspects; Pam and Andy make cold calls together and are mistaken for a couple.

* "Double Date"
Pam and Jim finally relent to go on a double date with Michael and his new girlfriend, but the lunch goes badly when Michael starts having second thoughts about the relationship; Andy and Dwight engage in one-upsmanship of niceness when Dwight attempts to have Andy owe him a favor.

* "Murder"
Bad news about the future of Dunder Mifflin leads Michael to create a distraction: a murder-mystery role playing game; Andy attempts to ask out Erin (Ellie Kemper, Mystery Team).

* "Shareholder Meeting"
Michael is invited to sit onstage during a contentious Dunder Mifflin shareholder meeting, so he brings along Dwight and Andy as backup; Ryan (B.J. Novak, Inglourious Basterds) spreads rumors about the limits of Jim's authority.

* "Scott's Tots"
Michael is called upon to make good on a 10-year-old promise where he promised to pay for the college education of an entire class of students; Dwight convinces Jim to start an employee-of-the-month program in an effort to get him fired.

* "Secret Santa"
Jim takes control of the office's yearly Christmas party, but runs into trouble when he promises Phyllis (Phyllis Smith) that she can play Santa -- a job traditionally reserved for Michael; Andy gives Erin the "12 days of Christmas" for her secret Santa gift with disastrous results.

* "The Banker"
A possible buyer for Dunder Mifflin comes to the office to get information about the company. A clip show.

* "Sabre"
Michael grows increasingly nervous about the policies being instituted by the company's new buyer; Pam and Jim interview at an exclusive day care, but Jim makes a mistake that threatens to blow the whole thing.

* "The Manager and the Salesman"
Kathy Bates (Misery) guest stars as Jo Bennett, CEO of Sabre, who visits Dunder Mifflin to do some restructuring of management; Jim discovers that sales staff could possibly make more money than managers; Andy hands out Valentine's Day cards and causes miscommunication in the office.

* "The Delivery"
Pam attempts to hold out as long as possible before going to the hospital to give birth; Dwight and Angela (Angela Kinsey, License to Wed) enter into a contract; Michael attempts to play cupid in the office.

* "St. Patrick's Day"
With Jo still visiting the Dunder Mifflin offices, the staff is stuck at work late on St. Patrick's Day; Darryl makes a big impression on the new boss; Andy and Erin have their first date.

* "New Leads"
When the sales staff gets overly aggressive, Michael gets resentful and withholds the new leads.

* "Happy Hour"
Still trying to hit on a warehouse employee, Oscar (Oscar Nunez, The Proposal) arranges a happy hour outing for the staff; Andy and Erin run into trouble while trying to keep their relationship under wraps; Michael attempts to impress a friend of Pam.

* "Secretary's Day"
Andy tries to make Secretary's Day special for Erin, but his plan backfires when she learns about his history with Angela; Oscar makes a video goofing on Kevin that becomes a hit around the office.

* "Body Language"
Michael can't determine if a new client (Amy Pietz, The Whole Ten Yards) is flirting with him or just trying to get a discount; Dwight talks Kelly (Mindy Kaling, The 40-Year Old Virgin) into joining a new training program.

* "The Cover-Up"
Michael suspects his new girlfriend may be cheating on him, so he asks Dwight to investigate; Andy expresses concerns over the new printers but is largely ignored.

* "The Chump"
Michael learns the truth about his new girlfriend; Pam and Jim struggle with working full-time with a baby at home.

* "Whistle Blower"
The press learns about the issue with the new printers, bringing Jo Bennett back to Dunder Mifflin to find out the identity of the whistle blower; Michael does his best to protect the employee(s) who may have spoken to the press.

The Evidence

There is a moment in The Office: Season Six where it did feel like, yes, The Office has officially jumped the shark. It occurs about two-thirds of the way into "New Leads," when Dwight and Michael are searching for some valuable notecards which were accidentally (sort of, not really) thrown away. The sequence -- which is obviously shot in front of a green screen and unnaturally lit to terrible effect -- is so badly conceived and executed that you can't believe this is the show you've been in love with for five previous seasons. It just looks so bad that you wish someone had the good sense to scrap the bit; what's more, the whole scene is about two guys chasing each other around a giant dump. It sweats and pushes for laughs in a way that The Office has never had to do and it all just feels disastrously desperate. It doesn't help that two relatively new shows, Community and Parks and Recreation, had great seasons and quickly became the stars of NBC's Thursday night lineup, making The Office and 30 Rock seem like rusty, washed-up shells of their former selves by comparison.

But watching Season Six again, it wasn't as bad as I remember it being. Yes, it's still the weakest season of The Office to date and, yes, the show feels like it's repeating itself in a lot of ways. But watching the whole a season a second time through, I noticed the ways in which it's different; the writers have continually tried to keep the show and the characters evolving, for better or worse. I'm not really interested in new characters being added to the show, but The Office has always been smart about knowing exactly how new people fit in and just how long to use them without allowing them to overstay their welcome. Ellie Kemper's receptionist Erin becomes a full-fledged member of the Dunder Mifflin staff this season, and she's a fantastic addition: adorable and funny and carving out her own unique way of being kooky and offbeat. Her burgeoning relationship with Ed Helms' Andy gives the season its hook of sweetness, particularly now that Jim and Pam have settled into comfortable familiarity. I don't mean that as a criticism; The Office has played that relationship so smart and continues to do so. Rather than inventing drama for the sake of drama (I'm looking at you, Ross and Rachel), the show is just allowed to celebrate two people being in love and building a family together.

The Sabre plotline, while not my favorite in the show's history, at least attempts to acknowledge what's happening in the world right now. I'm not sure you could do a show about a mid-level paper company season after season without acknowledging that it might be difficult for them to stay above water (to the show's credit, it often makes mention of the fact that their days seem to be numbered without making it the centerpiece of the series). And, now, with the economy being the way it is, it makes sense that The Office would work that into the fabric of the show and at least try to push things in a new direction. Again, I'm not positive all of it works (particularly a late-season development about some cheap and potentially dangerous printers), but I like that the series is always ambitious without overreaching. It's often easy to not even notice exactly how canny The Office is; it's a smart show that doesn't often call attention to that fact. To me, that's a success.

In the end, I would say I was too hard on The Office: Season Six. Yes, in the context of the new Thursday night lineup, the show was no longer the untouchable superstar it once was. But, taken on its own, it's still a great, character-driven comedy with one of the best ensembles on television. It leans a bit heavily on the discomfort-comedy of Season One (I'm not sure I'll ever be able to watch "Scott's Tots" again) and, of course, lacks the romantic hook of the Pam-and-Jim-heavy Seasons Two and Three -- the high point of the series. But Season Six pays off that relationship fittingly with a wedding episode that's better than it got credit for; that it opens with everyone throwing up on camera is proof that the writers were gleefully looking to undercut sentimental expectations -- even though the episode eventually makes good on those, too. It's an imperfect season, yes, but only in comparison to the almost impossibly high standard that the show sets for itself. With few exceptions (like the aforementioned "New Leads"), The Office remains one of the best shows on TV.

The 24 episodes (including two double-length episodes, "Niagara" and "The Delivery") that make up The Office: Season Six are spread across five discs, all presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Like all of the past seasons of The Office, the image quality is fantastic: clean, bright and sharp with no visible flaws. Though it may some of the detail that, say, the HD Blu-ray presentation can provide, I've got no complaints about the DVD transfer of the show. The 5.1 audio track is equally dependable, mostly making use of the front channels to handle the dialogue but occasionally filling in the rear channels with ambient "office" sounds (phones ringing, computer keys clicking away) that help make the track a more immersive experience.

As always, Universal has outfitted the set with a host of extras. They're the usual variety we've come to expect from The Office: several commentary tracks, a couple of featurettes and, best of all, a ton of deleted scenes. This feature has always been the best part of the Office DVDs, because it's nothing more than an extension of the episodes themselves. Usually, the deleted materials amount to just extra jokes and added bits of business, but sometimes entire storylines are found to have been scrapped (like in the deleted scenes for "Mafia," in which there's a whole subplot about the office pitting Erin against honeymooning Pam). Watching the deleted scenes is actually a fascinating exercise; on their own, most are pretty funny, but you can understand that they just weren't quite right for the show. It's a testament to just how high the standards are and just how delicate the editing on The Office really is.

In addition to the deleted scenes, there are commentaries over six of the episodes (including "Niagara" and "The Delivery") from the show's creative staff and cast -- which, in the case of producer/writer/stars Mindy Kaling, B.J. Novak and Paul Lieberstein, are one and the same. Carell and John Krasinski are once again absent, but the commentaries are still a lot of fun and give a sense of what it's like to put together an episode of the show. There's a quite lengthy blooper reel which consists mostly of people screwing up takes; maybe it's just because I have so much goodwill towards the cast or maybe it's because they're actually funny people, but I found the blooper reel to be really enjoyable for a change. Usually, they're just self-indulgent (which I guess is true of this one, too, but I still liked it). Additionally, there is a series of shorts created for the internet which essentially add up to a bonus episode called "The Podcast," centering on Sabre employee Gabe attempting to record a show about working at Dunder Mifflin. None of the principal actors appear, but the entire supporting cast is on hand and the piece is enjoyable.

Also included is the very funny Christian Slater Sabre PSA, presented in its entirety, a handful of Olympic-themed promos and "The Hunting Party," a Season Two episode of Parks and Recreation. That show just may have eclipsed The Office this year in terms of quality. Maybe that's where all of Greg Daniels' attention is going.

Closing Statement

Even though Season Six has its share of rough patches, it's nothing that a little course correcting couldn't repair going into Season Seven. Alas, the next season of The Office will be Steve Carell's last, and while I would hope that Greg Daniels and NBC would get the hint and decide to call it a day, I suspect the allure of the 'al 'ighty 'ollar will be too much too resist. That's too bad. I want The Office to be a show that goes out on top.

The Verdict

That's what she said.

Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 90
Audio: 85
Extras: 70
Acting: 90
Story: 81
Judgment: 84

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 604 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurettes
* Digital Shorts
* Blooper Reel
* Promo Gallery
* Bonus Episode

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0386676/combined

* Official Site
http://www.nbc.com/The_Office