If Judge Erich Asperschlager could go back in time, he'd definitely hire Scrantonicity to play at his wedding.
Our reviews of The Office (UK) Special Edition (published December 1st, 2011), The Office: Season Two (published September 18th, 2006), The Office: Season Four (published September 2nd, 2008), The Office: Season Five (published September 8th, 2009), The Office: Season Five (Blu-ray) (published September 8th, 2009), The Office: Season Six (published September 7th, 2010), The Office: Season Six (Blu-ray) (published September 13th, 2010), The Office: Season Seven (published September 22nd, 2011), The Office: Season Seven (Blu-ray) (published September 14th, 2011), The Office: Season Eight (Blu-ray) (published September 2nd, 2012), and The Office: Season One (published October 5th, 2005) are also available.
"They call it Scranton! (what?) / The electric city! / Scranton!
(what?) / The electric city! / You like coal mines and you wanna see 'em?
/ Well, check it out yo! / The Anthracite Museum!"
It took until the third season for me to give the American version of The Office a chance. I'd already seen the full British series when the first episode of the remake hit NBC in 2005, which, as far as I could tell, used the same script as the British premiere. Freaked out by the strangers filling the office chairs of the original cast I knew and loved, and disappointed by what seemed to be another cheap American knock-off, I changed the channel and didn't look back. Despite pleas from my sister who guaranteed I'd love it, and rumblings that early growing pains had given way to a brilliant comedy in its own right, I kept my distance for two seasons.
I finally decided to give it a chance in the third season, and it was one of the best TV decisions I made that year. By January, my wife and I had gotten caught up with the second season on DVD, and we finished the year looking forward to each new episode, missing it during the breaks, and re-watching them in rerun and NBC-specialty "super-sized" form. Like every other Office fan, we left the season finale cheering and wondering what the fourth season would bring.
While we wait to see what effect the season-ending revelations and changes will have on this upcoming year of The Office, I can't think of a better way to prepare than by revisiting the brilliant third season on DVD. Universal has once again released a standout set, with a truly impressive slate of extras that, as the box says, "work overtime."
Facts of the Case
The Office: Season Three contains all 22 episodes (23 if you count the combined "Traveling Salesmen/The Return" as two episodes), "super-sized" where applicable, over four discs:
• "The Convention"
• "The Coup"
• "Grief Counseling"
• "Branch Closing"
• "The Convict"
• "A Benihana Christmas"
• "Back from Vacation"
• "Ben Franklin"
• "Phyllis' Wedding"
• "Business School"
• "The Negotiation"
• "Product Recall"
• "Women's Appreciation"
• "Beach Games"
• "The Job"
With its second season, The Office moved out from under the shadow of its British counterpart. As much as I liked the original—and at the risk of getting a steaming cup of Earl Grey thrown in my face—I must admit I prefer the American version, in part because it feels less "mean." Michael Scott (Steve Carell, Little Miss Sunshine) may be self-centered, insensitive, and horrible as a manager, but he's not as intentionally cruel as David Brent (Ricky Gervais, Extras), his across-the-pond counterpart—at least not since Michael's second-season transformation from slick-haired and creepy to lovably oblivious. Call it an American bastardization if you want, but I think the reason The Office works so well is that it has heart. Michael might be childish and wildly insensitive, but he loves what he does.
If I had to choose a word to describe this third season, it would have to be "change." Or maybe "relationships." Maybe both, though that'd be two words. Okay, how about this: if I had to choose one word to describe this third season, it would be "changeationships." We see the "change" part right away, with Jim's transfer to the Stamford, Conn., branch of Dunder-Mifflin, after "the kiss" and Pam's final rebuff. Taking Jim out of Scranton was a bold move, and, though you could argue it wasn't completely successful, it allowed us to see the Scranton gang through the eyes of some great new characters, like Karen Filippelli (Rashida Jones, Freaks and Geeks) and Andy Bernard (Ed Helms, The Daily Show). It also gave us some classic moments, like Jim floundering in an office-wide game of Call of Duty (in "The Coup").
As for relationships, we get to see the cast paired up in all kinds of ways, from the romantic (Michael and Jan, Jim and Karen, Dwight and Angela, Phyllis and Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration) to the adversarial (Dwight and Andy, Dwight and Michael, Angela and Everybody) to the hilarious (Ryan and Dwight, Ryan and Stanley). Seeing different characters play off each other shakes up the story and, frankly, gives me hope for the show's future: it can only be about Jim and Pam's "will they, won't they" relationship for so long.
This season has everything: romance, betrayal, violence, and several deaths (though at least two of them are birds). There are, in fact, some pretty moving moments, made all the more dramatic by the surrounding absurdity. Characters who spent most of the first two years in the background get chances to shine, and by setting so many storylines out of the office—at a convention, a wedding, business school, a Diwali celebration—we get to see Michael embarrass himself in front of brand-new people. Adding to the variety this year are some big-name guest writers (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant) and directors (Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, Harold Ramis). In a season when the writers and actors could easily have relied on the series' popularity and established character quirks to phone it in, they pushed the show in new directions and delivered the best season yet.
Watching these episodes again, I'm amazed by the number of classic Office moments in this season: faxes from "future Dwight," vampire Jim, the cell phone in the ceiling, Ryan's initiation, Michael's unfortunate suit choice, Creed's blog, Prison Mike. If you've seen them, you know what I'm talking about. If not, you're in for a treat. The Office is among a select number of comedies that stay funny through repeat viewings, which—along with its clean anamorphic video (sans annoying "lower third" ads)—makes it perfect for DVD.
If infinite replayability isn't a compelling enough reason to buy this set, the quantity (and quality) of extras should have you reaching for your credit card. There are fun diversions, like the vending machine how-to of "Kevin Cooks Stuff in the Office," the winning entries of the "Make Your Own Promo" contest, wraparounds made originally for "Cast of The Office"-hosted evenings on NBC, an apparently fan-made "Dwight Schrute Music Video," a Joss Whedon interview, a blooper reel, and the full "Lazy Scranton" video. What's that? You want more? How about eight commentary tracks that are insightful and funny, recorded by writers, actors, and (on two of them) guest director Harold Ramis? Not enough? Get this: there are deleted scenes for every episode in this set. I know, I know. Most DVD deleted scenes seem like afterthoughts, made up of material that deserved to hit the cutting room floor. If you watched the previous Office DVD sets, however, you'll know that's not the case here. There are over three hours of deleted scenes in this set—scenes that, in a perfect world, would have made it into the finished shows. Subplots are fleshed out, and hilarious sequences are made more hilarious in the approximately ten extra minutes of footage available for every episode. If you needed another reason to buy The Office: Season Three, this is it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I loved the extras, my only gripes about this set come from the bonus features. Rather than having the option of playing an episode commentary from the main episode list, you have to go to the "Commentaries" section of the bonus materials menu to find them. It's a minor annoyance, but the extra steps seem unnecessary. Another annoyance is that, unlike the episodes themselves, the deleted scenes are not presented in anamorphic widescreen. I got pretty tired of having to manually change the settings on my set between each episode and its deleted scenes. I guess if you really want to get picky, the DVD cases are designed so two discs overlap each other, forcing you to remove one disc to have access to the one beneath it. I guess that's the price of progress.
For fans of The Office, buying this set is a no-brainer. I'm not even going to call it "the American version," because I think by now it's proven itself, with some of the sharpest writing, funniest acting, and most memorable characters on current network television. If you're new to the series, I'd recommend working your way up through all three seasons. Don't worry, though. It's money well spent, no matter where you have to work to earn it.
Michael Scott may be guilty of many things, but appearing on a lousy DVD ain't one of them. Not guilty!
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