Judge Patrick Bromley just dundered his mifflin.
Our reviews of The Office (UK) Special Edition (published December 1st, 2011), The Office: Season Two (published September 18th, 2006), The Office: Season Three (published September 4th, 2007), 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 (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.
"It's not been a blockbuster year for me, financially. My Blockbuster
stock is down."
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:
• "The Meeting"
• "The Promotion"
• "The Lover"
• "Koi Pond"
• "Double Date"
• "Shareholder Meeting"
• "Scott's Tots"
• "Secret Santa"
• "The Banker"
• "The Manager and the Salesman"
• "The Delivery"
• "St. Patrick's Day"
• "New Leads"
• "Happy Hour"
• "Secretary's Day"
• "Body Language"
• "The Cover-Up"
• "The Chump"
• "Whistle Blower"
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.
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.
That's what she said.
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