The Office: Season 3

The best show on television has another season on DVD. Don't waste your time with this review, just go out and buy the damn thing. After showing some promise in an abbreviated Season 1, The Office became the hands down funniest show on television during Season 2. It made stars of the four main actors, Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, and Jenna Fischer, all of whom are trying to turn their small screen fame into big screen stardom with varying degrees of success. It won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series and Carell won a Golden Globe. There seemed little room to go up with Season 3.

The show didn’t, in fact, go up but it did maintain its excellent quality, putting Season 3 on par with Season 2. The format is still a documentary with the accompanying talking head commentary. Carell’s Michael Scott is the same insensitive, unaware, unfunny boss who considers himself God’s gift to, well, everything. In addition to the usual workplace issues, Michael ends up in two relationships. First with his real estate agent Carol (Carell’s wife Nancy Walls) and later a reprise of his fling with boss Jan (Melora Hardin), although this time it sticks. Michael’s ineptness in forming and breaking up relationships adds another layer to areas where he can humiliate himself and others for our benefit.

Jim (Krasinski) has moved to the Stamford Branch after laying his love for Pam (Fischer) on the line at the end of Season 2. The difficult trick of showing both the Scranton and Stamford branches for the first eight episodes is handled nicely and allows the introduction of two excellent new characters; Jim’s love interest Karen (Rashida Jones) and butt-kissing Dwight-rival Andy (Ed Helms.) Andy has many Dwight-like characteristics without being a clone and his toadying antics followed up with an anger-management class rebirth is a strong addition to the show. Karen’s presence gives Jim a chance to be charming without subjecting viewers to another full season of Jim/Pam yearning. Something that shows like “Friends” and “Cheers” did which eventually turned the relationships into punch lines.

The focus of most of the early episodes moves heavily away from either Dwight-torment or Jim/Pam stuff that dominated Season 2, allowing other characters to shine. Oscar (Oscar Nunez) is out-ed in the hilarious “Gay Witch Hunt” and Ryan (B.J. Novak) moves up to trying to learn sales tricks from Dwight in “Initiation.” When the branches merge, there is a nice balance of Michael idiocy (“The Convict”), Andy-Dwight conflict (“Traveling Salesmen”), and even a focus on Darryl (the excellent Craig Robinson) in two or three episodes.

The Jim/Karen/Pam story is given the right amount of time without overwhelming all the jokes and situations that a large group of top-notch actors, writers, and directors (including guest directors Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, and Harold Ramis) can provide. Some storylines or character arcs don’t works as well (Jan’s descent to basket-case is annoying, Creed moves from funny-odd to unbelievable) but mostly every story, joke, or situation hits just the right note.

Although the DVD lists 22 episodes, several are “supersized” and last for ten to fifteen minutes longer than the usual episode. Also, “Traveling Salesman” and “The Return,” which were aired on consecutive weeks, are merged into one episode on the DVD. So you get good bang for your buck even before considering the DVD extras. Season 3 brings another well deserved Outstanding Comedy Series nomination as well as nominations for Carell, Wilson, and Fischer. Wilson should be a lock just for his prostration scene during “The Coup.” Catch that and the rest of this not-groundbreaking but still hilarious show. Not content to having created the funniest show on television, The Office producers have also put together the most consistently entertaining DVD package out there. The formula has not strayed much from the excellent Season 2 set (except in one key way) and at around $35, this four-disc set is a tremendous value even for someone who has the entire season on their DVR.

The key extra for The Office has always been the deleted scenes. During the season, we would often log onto the show’s website to get the selection of deleted scenes doled out over the next week. These were typically bits that were cut for time rather than quality and they were almost uniformly as good as anything in the show itself. The scenes included in the DVD package include those released on the website but also many others that haven’t been seen before (at least by me.) In fact, most episodes have eight to ten minutes of additional scenes, or around three hours of extra material.

In what is obviously an indication that the shows bigwigs read our Season 2 review, the commentary tracks have reduced the number of participants, which has significantly increased their enjoyment level. Last season’s commentary tracks always included six to ten actors or production people and it was unwieldy and not very relevant or funny. This season, the number of participants is almost always three or four (the final episode “The Job” has six, and is the worst of the lot) and the commentaries, which are included on eight episodes, are much more interesting and informative.

Once again, Steve Carell does not participate in the commentaries and the work horses are B.J. Novak, who is very knowledgeable, insightful, and interesting, and Rainn Wilson, who is very funny. Almost every other main player is included in at least one or two commentaries and guest director Harold Ramis is included in two of his three episodes (“Safety Training” and “Beach Day.”) Sorry hardcore zealots, but there are no commentaries by Joss Whedon or J.J. Abrams, although some of the other writers and directors participate here and there. There is much more effort to talk about the actual episodes and what was going on rather than idiotic banter between the participants, as we saw in Season 2.

A group of extras that are “sort-of deleted scenes” are included. These are excerpts from the 2006 NBC Primetime preview which had original The Office wraparounds, Toby wraparounds from when NBC showed a bunch of “human resource nightmare” episodes on the same night, and an excerpt from the 58th Emmy Awards show when host Conan O’Brien ended up at Dunder-Mifflin briefly and flirted with Pam. Except for Conan’s appearance, these scenes are almost indistinguishable from deleted scenes and have same look and personality as something cut out of one of the episodes. That’s a good thing, since it is only here that you can hear Toby say that working with Michael is not a nightmare but rather a “never-ending dreamscape of horror.”

As was the case in Season 2, the blooper reel is a highlight of the set and might be the first thing people turn on when they rip their packages open (that’s what she said.) It includes all the blown lines and uncontrolled laughing from the set that you’d expect and is presented in a nicely edited and relatively quick group. There is also the infamous “Lazy Scranton” video that Michael shows the Stamford branch in “The Merger” episode. The entire video is included so if you only saw bits and pieces in the episode, you can enjoy all the references to poison control, Cuginos, and the Anthracite Museum.

The second tier of extras includes something generously called “Joss Whedon Interview.” Obviously included and prominently pimped to get his psycho fans to buy the set; the interview is Whedon talking on the set of the episode he directed for about 45 seconds. There is also a bit called “Kevin Cooks Stuff” which has Brian Baumgartner acting like Kevin cooking things using the break room’s implements. It’s mildly amusing. As a nod to the You Tube generation (where I think I’ve seen this) there is the “Dwight Schrute Music Video.” The video includes clips from all three seasons to the tune of a Dwight Schrute fan song. It’s funny but I’ve seen better The Office compilations on You Tube. They should include the one on the show’s relationships set to David Brent’s “Free Love Freeway.”

The final extras are the winning and runner-up videos for the “Make Your Own Promo” contest that NBC had during the season. Fans put together promos for the show that related to the show itself or working in an office/cubicle environment in general. Six promos are included and most are not bad, although the one with the rubber band ball has me scratching my head as to who thought it was one of the best sent in.

The hardcore or even general fan of the show can not go wrong by getting this set. Although a few of the extras are a bit weak, the quality of the shows, quality of the transfer, commentaries, extras, and other strong extras more than compensate. As was the case with the previous season, this show has a high repeat value, making it a perfect show to have in your DVD collection.