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Despite being the weakest season of the series, Season Six of The Office remained a top choice for television comedy last season. The drop-off was noticeable, but the fine folks at Dunder-Mifflin are still worth checking out.
When sitcom producers want to boost life into a sagging series, they usually go with one of two well-worn plot devices: either two characters get married or someone has a baby. From the time of Little Ricky, this has been fodder for a ratings boost. I’m not sure what it means that producers of The Office used both of these plot pick-me-ups in Season Six of the show. They even threw in the lazy clip show to boot.
We are now well into the mature years of The Office, and the folks behind the going’s on at the Dunder-Mifflin paper company haven’t run out of ideas or strong comic actors to realize them, but they just don’t seem as fresh as they did back in Seasons Two and Three. Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is still quasi-incompetently running the office and getting involved in two complicated romantic situations, one with Pam’s (Jenna Fischer) mom (Linda Purl), much to Pam’s chagrin, and the other with a sexy, married bar manager (Amy Pietz). Neither is particularly engaging, but they at least keep Jan Levinson out of the season, which is an improvement. Carell also gets to throw out the classic Michael Scott characters such as “Date Mike,” “Jesus,” and the creator of “Scott’s Tots,” but overall he is sometimes more annoying than uncomfortable or hilarious.
Pam and Jim (John Krasinski) go through big changes with the wedding, baby, and Jim’s short-lived promotion to co-manager of the branch. Still, the greatest Jim moment is when he sees the day-care owner on the can and tries to make it through the interview with that sitting out there. Both Pam and Jim are underutilized this season, especially Pam, who is missing from a couple of episodes and doesn't seem to have as much to do when sitting in the sales chair rather than at reception. Their “will they or won’t they” vibe is passed over to Andy (Ed Helms) and Erin (Ellie Kemper), who do their best to make us care as much (or even half as much) as we once did about Jim and Pam. Kemper has the real breakout year here, although she has a bizarre reaction when she finds out Andy had previously dated Angela (did she think he had never dated anyone else, and why hadn’t he told her?), in practical terms she is the freshest face on the block and has more to do. Could she be more appealing? Pam looks like an old ball of dung next to her, right? Okay, not, but Erin is the one I like to see facing the camera these days.
Dwight (Rainn Wilson) is still pretty much Dwight, trying to get Jim fired and getting into a prenatal contract with Angela (Angela Kinsey). He also has the makings of a relationship with one of Pam’s bridesmaids (Kelen Coleman) that may go somewhere next season. To keep things moving, Dunder Mifflin is purchased by corporate megalith Sabre, which brings guest appearances by Kathy Bates as the owner of the new company and Zach Woods as the onsite liaison. Woods, who is hilarious in In the Loop, comes across more like an annoying turd here than a flunky. Hopefully he’ll perk up in Season Seven, otherwise he needs to get traded for Holly and sent to Nashua. They can send Ryan (B.J. Novak) along with him, since he did absolutely nothing this entire year.
You get a lot of what you expect in Season Six, but nothing new, nothing exciting, and, as noted before, they don’t exactly blow the doors off by doing pedestrian wedding, baby, and clip shows. That’s not to say watching Michael avoid the Mafia (or an insurance salesman), playing a murder game to take everyone’s mind off bankruptcy, or going to David Wallace’s house to hear the “Suck It” song isn’t as entertaining as hell. There are still plenty of laughs and enough heart every episode, but the decline has probably begun, and this isn’t as thoroughly entertaining as previous years.
Steve Carell has announced that Season Seven will be his last on The Office. This isn’t a bad thing. Why not go out on top? The mistake would be to keep the show going until it’s too embarrassing to watch. Anyone want to relive the post-Ritchie era of Happy Days? Season Six is an example that this show is great, but not invincible, and the end is nigh. Not super-nigh, but nigh all the same.
The Blu-ray release of The Office: Season Six follows the pattern of the previous releases. That’s good news. In addition to the 25 episodes (including the two hour-long episodes, “Niagara” and “The Delivery), the four discs include a good amount of high-quality extras.
As I’ve stated with previous season reviews, the centerpiece of the Blu-ray is the nearly four hours of deleted scenes. Each episode has at least 10 minutes of quality deleted scenes that could easily fit in the episode itself. Like the season itself, the deleted scenes are often not as strong as in earlier years, but they're solid enough that I think they should just provide two versions of each episode: one being the aired version and the other being an extended cut with the deleted scenes dropped into the episode where intended.
Bigger always seems to be better with these releases, and the bloopers are in that vein. Put together in one long group, they last for 25 minutes. It’s typically hard to watch people laugh and flub their lines for that long, but the time flies in this case. If you want to see how hard it was to deliver certain lines -- or even to look at another cast member -- this is a funny section.
The quality of the commentaries has been a sore point in previous seasons. During the first few years, the producers tossed in every actor they could get, along with the writer and director, and let the six to 10 people go at it with no rhyme or reason. This set features not only fewer commentaries -- five episodes get the treatment -- but fewer participants for each commentary. In fact, although Steve Carell has perennially skipped these, now the only member of the big four (Carell, Wilson, Krasinski, and Fischer) to show up is Fischer, who pitches in during “The Delivery.” Some of the other actors, including Novak, Kemper, Kinsey, Oscar Nunez, and Brian Baumgartner, also participate, but generally just once. Series writer/director/producer and all-around top guy Greg Daniels is on most of the commentaries, and two are provided for the “Niagara” episode, one with Daniels and one with a group of technical people and line producers. The most interesting thing about the commentaries is getting to hear Baumgartner's real voice, which sounds nothing like his Kevin Malone voice.
In addition to the big extras, deleted scenes, and commentaries, there are some other treats. Some promos shot for the Olympic games are provided, along with the “Welcome to Sabre” video shown in the episode “Sabre." You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Christian Slater fail to explain what this company actually does while accompanied by soothing New Age music. There is also the web series “The Podcast,” which features Zach Woods' character, Gabe. I’m not a big fan of these web series, which always feature the supporting characters and don’t have the same zip as the big show. But it’s diverting. Finally, there is a full episode from Season Two of Parks and Recreation. Why that episode, or any episode from that series, was included is a mystery. I guess NBC is going for some Sabre-like synergy.
The Blu-ray BD Live function also allows you to watch the episodes from Season Seven after they air on TV. I guess that’s nice for the people (all three of them) who have a Blu-ray player but not a DVR. Still, it’s interesting to see them linking stuff into next season.
This is a great set, and the show, while slipping, is still worth watching. My guess, and hope, is that it will go off the air when Carell leaves in 2011, so enjoy it while you can. Don’t miss out on these seasons of one of the great comedies of the last 20 years.
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