When “The Office” first premiered with a six episode Season One in 2005, I considered it funny but inferior to the original British version starring Ricky Gervais. Steve Carell didn’t have a good handle on his character and the black comedy of the original seemed softened. What a difference a year makes. Season Two, now out on DVD, tracks the show's improvement from lesser remake to the top comedy on television.
The plot to “The Office” is fairly straightforward. For reasons that are never really explained, a documentary crew is following the employees of the Scranton, PA branch of Dunder-Mifflin Paper. Branch Manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is so clueless he regularly offends almost everyone he speaks with. Assistant (to the) Regional Manager Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) sucks up to Michael and displays “dog-like obedience to authority.” Salesman Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) despises his boring job but remains in the branch to be close to receptionist Pam (Jenna Fischer), his best friend and fiancé of warehouse worker Roy (David Dennman.) The rest of the office and warehouse workers, led by temp employee Ryan (writer and co-producer B.J. Novak) and uptight accountant Angela (Angela Kinsey) attempt to get their jobs done despite the incompetent and disruptive interference of their boss.
Carell has really mastered the art of saying truly offensive and hurtful things yet remaining likeable. If you hated him, the show simply wouldn’t work. A main theme of his character this year is that the motivation for almost everything he does is a pathological need to be liked. In “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” we see a 10 year old Michael on videotape stating that when he grows up he wants to get married and have 100 children so that “no one can say no to being my friend.” Wilson takes the opposite tack as Dwight seeks friendship with no one (except his “secret” relationship with Angela) and his abuse at the hands of Jim and Pam are some of the funniest things on television.
Jim and Pam are, of course, what really has driven the show to new heights. Putting together in one season a more nuanced and subtle relationship than Ross and Rachel ever managed, Krasinksi and Fischer are actually believable as “best friends” who are so destined to be together it might as well be written on big letters on their forehead. The reactions they give when the other one expresses preference for any other person or ignores them for even a brief period really says it all. Reactions are Krasinski’s forte and they should create a new Emmy award in the category just for him. When portly co-worker Phyllis (Phyllis Smith) asks if all interoffice romances are a bad idea, “even one night stands,” the look Krasinski gives the camera should be shipped directly to the television hall of fame.
The writing team, overseen by story editor Mindy Kaling (who also plays Kelly), is putting out episodes like the early “Simpsons” seasons. Each one seemingly better than the last and loaded with hilarious jokes, asides, and reaction shots. The documentary style camera work never becomes annoying and adds so much to the feel of the show. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon of this show, hurry up; there is plenty of room.
The 22 episodes for Season 2 are spread out over four discs. Most of the extras show up on Disc 4, except those that relate specifically to an episode on another disc; primarily the deleted scenes. Unlike some television shows, the deleted scenes here are often as good as the stuff that made it into the shows and each episode has a gold mine worth of unused clips. The disc interface places the deleted scenes right below the actual episode making it easy to click right on them after you watch the episode itself. If you only want to watch the deleted scenes from all episodes on the disc, you can access them through the bonus features menu. It’s little things like this that make certain disc sets more enjoyable to watch.
Two other extras which are not included on Disc 4 are a video diary shot by Jenna Fischer during the filming of the “Booze Cruise” episode and Michael’s Faces of Scranton movie from the “Valentine’s Day” episode. The video diary is nothing special, although you do get to see the series regulars behind the scenes, but the Faces of Scranton is classic “The Office” material.
The Disc 4 extras include a blooper reel, which sets a standard for these types of reels. A person laughing at the wrong moment or forgetting their line only goes so far, but these had me nearly on the floor. Rainn Wilson seems to have the hardest part keeping a straight face, as though what he is being asked to say is so outrageous it’s making him laugh, too. There is also an extra called "Steve on Steve", which Carell filmed to be shown during a marathon of “The Office” the day before his movie, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, was released. The skit involves Carell interviewing himself about both the television show and the movie. I usually hate this type of thing but it was clever and genuinely humorous.
NBC carried the Olympic Games in 2006 and aired promos for “The Office” which referenced the Games during that period. They are grouped on the disc and while they don’t exactly break comic ground, they are uniformly funny and do what any good promo should do: give people a hint of what drives the show's humor without giving away anything in terms of plot. Even funnier than the Olympic stuff are some fake public service announcements that aired during the commercial breaks of their April Fools episode. Even using the old “the more you know” tag line from NBC, Dwight, Pam, Jim, Ryan, and Kelly give out advice like “never tape yourself having sex” and that if someone laughs at you for saying smello or smell you later it’s “maybe because you are their boss.” The only problem with this extra is that all of the PSAs are very short (just like the real ones) and there isn’t a Play All function. So you have to go back to the menu and choose the next one, taking more time for each one to access than the fake PSA actually lasts.
The final extra on Disc 4 is all ten webisodes that premiered on NBC.com while the show was on its summer break. The webisodes are three minutes each and feature the accounting department, Angela, Kevin, and Oscar, as they try to figure out what happened to $3,000 missing from the books. Almost every supporting character shows up during the hunt, but Michael, Pam, and Jim are absent and Dwight only shows up for a brief cameo. I didn’t much care for the webisodes, considering them good for one joke per week. A second viewing has not really changed that opinion.
There is not a commentary for every single episode, but about half the episodes have a commentary track. On the positive side, even relatively minor actors like Kate Flannery (Meredith) contribute to one or more commentaries and sometimes editors and other behind the camera folks take part. The problem is that almost every commentary has a minimum of six participants (one has ten). It’s just too many. There is never a coherent direction to the discussion and sometimes its hard to tell who is talking. They should have split the commentaries up and have two per episode with a maximum of three or four people per commentary. Carell was busy shooting Evan Almighty and doesn’t participate in any of the commentaries.
One thing that I really enjoyed about the disc set was the interface. Each menu screen shows a close up of one of the main characters’ desk. So we see Pam and Roy’s photo and Dwight’s ID card (threat level Orange.) It’s a nice touch. The picture montage on the front of the box is somewhat odd. Either there is a joke going on that I’m just not getting or the person in charge of creating the look of the box has never seen the show. They do put episode summaries on the box and not in an easy to lose insert, which I really liked.
Even without the plethora of extras, this is a disc worth buying. This show, assuming it continues the current arc and doesn’t hang on too long, is destined to be one of the all time great comedies. Even more important, the episodes have very high repeat value, just to catch all the comments that slipped by the first time and to register the reactions. This show was made for DVD.