STUDIO: Universal
MSRP: $49.98
RUNNING TIME: 7 Hrs, 57 Mins
• Episode commentaries
Deleted scenes
Blooper reel
• 10 webisodes
Fake PSAs
40 Year-Old Virgin promo
Olympics promos

The Pitch

“Totally what your workplace would be like if you walked around with a camera all day. I mean, you’ve got somebody just like Dwight, don’t you? And Michael, shoot! Everyone’s got a Michael. Yeah, you could have totally done this first.”

The Humans

Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson

The Nutshell

The Scranton, PA branch of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company isn’t very different from your day job (unless you’re Dave, who spends his days tending to his harem and making executive decisions to increase levels of diaphanous and decrease opacity.) The employees there toil away at abstract projects, taking their requisite number of breaks, dealing with their blissfully incompetent boss, and doing anything they can to maintain their individuality/sanity.

Fortunately for us, the Dunder-Heads are masters at staving away boredom in unique and funny ways. From an inter-office Olympiad to a table read-through of their boss’ awful screenplay, they do everything they can to buck the system without knocking themselves clean off the horse.

Bears are bad and borscht is good, doo-dah, doo-dah.

The Lowdown

The above description is true of the show, but only true in the same way that a summary of Hedwig and the Angry Inch might read: “A rock opera about love.” The Office is a sit-com, and the wacky hijinks do ensue, but it’s so much more about character than situation that a dramatis personae might do you more good than the Nutshell as it stands.

Leading the pack as far as public notice goes is Steve Carell as Dunder-Mifflin Regional Manager Michael Scott. Michael is oblivious to everyone and everything in that faintly self-aware fashion. His social flubs and insanely positive self-image give you the sense that there is a still, small voice in his psyche trying to point him in the direction of reality, but it is either very tired or easily overwhelmed. It’s a wonderful role for Carell, because there’s hardly a trace of sympathy to be engendered in the audience. Michael is dense, and he is a dick.

John Krasinski plays the only person in the world who could possibly sympathize with Michael. He plays Jim, the friendly, affable salesman. Jim has an understated sense of humor which manifests in sarcasm, but he’s far from being hidden behind the usual shell of cynicism. He’s warm enough to everyone who might bother to receive it; and, from time to time, he even comes to Michael’s rescue. Carell gets the best unwittingly humorous lines in the show, but Krasinski delivers all the intentional laughs with all the camaraderie afforded by the "cameras-as-characters" mode of the show.

Do I love me?

Playing gleeful accomplice to Krasinski’s Jim is Jenna Fischer as Pam, the perky-when-the-situation-calls-for-it receptionist, an almost palpable ray of sunshine even when her wit forms an edge. Jim and Pam have the closest relationship among any of the employees at Dunder-Mifflin, partly because they’re the only ones of similar mindset in the whole building, and partly because Jim has a raging, Quixotic crush on Pam. The problem is that Pam is engaged to a big, burly dock worker. This unrequited love runs as the thickest thread connecting the whole season. Its structure is familiar, but the particulars of the character interaction will have you rooting for poor Jim before too long.

Rounding out the big four of the cast is Rainn Wilson as hyper-nerd Dwight. Dwight doesn’t get along with anyone, and he doesn’t care. He plays lapdog for Michael, because he wants desperately to be promoted. At the same time, he lusts for Michael’s approval, while keeping himself at a distance from his co-workers. Dwight isn’t a character of depth, unlike the traditionally-drawn Jim and Pam, or the deceptively complex Michael. Instead, he’s a foil to pretty damn near everybody in the cast.

This cutout of the main players is already a fair bit deeper than I could find myself coming up with for, say, Friends. And there’s plenty more to The Office than just great characters.

The Mouth of Sauron cares not for hygiene.

The form adopted by the showrunners is similar to Arrested Development in its use of mobile cameras and the dismissal of a laugh track. The characters in The Office interact directly with the camera as it roams around the halls. They roll their eyes for the camera when Michael says something particularly stupid, or they talk to it in brief, interstitial interview segments. Think of it as an extended faux-documentary. It’s a great move on the part of the creators, because in a show that could potentially distance audiences with its stylistic decisions, it provides the audiences with a surrogate. You begin to feel somewhat complicit in the goings-on around Dunder-Mifflin. When Jim shrugs at you after being completely misunderstood by Michael, you almost want to shrug back.

It’s also good that they chose to do away with the laugh track, because the humor very rarely appears in punchline format — and when it does, it’s not the punchline that’s the joke. The humor kind of simmers, letting go its potency in a slow steam instead of in big, raucous outgassings. Often, the jokes are so subtly good that they carry with them the suggestion that you barely made it into the group that got it. It’s another conspiracy with the right type of audience, earning their attention by flattering their intelligence.

"Ich bin ein Berlinette!"

Of course, there’s also the humor that surrounds Michael’s various attempts to be "one of the guys," or "the boss," or whatever else he sets his fickle mind to pursuing. Carell’s performance is so awkward it’s painful to watch, for a certain set of sensibilities. Witness his fumbled attempts to forge a relationship with his boss the day after an unfortunate one-night-stand. It’s schadenfreude at its purest.

This season features a few small bombshells for existing fans of the show, but mostly doesn’t play well with spectacle. The writers spend time fleshing out backstories for some of the bit players, providing co-producer and co-star BJ Novak some beautifully deadpan deliveries, and furthering the relationship between Pam and Jim.

It’s that last that maybe impresses me most about The Office. The melding of serial entertainment with the sit-com has been getting a lot of critical attention, in this show and in others, but so far the sea change on network TV seems distant. Nevertheless, for as long as it remains on the air, The Office is catching. You may come for the humor, but you’ll stay for the story.

Sweet Bacchus! Lend me your mirth.

The Package

The bonuses, they’re out in force! And they’re not stupid, even. For starters, there’s your episode-centric bonuses. Just about every episode has a deleted scene or two, and they’re the sort of cut footage that you hate to see on the floor, which is far from the norm for this kind of bonus. Many episodes also have feature commentary, with round-table, lively conversation between writers, directors, actors, and producers.

Beyond the world of the individual episodes, you also get a short profile film of the Scranton Dunder-Mifflins. The conceit is that it’s a project Michael Scott is working on, so it’s got that same earnest bullshit that permeates his other humor.

You also get all ten webisodes that aired over the summer. These little minute-and-a-half clips focus on the accounting team as they try to uncover the mystery of the missing $3,000. The characters aren’t the top of the heap, but they successfully entertain, despite the lack of the more inflated stars.

Welcome into your home also a lengthy blooper reel. It’s about sixteen minutes long, but probably didn’t need to be.

My favorites of the group are the public service announecments done in the mode of NBC’s "The More You Know" clips. Several of the actors lend their considerable experience toward educating you on things such as taping sex, death probabilities, nine dollar beer, and more.

Plus there are a couple of promo bits, such as commercials that aired during the Olympics, and a bit of Steve Carell pimping The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

8.2 out of 10