The Office: Season Four – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

The 2007/2008 TV season for all “scripted” television shows can be summed up by one word: strike. Every scripted show was affected by the writers’ strike at the end of 2007. Most shows lost somewhere around 10 episodes during this season. In addition, there was a LONG four-month break right in the middle of the season, which adversely hurt the momentum that any show was looking to carry over from episode to episode, especially new comedies or dramas. So it’s interesting to watch all of these shortened seasons of TV shows that are just now coming to DVD. Some shows weren’t affected that much by the strike, but there are others that were hurt a lot. Which category would the fourth season of arguably the best comedy on TV today, The Office, fall under?

Adapted from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s British series of the same name, the American version of The Office follows the staff of a paper company, Dunder Mifflin, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in a “mockumentary style”. A camera crew has decided to film Dunder Mifflin and its employee around the clock. The presence of the camera is acknowledged by the characters. Some like talking to the cameras, while others seemed annoyed by their presence. In addition, confessional interviews with the characters speaking one on one with the camera crew about the day’s events are often used in each episode as well. But having the cameras around often lets the viewers in on behind-doors conversations that are often filmed through a window or crack in the door. Dunder Mifflin is led by ineffective regional manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell). None of the employees are particularly good at their jobs, but watching them cope with the oddities and obstacles of everyday life is entertaining to say the least.

At the start of the fourth season, Jim and Pam are happily together; Ryan is the new boss; Michael is living with an unemployed Jan; Karen is off at a different branch of Dunder Mifflin after losing Jim to Pam; and Dwight and Angela soon break up. The focus of the storylines this season tended to be the personal and often intimate relationships between members of the office. Angela soon begins to date Andy in a weird love triangle with Dwight. Jim and Pam continue to get more serious without many problems, except for HR guy, Toby, wanting Pam as well. Meanwhile, Michael’s relationship with Jan continued to get weirder and weirder. But perhaps the most interesting storyline this season was Ryan’s rise and fall in the corporate world. From being a lowly intern to finally becoming Michael’s boss and your standard corporate jerk, it was intriguing to watch. Unfortunately, that storyline hurt the overall comedy this season in the end.

The acting is once again top-notch this year. Steve Carell proves why he is the star of the show in every episode, and without him in it, this show might not have stuck around for as long as it has. Michael Scott alternates between lovable idiot and insufferable cad thanks to the performance of Carrell. In addition, the Jim/Pam relationship is succeeding thanks to the efforts of John Krasinski and Jenn respectively. However, this season does have some noticeable negatives. There were times during this season were things got completely unrealistic, and it seemed like they went too far in order to get laughs. It’s almost like the writers were trying too hard to make this season as funny as the previous two.

The comedy of The Office, and why the show ultimately works so well, has always been dark and filled with uncomfortable moments. However, during the fourth season the show almost crossed the line at times and featured storylines that were more dark in nature, and so uncomfortable that it wasn’t that funny anymore. However, this season does feature two of the funniest episodes of The Office ever in “The Deposition” and “Dinner Party” episodes. In addition, Steve Carell and the rest of the amazing cast are still working hard with the material they are given. That alone helps the fourth season of The Office once again be one of the funniest things on TV last season. But there is no doubt that the strike greatly affected this season and helped prevent the fourth season from being the best season of The Office so far. It was a step down for The Office last year, but that doesn’t mean they are in such a giant hole they can’t climb out of it this year.

Episodes:

Disc One:

Episode 1 – Fun Run
Michael hosts a Fun Run for the Scranton Business Park. A freak accident leads him to believe the office is cursed, and he questions his employees’ religious beliefs. The office relationships are also explored, with Pam and Jim’s new romance and Dwight and Angela’s continuing relationship.

Episode 2 – Dunder Mifflin Infinity
Ryan returns to Scranton with a plan to bring Dunder Mifflin into the digital age by launching a new website: “Dunder Mifflin Infinity”. Michael is worried about ageism and attempts to win back clients using old fashioned business skills. Relationships are on the forefront as Ryan returns to an eager Kelly, Jim and Pam are outed to the office, and Angela is still upset with Dwight about her cat, “Sprinkles”.

Episode 3 – Launch Party
It’s the launch of the new Dunder Mifflin Infinity website, and Michael is anticipating going to the launch party in NYC. Back in Scranton, Angela and the Party Planning Committee plan a satellite party. Meanwhile, Dwight competes against the website to be top seller of paper in a day.

Disc Two:

Episode 4 – Money
Michael is quickly going into debt with Jan renovating his condo. He tries to get money anyway he can including asking his employees for a loan. Meanwhile, Jim and Pam spend the night at Dwight’s farm, which is now a bed and breakfast.

Episode 5 – Local Ad
Dunder Mifflin decides to produce an ad, but things go awry when Michael hijacks the production. Dwight is busy exploring Second Life, an online website.

Episode 6 – Branch Wars
Karen, now the regional manager of the Utica branch, attempts to lure Stanley away from Scranton. When Michael objects, he brings Jim and Dwight into his “war.” Meanwhile, the other office workers are disturbed by a “Finer Things Club.”

Episode 7 – Survivor Man
Michael goes on a survival adventure into the woods, with nothing except the suit on his back, in retaliation of not getting an invite to a similar party from corporate. Back at the office, there is a birthday going on while Jim tries to revolutionize the party.

Disc Three:

Episode 8 – The Deposition
When Jan sues Dunder Mifflin, Michael is deposed as a witness. Kelly and Pam practice their trash talk when Darryl and Jim play Ping-Pong.

Episode 9 – Dinner Party
Out of excuses, Jim and Pam join Jan and Michael for a dinner party. Things get complicated when Andy and Angela are asked to join, and Dwight’s jealousy gets the best of him.

Episode 10 – The Chair Model
Michael gets fascinated by a chair model in a catalog, leading to a desire to move on from Jan. Kevin and Andy team up to gain parking spaces back for Dunder Mifflin lost during another complex tenant’s construction work.

Episode 11 – Night Out
Ryan gets the surprise of his life when Michael and Dwight travel to NYC to go clubbing with him and his friends. Back in Scranton, the staffers are upset that they have to spend Saturday working on Dunder Mifflin Infinity, and Jim’s attempt to rescue them doesn’t go as planned.

Disc Four:

Episode 12 – Did I Stutter?
After Stanley snaps at Michael during a meeting, Toby tries to convince him that Stanley needs to be dealt with. Dwight buys Andy’s car. Pam’s forced to wear old glasses instead of her contacts.

Episode 13 – Job Fair
Michael, Oscar, and Darryl go with Pam to her alma mater’s job fair, trying to find a summer intern. In an attempt to woo a major client, Jim, Andy, and Kevin go golfing. Back at the office, Dwight tries to prevent the rest of the staffers from leaving early.

Episode 14 – Goodbye, Toby
Toby leaves Dunder Mifflin, and Michael plans a huge goodbye party—out of joy. Angela refuses to help with it, so Michael turns to Phyllis. Dwight and Meredith harrass Holly, their new HR representative.

The video is given in anamorphic widescreen color with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which is enhanced for 16X9 TVs. The transfer is great with minimal grain. It’s slightly better than the original presentation on TV, which is quite good since the original presentation looks fantastic as it is. No major problems at all.

The audio included is in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. The dialogue comes out loud and crystal clear. There is not much music in this show, but the little that does make its appearance also comes out loud and clear. Like the video, the audio quality is excellent for a TV show like this. No problems here either.

Audio Commentaries
There are four audio commentaries on this set for four separate episodes. Rainn Wilson (actor), Jenna Fischer (actor), Melora Hardin (actor), Brian Baumgartner (actor), and Paul Lieberstein (actor), Michael Schur (writer), and Jennifer Celotta (writer) comment on the “Money” episode. B.J. Novak (actor), Ed Helms (actor), Leslie David Baker (actor), Creed Bratton (actor), Craig Robinson (actor), Jason Reitman (director), and Anthony Farrell (writer) comment on the “Local Ad” episode. Rainn Wilson (actor), Jenna Fischer (actor), Melora Hardin (actor), Brian Baumgartner (actor), and Ed Helms (actor), Lee Eisenberg (writer), Lester Lewis (producer), and Ryan Koh (writer) comment on “The Deposition” episode. Rainn Wilson (actor), Jenna Fischer (actor), Leslie Favid Baker (actor), Kate Flannery (actor), Justin Spitzer (writer), Brent Forrester (producer), Gene Stupnitski (writer), and Randall Einhorn (director) comment on the “Did I Stutter?” episode. Overall these are all very entertaining and somewhat informative. The bad thing about these is that there aren’t more of them and both Steve Carell and John Krasinski are nowhere to be found.

Deleted Scenes
There is 133 minutes worth of scenes that didn’t make the final cut of all of the episodes this season. That’s an insane amount, but every second is worth checking out. Unlike other deleted scenes that aren’t “must-see,” these are absolutely “must-watch”. They were cut due to time reasons alone and it’s amazing to see how much stuff great stuff is cut because the show is only 30 minutes long most of the time.

“Rabies: The More You Know” PSA
This is Michael Scott’s “fake” Public Service Announcement that parodies all of NBC’s “The More You Know” PSAs. This one educates viewers on the non-threat of rabies, and how it “kills 4000 people every 1000 years”. Short, but hilarious.

Blooper Reel
There is 23 minutes of bloopers from making this season. These are always entertaining to watch to see some of the actors “break” character and laugh at what is going on.

“The Office Convention: Writer’s Block” Featurette
This runs 53 minutes and it’s a look inside the writer’s room, which includes a panel discussion from the writers profiled at a convention held in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Every writer of the show, except for Steve Carell, answers questions from fans. The sound and video are both a little rough since this is filmed from the perspective of the audience. But there is some great information here about how the show is written and other interesting tidbits about the show and cast.

Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin TV Spot
This is the full one and half minute “director’s cut” Dunder-Mifflin advertisement that was originally seen in the “Local Ad” episode. Another funny “fake” TV spot.

Summer Vacation Promo
This runs 3 minutes and it’s the full promo for the fourth season’s premiere that aired last summer. In it, we catch up with the staff’s summer experiences. It is made up of mostly all “confessional” interviews with the cast in full character. Funny if you haven’t seen it yet.

Limited Edition Bonus Script
The Emmy-nominated script for “The Dinner Party” episode is included in 40-page booklet form in this DVD set as well for a limited time only. Here you can see what this episode was like before was interpreted by the actors and director. Very interesting and a welcome addition, especially for any aspiring screenplay or television writers out there.

The fourth season’s DVD set is a must-own for fans of the show. There are some great extras thrown into this set. Not as many as previous sets, but still a lot of good stuff nonetheless. The four season is a slight step down for The Office, so it might not be the best way to introduce newcomers to the show. However, there are some fantastic episodes in here that could be perfect examples of what makes The Office so great and funny. So without a doubt it’s worth at least a rental.

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Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The Office – Season 4. Created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Developed by Greg Daniels. Starring Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and B.J. Novak. Running time: 404 minutes. Rated: NOT RATED. Released on DVD: September 2, 2008. Available at Amazon.com

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