[15 September 2011]
I was going to lead off this review by asking if The Office has jumped the shark, but since that phrase has jumped the shark, I think I’ll go with “Has The Office nuked the fridge?” (An Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reference, natch.)
Well, has it? Personally, I think that question is better asked sometime during, or at the end of, the upcoming eighth season, but the series certainly has the potential to pass a narrative event horizon from which it will never return to its earlier greatness. Michael Scott was such an integral part of the show—a man-child who truly wanted to do right by his employees but was limited by his emotionally stunted state—that it will be hard to replace him.
James Spader’s Robert California character is a step in the right direction, although it’s my understanding that he likely won’t be the branch manager. The brand of philosophy he espouses during his scenes in the Search Committee episode gives him an off-kilter quality much smoother than Michael Scott’s rough-edged mania: for example, when he says that there is no such thing as a product, only sex, he leaves that thought hanging in the air, whereas Michael would have tacked on a comment like “And that’s all I ever thought about in school, so, yeah, I guess advertising worked really well on me.”
In contrast, I found Will Ferrell’s Deangelo Vickers character to be irritating and pointless, an unnecessary distraction between Michael’s departure and the interim branch managers’ antics. He brought little to the show. While Dwight and Creed’s management styles were predictable, they were a fun bridge to the final episode of the season, and Dwight getting his chance to serve as manager was something he so desperately wanted that he had to have his chance eventually.
Thus season seven finds the series at a turning point. Who will become branch manager if it’s not Robert California? I hope it doesn’t become an open-ended question that lingers throughout most of the eighth season; the writers need to establish someone new and move on. Maybe it would be better to go with someone laid-back and by-the-book, someone who can blend into the background while the other characters receive more attention. That wouldn’t be a bad way to go.
You also can’t go wrong with this five-disc season seven collection. It offers up copious amounts of deleted scenes, extended versions of the Training Day and Search Committee episodes, cast and crew commentaries on the Nepotism, PDA, Threat Level Midnight, and Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager episodes, the full version of Michael Scott’s Threat Level Midnight movie, a 15-minute blooper reel, and three webisodes titled The Office: The 3rd Floor. (Yes, Dunder-Mifflin is on the second floor, but the title is explained in the webisodes.)
The deleted scenes, along with the footage added in for the extended episodes, showcase the wealth of material that comes out of an ensemble series. With so many rich characters in The Office, there are plenty of opportunities for sequences that are just as funny as the stuff that made it to air, like Kevin’s declaration that he decided to become a pathological liar over the summer. (“What a tangled web I’m weaving,” he observes, in typical deadpan Kevin fashion.)
The webisodes follow in the same vein, with Ryan deciding to make a low-budget horror film in the office. It’s just an eight-minute slice, but it’s a fun piece of work. Unfortunately, it also feels like a rehash of Michael Scott’s Threat Level Midnight movie: both riff on well-known movie tropes and were created by inept filmmakers who thought it would be easy to make a movie and earn piles of cash.
The full Threat Level Midnight movie is fun, but as B.J. Novak points out in the commentary on the episode, it would have been confusing if it had been aired without context, so pieces of it had to be removed. All of the commentaries in this set are group efforts that suffer the same fate as all group commentaries: plenty of random chit-chat and extraneous comments interspersed with a few interesting insights.
The only exception is the commentary on the “Goodbye Michael” episode, to which the participants bring a certain amount of seriousness given its bittersweet nature.