Blu-ray Review: The Office - Season Nine

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What a great run it’s been, with The Office providing us with nine years of consistently funny entertainment. It was a great show in the beginning, gradually waning in quality. Now the “farewell season” is on Blu-ray and it is clear the timing was absolutely right to pull the plug. Season nine was generally good, though more noticeably uneven than previous seasons. At its worst it was depressingly mediocre. The Blu-ray set collects all 25 episodes (the final two were aired together as double-length episodes and are presented as such here) along with deleted scenes for each.

The Office evolved over the years, beginning as a relatively realistic (though obviously comedic in nature) look at office culture. In this regard, it mirrored the U.K original quite well, providing universally relatable workplace situations. The characters—everyman Jim (John Krasinksi), artist-at-heart receptionist Pam (Jenna Fischer), overbearing boss Michael (Steve Carell), ludicrously-dedicated Dwight (Rainn Wilson)—were only slightly exaggerated variations of people we all know (or are).

By season nine, The Office seemed like a different show. There were still laughs to be had, but often more out of comfortable recognition of characters who we’d spent so much time watching over the years. Any semblance of realism in the workplace was replaced by outright farcical situations. Since the entire series was staged as a long documentary, the concept of a camera crew following these folks around had lost any real-world believability. Side characters like Meredith (Kate Flannery) had morphed into caricatures. Everyone behaves more or less like a clown, with even the formerly subtle Pam and Jim frequently mugging.

Office season 9 philyis (380x253).jpgSpeaking of the documentary conceit (so much easier to swallow in the shorter-lived U.K. series), it’s in season nine that the cast begins directly interacting with some of the crew. Late in the season we learn that the documentary, nine years in the making, will finally be airing on PBS. It’s one of several “big” ideas in season nine that doesn’t play well. Conflict arises over the amount of privacy the office staff has surrendered over the years, ridiculous considering they would’ve surely signed waivers allowing these cameras to capture literally everything they did. Another crummy idea was having office manager Andy (Ed Helms) disappear for most of the season’s first half. Despite being absent without leave, he goes unpunished by Dunder Mifflin owner David Wallace (David Buckley) upon returning.

No character in the entirety of The Office has been mishandled more than Andy. Originally a rageaholic who punched holes in walls over minor issues, Andy’s character arc eventually peaked mid-series when competing with Dwight for Angela’s (Angela Kinsey) affection. By the time season nine rolled around, it was clear the writers had utterly exhausted the character’s potential. Upon his return from his three-month solo boat trip, he’s arguably the least-funny, least-essential part of the cast. His late-season attempts to begin a career as an entertainer should have been hilarious, but they mostly fall flat.

Office season 9 Andy (380x253).jpgEven the best season nine episodes usually contain a B or C story that simply didn’t work. Take “Roy’s Wedding,” for example, which sees Pam and Jim attending an extraordinarily awkward event: Pam’s ex- fiancĂ© Roy’s (David Denman) wedding. Everything involving that plotline is painfully funny and reminiscent of prime early Office, but we’re forced to waste time watching Nellie (Catherine Tate) fight with Dwight over his choice of charity to support (the Taliban, hardy-har-har). In “Here Comes Treble,” Andy’s finest moment of the season, classic moments involving Andy and Broccoli Rob’s (Stephen Colbert) a cappella rivalry are intercut with nonsense involving Dwight obsessing over who lost a prescription pill.

Low points include “The Farm,” a woefully lame attempt at launching a spin-off series focused on Dwight and his beet farm. Even the return of the crassly hilarious Bob Packer (David Koechner) couldn’t save it. “Dwight Christmas” is the worst of all Office holiday episodes, with Dwight introducing his idea of a traditional Christmas celebration (it’s as tedious for the viewers as it is for his co-workers). Rainn Wilson’s scene-stealing abilities remained mostly intact throughout the season, but curiously whenever the writers choose to focus primarily on Dwight for an episode or side story, the results were poor. Even the overly twee finale (which centers largely on Dwight and an important event in his life) doesn’t count as a particularly strong episode. Luckily, most episodes contain enough on-target moments that I remained smiling, if not always laughing, throughout.

Office season 9 Jim (380x253).jpgThe episodes look pretty snazzy on Blu-ray, though it often looks as though the image is slightly blown out. Generally this isn’t a problem, but look specifically at the “confessional” shots frequently made by various characters. Facial detail that we have come to expect in high definition presentation is a bit lacking, as the shots often look a bit too bright. A minor complaint, at best. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes are suitable, if unremarkable. The faux-documentary style is served well, with crystal clear dialogue supported by limited surround and LFE activity.

About two hours of deleted scenes are spread out over the four discs. The early seasons of the show were loaded with prime deleted material clearly only cut due to time constraints. Not so much here, though much of this extra material is chuckle-worthy. There are some bloopers and a few minutes of early audition footage (including by those who didn’t make the cut), but the most interesting extras are more sentimental in nature. “The Office: A Look Back” is a half-hour retrospective. The “Finale Table Read” is a sustained glimpse behind-the-scenes at the cast reading the script of the series’ final episode.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray package is a substantive, 45-minute “Behind-the-Scenes Panel Discussion” that involves various members of the creative team behind The Office. Unlike a lot of “Blu-ray exclusives” that don’t bring much to the table, there’s a lot of good information here for serious fans. Along with “A Look Back” and the “Finale Table Read,” the season nine Blu-ray offers a satisfyingly in-depth look at The Office.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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