The Office (Season One), Steve Carell
I don’t own a lot of DVDs. In fact, I think I have a total of three, and two were a gift that have since disappeared into the recesses of my cluttered room. I do have a couple of VHS tapes as well, but VHS has become so obsolete in the past couple of years that I think it’s a moot point to even mention them. This account of my meager belongings illustrates the fact that I don’t normally buy DVDs – partly because I’m cheap, and partly because I don’t generally watch movies more than once. If I ever feel the need to see something again, I just borrow a friend’s DVD and then never return it, like I did last week with Dodgeball.
THE OFFICE (U.S.)
But once in a while, something will come along that will break down my frugal barriers and make me shell out some money. This was the case when I decided to buy the first season of “The Office.”
Starring Steve Carell, the breakout star of The 40-Year Old Virgin, “The Office” television series is based on the successful British series that aired on the BBC in 2001. The British original garnered praise from fans and critics alike for its wit, humour, and overall charm. The series ended its run just after two seasons (and with only fourteen episodes), which its stars and creators, among them Ricky Gervais, thought was adequate to encompass the spirit of the show without overrunning its stories into the ground (ahem, “Friends.”) Later, the small cast reunited for a Christmas special that tied up all loose ends, including the burgeoning office romance between audience favourites Tim and Dawn that was squashed in the season finale.
Several years later, NBC wanted a piece of the action and tapped a team of writers to come up with the perfect North American version. Greg Daniels, the man behind the animated "King of The Hill" (and who coincidentally wrote one of my all-time favourite "Simpsons" episodes, "Lisa's Wedding"), became a principal writer, and Gervais along with co-creator Stephen Merchant, were consulted frequently. When “The Office” finally premiered, it did to dismal ratings, averaging 5.4 million viewers in its first season. The show was surely headed for cancellation, but NBC had a leap in faith and ordered six more episodes for the fall season. Then something miraculous happened – Carell starred in The 40-Year Old Virgin, and the summer sleeper film renewed interest in the television show, now averaging 7.7 million viewers in its second season. On December 6, 2005, iPod released episodes for downloading. This strategic move led to massive downloading (often beating episodes from “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost”), and old and new fans alike – in the form of approximately 9.1 million viewers per week.
My very first episode of “The Office” was the Christmas episode. I didn’t know what to expect when I switched the channel to NBC, not having seen any of the British series ever, but I was pleasantly surprised. The nuanced humour, the rhythm of the pacing, the priceless looks on the characters when their clueless boss would offend – all of these things were sadly missing from network television. This show was different, and it was good.
“The Office” revolves around the day-to-day happenings of employees working at Dunder Mifflin Inc., a small paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Set up as a mockumentary, the premise is that a documentary company will be filming the office for an indefinite amount of time. This works well because each episode isn’t told in explicit narrative, but instead uses editing to splice together a story just like any ol’ reality show would. Confessionals, or “talking heads,” are often hilarious because the characters are allowed to comment on their actual feelings or thoughts as something transpires. Also, this format allows the rogue camera crew to catch moments that would otherwise be missed, like a subtle glance between Jim and Pam, and an office romance that’s being kept under wraps and has gone unnoticed by most in the office.
Carell is Michael Scott, the clueless, exasperating, and dense manager. As Scott, Carell gets to unleash his comedic talents and ham it up. In the first season, little was shown of Scott’s personality outside of his obnoxiousness, but as the show evolves, the audience is privy to glimpses of Scott’s vulnerable side; his need to belong and have people like him often explains his outlandish and irrational behaviour. Jim, played by a charismatic and loveable John Krasinski, is a paper salesman whose ambitions at work have left him long ago, but still manages to stay aground amidst all the Michael Scott chaos. His arch nemesis and fellow salesman is Dwight (Rainn Wilson). Dwight is geeky and anal and socially inept and just plain weird, and Wilson portrays this perfectly. In fact, Dwight has surpassed my Michael love by far, although I do love the whole cast. An endearing Jenna Fischer plays Pam, the branch’s receptionist, who is engaged to Roy (James Denton), an uncouth warehouse worker at Dunder Mifflin. She’s been engaged for three years with no end in sight, and remains loyal even though it’s very obvious she and Jim share a deep connection beyond work, and Jim is very much in love with her.
The rest of the office mates, who unfortunately rarely received any screen time in the first season but are slowly being brought to the forefront as the show progresses, are rounded out by temp Ryan (B. J. Novak, who is also a show writer), who tries to resist being integrated into the office despite Michael’s strange non-sexual man crush; Angela (Angela Kinsey), the uptight and righteously religious head accountant; Meredith (Kate Flannery), a single mother who splits her time between work and drinking; Oscar (Oscar Nunez), the mild-mannered accountant; Stanley (Leslie David Baker), another accountant who is very much inappropriate at times; Creed (Creed Bratton), the quality assurance guy who never bothers to learn anyone's names; Kevin (Brian Baumgartner), who really shines with his deadpan expressions; pleasant saleswoman Phyllis (Phyllis Smith, who began as a casting coach but was cast herself when her readings with people auditioning wowed producers); Kelly (Mindy Kaling, a show writer), whose character started off as a random extra and suddenly blossomed into a chatterbox with needy relationship tendencies; and human resources personnel Toby (Paul Lieberstein), who inexplicably gets the brunt end of Michael’s irrational hate.
The first season DVD offers up six episodes (the only ones ordered by NBC for the premiere season), as well as juicy extras that are well worth the $30.00 CDN. Among my favourites are “Diversity Day,” “The Alliance,” and “Basketball.” In “Diversity Day,” Michael comes under fire for an inappropriate joke he made during work, and must attend mandatory sensitivity training, along with his employees. Michael decides to set up his own version of a sensitivity workshop, with hilarious results. (Any episode where the whole cast is involved in a meeting is automatically cemented into my top episode list. When all actors are the same room, interacting, the comedy is gold.) In “The Alliance,” the writers take an all-too-real corporate scenario, in this case downsizing, and place a spin on it by making Dwight worry for his job, and then forming an alliance with Jim (yes, just like “Survivor”), in order to infiltrate the office buzz and get the scoop (or “scuttlebutt,” as Dwight – and now I – like to say). There are no words to describe “Basketball,” one of the funniest and most cringe-inducing episodes of the series thus far. In one fell swoop, Carell manages to amuse during a pick-up game against the warehouse staff, and then suddenly pitied when things sour after the game.
The rest of the episodes – “Pilot,” “Health Care,” and “The Hot Girl” – are still good, but don’t quite have the pacing and humour of the other three. The pilot, especially, is almost a replica of the U.K.’s first episode, but the episodes have since strayed from the original to set a creative tone of their own.
Bonus materials include deleted scenes (which any die-hard fan must have), as well as cast commentary for most episodes. The deleted scenes include tons of bonus jokes that didn’t quite make it into the episode, but are just as funny. Advocates of the Jim and Pam romance will especially like the deleted scenes in “Health Care,” where Jim and Pam’s understated but all-too-real chemistry is littered throughout. Some parts of the deleted scenes never made it to the editing process, so be wary of low volume problems and no closed captioning.
Commentaries include the core cast as well as executive producers Greg Daniels and Ken Kwapis. As a general rule, I don’t watch commentaries because they’re boring and you’re forced to sit through another viewing just to hear someone say, “In this scene, I almost forgot my line, but I managed to remember it,” or, “We did this in one take,” followed by hanging silence. Thankfully, the commentary for “The Office” offers plenty of behind-the-scenes stories and trivia. For the pilot episode, there are two sets of commentary: first from Carell, Krasinski, Wilson and Novak, and then from Wilson, Fischer, Novak, Daniels, and Kwapis. In the latter, you can hear about the casting process straight from the actors’ mouths, as well as marvel at how funny Wilson is, both on- and off-camera. There are no uncomfortable silences between conversations, as the actors and producers obviously get along splendidly and have wonderful rapport. Unfortunately, the commentaries would have rocked much, much more had they included at least one with just the principal cast.
“The Office” DVD is a great addition to anyone’s collection. As NBC succinctly sums it up, “The Office” is “an NBC comedy not for everyone. Just anyone that works.” And also, anyone who enjoys a terrific show with a well-rounded cast and excellent writing. ¤ C.Ho.
THE OFFICE (SEASON ONE): (out of 5)