- Buy the DVD
All photos © NBC
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
eason four was a make-or-break year for “The Office,” but not for the reasons you might think. While the show remains one of the best comedies on TV, the inevitable pairing of Jim and Pam as a couple introduced its biggest obstacle yet: how to give the fans what they want without compromising the integrity of the series. The BBC version never explored this particular aspect of the relationship (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were smart enough to end the show before they ever had to deal with it), and though other sitcoms have suffered as a result of succumbing to the will-they-won't-they romantic tension between their two leads, they never had as good of a supporting cast as “The Office.”
You always knew that Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) would eventually get together, but the fact that it’s treated like any other subplot makes it seem like less of an event and more of a natural progression. The pair even tries to keep their relationship a secret for as long as possible, but when one of the cameramen catches them in the act, they decide to announce it to the rest of the office. Of course, Jim and Pam aren’t the only co-workers dating at Dunder Mifflin. After breaking up with Dwight (Rainn Wilson) for euthanizing her sick cat, Angela (Angela Kinsey) has allowed herself to be wooed by Andy (Ed Helms), while Kelly (Mindy Kaling) has moved on to warehouse manager Darryl (Craig Robinson) after Ryan (B.J. Novak) dumped her at the end of last season to take the district manager position. The former is an especially funny relationship, because Angela seems to be with Andy for the sole purpose of making Dwight jealous. Still, you’ve got to give Andy points for creativity. In order to convince Angela to go out with him on a date, he serenades her with ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me,” all while his friends provide the "Take a chance, take a chance, take-a take-a chance-chance" backup vocals via speakerphone.
When that much summary can be written without a single mention of the main character, it’s no wonder “The Office” is such a success. Even background players like Leslie David Baker (Stanley), Brian Baumgartner (Kevin), Creed Barton (Creed) and Oscar Nuñez (Oscar) get their fair share of screen time throughout the course of the season, but Michael Scott (Steve Carell) remains the driving force behind the show. This year, he’s stuck in a destructive relationship with Jan (Melora Hardin) that finds him declaring bankruptcy due to her lavish spending, and when they finally convince Jim and Pam to come over for dinner, their mounting problems unspool over the course of one night. It’s the backbone of the manic, post-writers strike episode, “Dinner Party,” that gives both Carell and Hardin free reign to go absolutely nuts. The show has made a name for itself out of the comedy that is bred from uncomfortable moments like this, but “Dinner Party” is almost too bleak to be funny. Give credit to the writers, then, for including just enough light moments ("That is a $200 plasma!") to make it one of the best episodes of the season.
Other soon-to-be-classics include “Fun Run,” where Michael holds a 5k charity run after hitting Meredith with his car; “Launch Party,” where Dwight competes against the Dunder Mifflin website to see who’s the superior salesman; “Local Ad,” where the Scranton branch makes a TV ad; and “Branch Wars,” where Michael, Dwight and Jim raid the Utica branch after discovering that Karen (Rashida Jones) is trying to poach Stanley for her new sales team. Of that group, “Launch Party” probably contains some of the smartest writing of the entire series, from a two-minute bit about a DVD menu logo to Jim and Pam making Dwight think that the Dunder Mifflin website is talking to him. In fact, if there’s one thing the show has been seriously lacking, it’s more Jim-pranks-Dwight moments. They never fail to make me laugh, just like some of the conversations that take place as a result of Michael’s stupidity:
Pam: What’s wrong Michael?
Michael: I got gum in my hair. This just stinks.
Jim: How’d you get gum in your hair?
Michael: I was walking in and I noticed something shiny under Stanley’s car. I got under to see what it was and I messed up my hair. All for a stupid piece of tinfoil.
Jim: But best-case scenario, you thought it was a quarter…
Michael: Kill me… right now.
Pam: We have peanut butter in the kitchen.
Michael: I don’t feel like peanut butter. Get me an ice cream sandwich.
Jim: Nope, not for you, it’s for your hair, and it is 9 a.m.
My only complaint with the fourth season is that the one-hour episodes are hazardous to the future of the series. It’s perfectly acceptable to want a super-sized season premiere and finale, because sometimes the writers can’t accomplish everything they want in 22 minutes, but anything after that is unnecessary. They’re just too inconsistent. For every episode like “Launch Party,” you get one like “Money,” and though the inclusion of five extended episodes this year really helped to make the shortened season feel a little longer, Greg Daniels and Co. would be better off sticking to what works best, lest they burn through all of their good ideas too soon. From the looks of things, they’ve got more than enough to keep them busy for a while, and as long as they continue to bring in talent like Jason Reitman and Joss Whedon, the show will only continue to get better as it matures.
Special Features: Due to the shortened season, the bonus material included on the four-disc set isn’t as great as past years, but it’s still better than most of what’s out there. The four audio commentaries are great as always, while the 136 minutes of deleted scenes continue to make me laugh more than some of the jokes that actually made it on-air. Other extras include a lengthy blooper reel, the “Office Convention” writers’ panel, a summer vacation promo, the Michael Scott director’s cut of the Dunder Mifflin TV ad, and a mini-copy of the script for “Dinner Party.”