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Reviewed by Jim Washington
y first thought on hearing that the most recent season of “The Office” was coming out on DVD: “Oh yeah, Michael quit, started his own paper company and got bought out. That was good stuff.” After checking out the five-disc set that thought was certainly confirmed, but looking over the contents I was surprised just how much the writers had crammed into one season in addition to that story arc, which didn’t even start until pretty late.
In the season opener, Jim and Pam aren’t engaged yet, but Andy and Angela still are. Pam hasn’t left for New York and art school, Michael is not yet going out with Holly, and Holly still thinks Kevin is retarded. (That joke, one of the best running gags of the previous season, was smartly killed off in the first episode of this season, before it had a chance to get tired.) By the season-ending company picnic episode, Michael has decided that he and Holly were still meant to be, just not anytime soon, and Jim and Pam seem to make a joyful discovery during a trip to the emergency room for a twisted ankle. Hmmm….
So, a lot happens in Season Five of “The Office.” But is it funny? Absolutely. With 26 episodes covering so much ground, there’s bound to be some up-and-down in quality. But an off episode of “The Office” is still, after five seasons, better than a lot of sitcoms on TV. There are criticisms to be made, of course. One complaint centers on Michael Scott’s stupidity, which can be pushed too far for some folks. I can see what they’re talking about (some scenes are still just too awkward to watch again, like Michael’s fumbling attempts to get Holly to go out with him, or later, to get back together with him.) But it’s when he seems at his most stupid that the writers remind us that Michael really is a business savant. See that late-season story that has Michael quitting Dunder-Mifflin to form his own company after chafing under his new boss, played intimidatingly by Idris Elba of “The Wire.”
Of course Michael has his “Jerry Maguire” moment and Pam actually goes with him, along with Ryan, now a temp answering phones. Their efforts to start the new company, by trying to get a loan from Michael’s grandmother and screwing over their old friends and officemates, and his eventual vindication are some of the season’s highlights. Other high points include a duel between Dwight and Andy for Angela’s affections, Michael’s idea of including a “golden ticket” à la Willy Wonka in some paper shipments (an idea which actually turns out well, once Michael has repudiated it and blamed Dwight), and the rapprochement between the two camps over, of all things, Michael’s dance café.
The DVD set comes with abundant extras. With a show as improv-heavy as “The Office,” there are plenty of entertaining deleted scenes, gag reels, etc. The set also features the usual commentaries and promos, but the real treasure is a panel discussion with the cast and writers (tidbit: Steve Carrell has never seen the British version of “The Office” and vows not to until his show ends its run). Carrell won’t know until then what he’s been missing, but by then, if not already, the American version has earned the right to stand up next to its inspiration.