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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
hrough watching this block of episodes, one thing becomes clear: Steve Carell’s weekly presence will be sorely missed on American TV screens. It still begs the imagination why – beyond the obvious cash cow reasoning – anyone would want to continue on with “The Office” without him. But then, it also remains vaguely staggering that he stayed with the show as long as he did in the first place, given that he’s had a pretty healthy movie career alongside nearly the entire run of the series.
“The 40-Year-Old Virgin” hit movie screens about six months after “The Office” debuted in 2005, and the guy has managed to successfully keep one foot in each world ever since, which surely makes him an anomaly in the entertainment business. (Who else has done this?) It was probably the smartest move of his career, though, because he created a TV legacy with “The Office,” and ensured that his presence actually would be felt in homes – daily, and for years to come via syndication, and long after the stench of “Dan in Real Life” has finally faded into the ether.
This is the first time I’ve reviewed an “Office” DVD set for Bullz-Eye, and my relationship with the show is considerably different than some of the other guys on this site. Only during its first couple seasons was it appointment viewing for me, and then it turned into “a little bit of this goes a long way.” That was somewhere around the time the rest of the country seemingly went Pam and Jim crazy. I’d still tune in a handful of times each season just to see what was going on, but that was about it. So sifting through this set was fun simply because it was the first time I’d watched an entire season of “The Office” in years. On the flip side, I was also reminded of why the show lost my viewership in the first place. If you stumble into a weak episode of this series, it can conceivably turn you off it for months, and roughly a third of the episodes on this set underwhelm. But a third is the same as two out of three ain’t bad, and this set ain’t bad by any stretch.
Season Seven has plenty of gems. “Sex Ed” is one of them. In it, Michael amusingly misinterprets having a cold sore for full-on genital herpes and calls all of his exes to inform them. During one of these calls, we hear the voice of Holly Flax (Amy Ryan), who later in the season plays a big role in Michael’s exit from the series. The B-plot features Andy (Ed Helms) teaching sex ed to the staff in an attempt to subtly gauge the depth of Erin’s (Ellie Kemper) relationship to Gabe (Zach Woods), and it’s a storyline that’s pretty important to the overall season as well. Another great installment is “China,” which features a debate between Michael and Oscar (Oscar Nunez). What more do you need to know, except that the writing goes in directions you might not see coming; a unique episode of this series to be sure. The hour-long “Classy Christmas” reintroduces Holly Flax in the flesh, as well as offers up a snowball fight (or something like that) between Dwight and Jim that’s as good as anything this series has ever done. The ending of “Garage Sale” is magical. Maybe the rest of it is, too. Go ahead and try to get the last scene of “Michael’s Last Dundies” out of your head. I dare you.
The real draw of this set, of course, is Michael Scott’s exit from “The Office,” an affair that’s handled with equal amounts of care and clumsiness. His romance with Holly is really quite sweet and plays out over the course of a half dozen or more episodes, until she’s forced to move to Colorado to be with her ailing father and Michael elects to quit his job to go with her. Although there’s that lengthy buildup, the real “exit” begins with “Training Day,” guest starring Will Ferrell as D’Angelo Vickers, Michael’s replacement. While the fact that I don’t hang with Ferrell’s comedic stylings surely plays into my opinion of him here, it’s still difficult to believe I’m alone on this one. It seems as though nobody has actually given any thought to who D’Angelo Vickers is supposed to be, least of all Ferrell, who spends four episodes riffing his way out of anything resembling a credible performance. (Much of the time he merely appears to be unsuccessfully aping Carell.) It’s all really rather embarrassing to watch, yet it makes Carell look like a genius by comparison.
As much of a disaster as Ferrell’s presence is in these episodes, he can’t well and truly take away from all the good will this series had built up over the past seven years, and beyond the obvious problems he brings to the table, the rest of “Goodbye Michael” is spotless. The genius of the episode lies in Michael’s decision to quietly leave a day earlier than his coworkers think he’s leaving; this from the guy who makes a production out of entering a room. It’s a remarkably perceptive move on the part of the producers and the writers, as it demonstrates how much he’s changed over the years, and it allows Carell to chew on some wonderfully rewarding material, especially refreshing after such nonsense as “Threat Level Midnight” from just a few episodes earlier. (Admit it, it sucked.)
Three episodes remain in the season after Carell leaves. The first is called “The Inner Circle,” which demonstrates how awful the show would’ve become if Ferrell actually had replaced Carell. Thankfully, it’s also Ferrell’s exit. After that is the utterly priceless “Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager,” which is every bit as funny as it needs to be with a title like that. Lastly is the hour-long “Search Committee,” which features some fine work from guys like Ray Romano and Will Arnett, an odd bit from Jim Carrey, a missed opportunity by Catherine Tate, and a genius turn by James Spader. Spader’s brief work here was in fact so ideal that he’ll be taking the place of Kathy Bates in Season Eight, only with a much larger presence than she ever had on the show.
It remains to be seen what can be done with this show sans Carell, but let’s keep our fingers crossed. In so many ways, he was the show, and without him, it will have to be a much different program. When you think about it, aside from ending the show, that’s really the only way to go. Carell left a hard stamp on “The Office,” and the producers of the show have their work cut out for them in trying to make a new one.
Special Features: There are cast and crew commentary tracks on five episodes (none of them feature Carell), 100 minutes worth of deleted scenes (I didn’t time them, but assume they’re not fibbing), and extended producer cuts of “Training Day” and “Search Committee.” There are also the three “3rd Floor” webisodes, as well as “Threat Level Midnight: The Movie (A Michael Scott Joint),” the extended version of the movie Michael wrote, directed and starred in from the episode of the same name. Fans of this movie within a TV show will be delighted to know that here the “movie” itself runs a whopping 26 minutes; everyone else will just be annoyed. There’s also a blooper reel and a poster(!) of the entire cast sans Carell sitting around in a park that’s actually quite nice.