After three near perfect seasons, 'The Office' hit a snag in the fourth run, with characters acting nothing like they had before, with a few in particular becoming excessively unlikable. With that season's finale opening a new door full of possibilities and storylines, utilizing background characters in brilliant ways, I had great expectations for the fifth season.
I've never been a slave to television, to sit down on a certain day at a certain time every week to see a new installment of a program. I had only ever seen 'The Office' when the show would hit the home video market, gobble up a season in two to three days, and then hunger for nearly a year, every year. Would Michael (Steve Carrell) change from his own nastiness and self loathing that reached a head in the previous season? Would the "special" Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) story continue? Would Ryan (B.J. Novak) return to the show? What about Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam's (Jenna Fischer) engagement plans? Would Phyllis (Phyllis Smith) rat on Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Angela (Angela Martin) after learning of their affair? With so many unresolved/teased ideas, this year's wait for home video was a killer.
Praise whatever deity you wish, as the wait was well worth it this time.
Andy (Ed Helms) and Dwight battle for the love of Angela, only Andy doesn't realize it. Pam finds art school tougher than she had imagined. While Michael and Holly (Amy Ryan) learn what corporate finds acceptable or not. After years of tension, pivotal employees will leave the company to seek out the respect they felt they never received, and every other employee will find things less secure than before. Relationships both blossom and wither, inter-office allegiances form and break, unacceptable/dysfunctional behavior abounds from every corner, and paper is sold. Just another year at the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin.
I've always found 'The Office' to be a show whose seasons can be run through in a day or two without any difficulty, and this season doesn't break that pattern. The 26 episodes (one of which was double length) fly right by, flowing perfectly together, yet as with past seasons, missing an episode won't render the rest of the season's plot incomprehensible or ruin the fun.
While Michael was the obvious negative Nancy in the previous season, with his former flame Jan (Melora Hardin) attempting to usurp his throne, this season Michael is back to being the warm, lovelorn, sweet puppy dog that made him so realistic in all his flaws, much like Carrell's role in 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin.' Jan is still an evil, evil woman, with her only appearances this season being utterly vile and disgusting. Ryan has obviously not learned his lesson, continuing his slimy ways, while Stanley's rage, Meredith's (Kate Flannery) addiction issues, Kelly's (Mindy Kaling) co-dependancy, and Creed's (Creed Bratton) creepiness are all more of what we've seen in the past from these supporting characters. Charles Miner (Idris Elba, 'Obsessed') comes in as a character that is near impossible to love, the polar opposite of Michael in terms of leadership and personality.
Never before has Michael's ineptitude reached such heights, with the opening episode of this season obviously acting as the high point in his complete inanity. Relating the Stay Puft Marshmellow Man, Elvis, Jabba the Hutt, and Martin Lawrence from 'Big Mama's House' to overweight employees, calling each example beautiful, was just a roll on the floor kind of moment, possibly far too early a peak for this season, but a welcome gut buster nonetheless. Dwight has a fun confrontation with a stroller ("Watch out, barbed wire!!!"), and an even better battle of the wits with Andy, calling the unknowing cuckold a cuckold to his face, begging to be caught with his excessive bravado. Hell, Dwight is the star of the show this season, with countless hilarious bits, including the dismemberment of a resuscitation dummy ("This is why we have training. We start with the dummy and learn from our mistakes. And now, Dwight knows not to cut the face off of a real person."). Of course, Dwight is worthless without the constant psychological warfare from Jim, and while it is much lower key than usual, it still pops up from time to time, thankfully.
Pam's costume (Charlie Chaplin, or Hitler with the hat removed) at the Corporate branch is the embodiment of the borderline delusional crew at Scranton, as she didn't think twice about dressing up for the holiday, unaware of the consequences of her own costume choices. Whether they're making a knife with another knife, racing each other with a radar display, or aging like Benjamin Button in reverse, they're still having fun after all these years.
'Season Five' isn't the best of 'The Office,' but it's far from the worst. What it is, for sure, is a bad starting point for those new to the series. Despite even the introduction of ceiling cat ("Save Bandit!"), this set of episodes just falls a bit short of the perfection that the second and third runs brought.
The fifth season of 'The Office' just so happens to be the first to arrive on Blu-ray, with all 26 episodes being treated to a 1080p transfer in the VC-1 encode. The video qualities are good enough to make me even more anxious as to any word of the first four seasons hitting the format.
Skin tones are superb throughout, with a fantastic amount of detail and quirks present in every cast member's face. Details on sets, like walls or door frames are great, with smears, clumps, and wood patterns all popping right off the surface. Stray hairs for every actor (especially Fischer) leap away from the rest of their manes. Contrast is sharp, while blacks are solid, and whites are sometimes a bit too bright.
Edges are clean and natural, and there doesn't appear to be any significant post-production tweaking like DNR evident. Grain levels are virtually non-existent. There are some light color banding issues occasionally, while some colors seemingly glow from time to time. Jim's stubble looks blurry occasionally, as well, but this is possibly due to being too light to be convincing. My biggest complaint would be the random fuzzy shots thrown in, especially in shots involving vehicles, that stand out like sore thumbs, jumping back and forth in quality. Season Five of 'The Office' is still a great upgrade from the previous four home video releases, and one hell of a tease for fans of the show.
Season Five of 'The Office' sports a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix on each of the 26 episodes as the only audio option whatsoever. English SDH and Spanish subs are also available.
'The Office' isn't exactly a show one could expect jaw dropping audio from, being that it's a show about working....in an office...with paper. Needless to say, I went in with little to no expectations, and I still left a bit disappointed.
Dialogue, the obvious driving point of the show, is always prioritized, clean over little bits of ambiance or soundtrack, but it's often not clear. There are a few muddled lines, and many that have a fuzzy or feedback laden undertone to them that can be quite distracting.
There is a massive amount of background noise in the office, with body movement, footsteps, clothes shuffling, clanging of office supplies and moving copy machines, but these effects often feel amazingly forced and unnatural, as most of the workers are wasting time rather than getting that busy. This isn't a crew of overachievers, yet these noises would lead us to believe otherwise. Strangely enough, when the camera jumps to different angles (mostly for reaction shots), the noises all stay from the direction they were originating from in the previous shot.
Rears are often quiet, or bustling with activity, with little distinction between the two extremes. They come alive for an outdoor rain sequence, in crowded restaurants, or a few party sequences, but are for the most part just accents. Bass is, for the most part, as non-existant as the grain in the video. Every episode teases the LFE with a bit of thump in the theme song, then it seems the bass just goes to work like it were Toby or Kevin, just staying out of the way, out of sight. In the next to last episode, with the cafe disco sequences, the bass goes absolutely nuts, but it's quite a bit too little, too late. A troubling issue in this release that cannot go without mention is the constant humming/buzzing that underlies sequences in nearly every episode, cutting in and out at random, creating a very uneven feel.
It's been a year since I've sat down to 'The Office' in any way, shape, or form, so I'd be hard pressed to say how active or clean previous seasons sounded in standard Dolby Digital, but this lossless mix is far from awe-inspiring.
"The KGB will wait for no one!" You shouldn't wait either. Buy this set, and let Universal know that 'The Office' will sell well on Blu-ray, so as to get them moving on bringing us the first four seasons. The video upgrade is worth the minimal price difference vs the DVD, while sadly the pack-ins from Best Buy and Target are not available with this version of the set. But once you see 'The Office' in high def, it's hard to go back.
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