When last we left the crew of Dunder-Mifflin's Scranton branch, Michael Scott (Steve Carell) was hired back to his old position, abandoning the Michael Scott Paper Company as part of a corporate buy out. Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) got engaged, and received word in the closing moments of Season Five of some very special news, that no one else is aware of. Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) and his ever-evolving relationship with Angela Martin (Angela Kinsey) is at the lowest spot it has ever been, even with Angela having her engagement to Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) broken off. Another Dunder-Mifflin branch (Buffalo) had to close, and even more tough economy times were coming.
"People are starting to notice how terrible Jim is. It's great. Eventually they'll rise up and revolt. My only hope is they do it sooner rather than later."
Replace the word "Jim" with "The Office," and I'd have to agree with that statement. It seems (almost) every single television show eventually starts to drag ass. It's (almost) inevitable. Characters can grow stagnant, new ones introduced to shake things up can backfire and perpetuate the issues. Storylines can grow stale and lose viewers. Or, worse yet, the creators can give fans every single damn thing they wanted too damn early, and leave the show with few avenues left to explore. The wrongs were only furthered, the rights allowed to meander, and steer the series toward a brick wall. That's my theory with 'The Office,' and I'm sticking with it through this review, as point by point, paragraph by paragraph, I make myself sound like a grumpy old codger.
Television extravaganza! Must see events! The very antithesis of 'The Office,' yet a situation found on more than one occasion here! Every year, there are a few double length episodes that air for a full hour with commercials. That seems to be the norm, but in the past, there have just been larger episodes falling into this pattern, like the first episode of season five, which featured the weight loss competition. Here? Oh, nothing big, just a wedding and a birth, you know, nothin' special. The Pam and Jim storyline was the driving force of season five, bar none, so it's no surprise that everything takes a back seat to them yet again in the sixth season. First, we have a series of episodes where getting the wedding organized (and eventually, obviously, getting married) is the theme. Then we change our focus to childbirth, as Pam nears her due date. Suddenly, there's no big event to lead up to, so instead we focus on their stamina and life raising a child. This show was meant to be a mockumentary, but with every episode, it leans closer and closer to just being a damn sitcom/romcom.
Of course, it doesn't help that the wedding episode happened to be one of the single worst installments of 'The Office' that I'd had the pleasure of seeing, up to that point (a later episode goes even further to desecrate past glory, but we'll get to that soon enough). We get a double length episode where any drama is immediately resolved, wrapped up in a nice, neat little package, that climaxes with a painfully awful dance sequence that is just embarrassing to watch. I felt dirty being a fan of the show. That shouldn't happen.
How about a clip show? Stagnant ideas are one thing, but making a compilation episode, in the middle of a very dramatic storyline? Lazy, people. Just lazy. Events from even a few episodes back surface like dead bodies freed from their underwater weights. It's a sad reminder of when the show was a bit funnier, a bit more random, and not so formulaic. Even sadder, it may be the best episode in the entire season, since it doesn't attempt to hide the fact that it's coasting on past glories.
Scott's Tots. Possibly the most cold blooded, evil episode I've ever had the displeasure of watching, regardless of what show we're referring to. The premise revolves around Michael having his chickens come home to roost, as a past comment he made, about promising to pay for college tuition for a group of children, comes back to bite him on the ass, as he comes face to face with those who will soon find out their hero is nothing more than a sham. It's honestly hurtful to have to watch, as we see Michael try to worm his way out of possibly the worst thing he's ever done, hurting a large group of people, rather than just individuals he's royally screwed in the past. I have never, ever wanted to skip any part of a review project as I did here. It's utterly reprehensible, and not the least bit funny. Disgusting.
Thankfully, a few wisely deleted scenes will show that there was another cruel Michael Scott moment, involving Pam's mother, where the content that aired was much less despicable, but that just brings up the next problem: the rotating chair relationships. Is it so hard to believe that anyone in the office could, heaven forbid, date outside of the office? We were finally clear of the Angela subplot with Andy, and even her affair with Dwight, but now we're given Andy and Erin (Ellie Kemper), the new receptionist, and a possible love plot for Oscar (Oscar Martinez) and a warehouse worker? Is the show so devoid of ideas that the constant relationship drama that one would expect in junior high or high school is the go-to? Do they have a dart board where writers decide who will date who based off of a series of throws (with no thought involved)? They even tried to undo what has been done. The Dwight and Angela subplot was best when it was the elephant in the room. Now that it went public to the office, it's nowhere near as effective.
Familiar faces are a good/bad thing on this show, and this season is somewhat bizarre in that respect. We finally get to see more of Todd Packer (David Koechner), and we see quite a bit of David Wallace (Andy Buckley), but for the most part, celebrity cameos are kept to a minimu....ah shit, hey look, it's Kathy Bates! One of my favorite parts of the previous seasons was the anonymity of most of the cast, as their backgrounds were mostly in writing or producing. Now, it seems that Idris Elba's guest role in season five had to be outdone, and while Bates is a spectacular actress, truly amazing, her character is far too unlikable, too much of a sore thumb and a departure from the tone of the show.
Yes, 'The Office' can still be funny from time to time, and I don't think I've ever laughed as hard as I did at the sight gag during the extravaganza birthing episode, when Andy shows us his failed gift to Pam and Jim's child. I loved the way Dwight was finally given more time, and some more extreme moments, focusing more on his special brand of inanity and peculiarity, rather than being nothing more than a reactive force. Megadesk is truly something to fear and marvel at, even if this season isn't.
But even a broken clock is right twice a day. The promotion of Darryl (Craig Robinson) to the upper office is a travesty, even if he's a scene stealer and a fantastic character, as it is a further sign that things are going in the wrong direction, with a cast growing, when the problem is that it's already overflowing. Background characters like Creed (Creed Bratton), Toby (Paul Lieberstein), Phyllis (Phyllis Smith), and Ryan (B.J. Novak) get little attention, even if we finally get our fair share of Kevin (Brian Baumgartner). The office is starting to overflow, and even the planned departure of Carell from the series after this coming season won't right the ship, since we'll probably just see another new cast member or three to replace him.
It's way too hard to pinpoint the moment that 'The Office' started going downhill, as there have always been unusually awful episodes sprinkled in with the greats. We've always had moments that were utterly disgusting (Michael's scenes in season four concerning courtship, for example), as well as cruel character interactions, but there was always some level of payoff down the road in other areas. I'm just not seeing that as a possibility anymore. Season six of 'The Office' went straight to the dumps. Literally.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Office: Season Six' comes to Blu-ray from Universal in a four disc set, with all four BD50 discs reportedly being Region Free. There is no annoying pre-menu content, though there is a slight BD-Live loading delay on disc one.
The packaging for this release is among the worst I have ever encountered on Blu-ray, and Universal needs to knock it off, fast. Season five had stacked discs across a foldout digipak, and annoying as it was, it was still easy and workable. Not anymore. Season six has a similar foldout, though it is much, much thinner. Instead of having tabs hold the discs at the center hub, we now have clasps built into the plastic that hold the disc in three places, around the rim. The top discs are damn near impossible to get out of the trays, as one has to literally stress and bend the packaging to try to free them. Thank goodness for scratch protection on Blu-ray discs, as getting discs back into their trays is an even bigger nightmare. Perhaps this is the studio's way of discouraging you from watching the show. I literally put each disc in a separate, standard case for when it was being reviewed, for ease of use, and each disc now resides in its proper home again, possibly never to see the light of day, thanks to inexpensive, thinner design. Terrible packaging.
Presented with a series of VC-1 1080p encodes at 1.78:1, the sixth season of 'The Office' is as visually appealing as season five. That's a good thing.
Detail levels are very strong, with great textures and amazing, borderline superb depth. Stray hairs pop in closeups like you wouldn't believe. The entire show feels very lived in, very real, with each and every layer of detail coming straight to the forefront. Black levels are realistic, and quite appropriate, while whites are very clean. Colors on display are very fun, as the (mostly) mundane outfits were offset by the various bright and vivid trinkets lying around desks, giving shots life where otherwise there would be none. Skin tones are a bit wonky, as they're accurate for the most part, but can alternate between flushed pale and slowly roasted from time to time, in a sterile office environment. We get our fair share of light and blurry shots, particularly in driving moments, but they're somewhat scattered. Artifacting and banding are not an issue whatsoever, but there is a tiny, tiny bit of ringing. Fans will not be disappointed one bit.
The sixth season of 'The Office' is given a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track for each and every episode (with English SDH and Spanish subs), that feel, to me, almost as unauthentic as the ones found in the previous 'Office' release. We still get lots of random background ambience, but it's (still) for the most part awkward. Scranton's branch is constantly referred to as the model branch (amazingly), yet we rarely ever see a worker make a sale, or talk to a client, you know, generate funds. In fact, numerous times this season, due to the entire parallel to the slumping economy storyline, we hear about how bad some salesmembers have it (such as Pam doubling her sales, bringing her up to four clients. Yippee!). Through it all, at the start of the season, the random printers and office devices going berserk with activity just feels wrong.
After a while, though, it got back to normal, where it should be. I started to wonder, was this another case of 'Fantastic Four,' where after a while the filmmakers got lazy and stopped making the cracking rock sounds and small bass stomps each time the behemoth took a step? Activity outside the office was amazingly vivid, and matched scenes beautifully.
Nitpicks aside, this is an average track. There are only occasional variations in volume, with limited range, and virtually no bass presence (though it goes utterly insane during the wedding sequence). Dialogue is pitch perfect, in that it's always clear, and we sometimes get that nice muffle from when an actor (on screen or off) is too close to the microphone. Equally authentic is the random whirring and humming from mundane items such as lights. Still, it would have been nice to have some localization, or dialogue moving through a channel when appropriate. This release treats the rear speakers like a novelty.
'The Office' has never been one to skimp on extras. Here's where the value is on this release!
'The Office' isn't a show for everyone, but it was very good to fans for a while. Unfortunately, running stories have been given conclusions prematurely, leaving me to wonder where the show can even go from here. This sixth season seems lost at times, and the show as a whole may be in very real danger of cancellation with the upcoming departure of Steve Carell. It may be a welcome loss.
Universal's Blu-ray release of this season features very strong video, average audio, and a slew of extras that will appease any fan, for sure, with enough deleted scenes to fill five full episodes, as well as numerous other goodies. Unfortunately, the packaging for this release is garbage. Fans shouldn't hesitate to pick this season up, but newcomers would be advised to go back to the glory years, the first four seasons, particularly seasons two and three, even if they're only on DVD at the moment.