There’s lot of pressure these days on the television comedy, at least from a critical standpoint. You’ve got sitcoms challenging the very notion of what a sitcom can be from Community to Louie, and for a show to really enter that upper echelon of lauded TV comedy, it has to be both funny and smart.
It’s been a while since The Office was considered part of that critical top tier, and it’s become increasingly fashionable to downplay its relevance or just ignore it altogether. There was a brief window — seasons two to four, perhaps — where The Office was looked at as a game-changer. Now its mockumentary conventions feel ordinary, if not worn-out, and each new season seems to come with the resignation that this is going to be another step down the ladder of quality.
But The Office has turned out to be quite an interesting show, if not the one that we may have expected early on. There was no question that this U.S. remake wouldn’t possess the same audacity as Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s British original, which refuses to blink in the face of extreme discomfort. The U.S. Office achieves this feeling occasionally, like in season four’s “Dinner Party,” but it’s not the show’s bread-and-butter.
Rather, the U.S. Office is more on the opposite end of the spectrum — it’s TV comfort food, and I don’t mean that as a knock. It became increasingly clear to me while re-watching season seven, which recycles familiar storylines and doesn’t push many boundaries, that The Office may not be brilliant in a cerebral sense, but it’s still consistently funny. And unlike traditional sitcoms that depend on manufactured situations for comedy, The Office derives a large chunk of its humor from characterizations, which have been carefully cultivated over seven years. It may not be a game-changing approach, but it’s not an entirely ordinary one, and for that, The Office doesn’t really deserve all the shit its taken over much of its run.
So no, there aren’t many (or any) surprises in season seven. In fact, the showrunners seem determined to weed out surprises entirely, with announcements that spoiled cameos like Gervais’s appearance as David Brent and the star-studded finale before they even aired. This trend continues, as detailed casting announcements about James Spader’s role in the upcoming eighth season were released long ago.
But even without the element of surprise, The Office’s superb ensemble cast continues to hit comic pay dirt, with everyone eligible for the biggest laugh of the episode. Creed Bratton continues his reign at the actor with the highest laughs-to-lines ratio, and other secondary players like Oscar Nuñez, Brian Baumgartner and Zach Woods (who actually could belong in the British Office) threaten to steal the show often.
The major plot threads of season seven still revolve around the major characters, like Rainn Wilson’s Dwight taking ownership of the building and instituting draconian policies to Ed Helms’ Andy vying for the affections of receptionist Erin (Ellie Kemper). Jim and Pam (John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer) continue to survive as possibly the only sane people in the office while raising a child, and Darryl (Craig Robinson) looks for ways to keep his career on the rise. And of course, there’s Michael Scott, who Steve Carell has fashioned into a truly great character, both despicable and lovable at turns, although it’s increasingly turned toward the latter as the series has progressed.
Of course, the biggest touchstone of season seven was Carell’s, and necessarily, Michael’s departure. Bringing back Amy Ryan as Michael’s true love Holly to facilitate his leaving was a smart, if obvious move. Ryan is easily the best guest star the show has seen, matching Carell’s awkward charm perfectly, and the orchestration of the pair’s engagement and exit was one of those sentimental, but still effective moments that The Office is so good at.
The season is not without its share of missteps, the biggest being Will Ferrell’s arc as the man to replace Michael Scott. Ferrell seems out of his element, and the character, ridiculously named Deangelo Vickers, is just an ill-defined cipher that one suspects the writers hoped Ferrell would color in. He doesn’t, and every moment of his screen time during the four-episode arc grinds any comic momentum to a halt. Also given way too much play is Angela’s budding romance with a state senator who everyone else recognizes as gay. It’s rarely funny, and one hopes they’ll dispense with it early next season.
While Carell’s departing would’ve been a natural point to end the series on, I’m not convinced The Office has nothing left to give. Season seven is successful a lot more than it’s not, and who knows, maybe the big change will give the writers impetus to totally reinvent the show. I don’t expect that, but even if it continues on its current path, The Office can still succeed as a solid, if not brilliant, half-hour comedy.
The Blu-ray Discs
All 24 episodes of season seven are spread across four discs and are presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Like the previous two seasons on Blu-ray, this one looks crisp and sharp, with nice, natural colors and skin tones and good amounts of fine detail.
Audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks that keep the dialogue and interviews focused in the front channel, with office noise lending a good deal of ambient sound to the mix. Everything is pristinely crisp and clear.
Deleted scenes are included for nearly every episode and are presented on the same disc the episode is on. Cast and crew commentaries for five episodes — “Nepotism,” “PDA,” “Threat Level Midnight,” “Goodbye Michael” and “Dwight K. Schrute (Acting) Manager” — are included on their respective discs.
Disc three features the full movie of Threat Level Midnight, which runs longer than the version seen in the episode about it. Disc four features a blooper reel and a three-part webisode series about some of the employees making a horror film in the office.
The package also includes a poster with the characters in a parody version of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
The Bottom Line
A satisfying set of episodes, the seventh season of The Office may not reinvent the comedy wheel, but it’s a set that has plenty of replay value for when you want some TV comfort food.