By the time season eight rolled around, I’m sure a lot of people had abandoned The Office, and the occasionally amusing but mostly abysmal first entry into the post-Michael Scott era would’ve justified everyone who’d stuck around leaving too. The Office was once the funniest show on network television, and though it’d been in decline for a while (depending on whom you ask, maybe even since season three), it was never in danger of falling out of my personal rotation.
Well, season eight sure made me question that decision with storytelling sloppiness that wishes it could be called half-assed, near-complete character disintegration, and an absolute dearth of laughs that would sometimes stretch for several consecutive episodes. Sticking it out through all 24 episodes was a war of attrition, but not one I’m exactly proud of winning.
It’s really too bad too, because the creative staff behind The Office had a real opportunity to reinvent the show after the departure of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott at the end of season seven. Sure, he was the cornerstone the entire series had been built on, but The Office has always had a strong ensemble, filled with members just waiting to pick up the slack in a brand new way (The only actor who actually did it — Ellie Kemper, whose guileless Erin is the sole consistent bright spot in season eight). Without huge ratings — well, huge by a non-NBC standard — to compel maintenance of the status quo, The Office was ripe for a dramatic new approach. In some ways, it could’ve been like starting a brand new series again.
Of course, that’s not even close to what happened as Ed Helms’ Andy was called upon to become bumbling boss 2.0, a pale imitation of Carell’s singular creation. It’s not really Helms’ fault; he’s a fine comedic actor who’s been shuffled into a variety of roles in this series depending on its narrative needs, and he’s emerged as an identity-less cipher.
New to the mix in season eight was James Spader’s Robert California, the inscrutable new CEO with a penchant for mind games and a similarly rickety character foundation. Spader unquestionably had a hell of time with the role, but the writers never found a way to integrate him successfully with the established characters or to even explain why a Florida-based CEO of a company based in a number of states would bother spending so much time at one suburban Pennsylvania branch. On the other hand, Robert California looks like an absolutely essential component compared to Catherine Tate’s Nelly, an abominable, dispiriting creation that has somehow continued into season nine.
As for the old gang, most of them became either totally insufferable or thoroughly boring in season eight. And there’s Pam and Jim (Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski), who somehow became both. Sure, the drama had long been out of their homebound relationship, but at least they were still likable. This was the season where Jim’s prankish charm and Pam’s girl-next-door appeal morphed into smug, childish, set-in-their-ways predictability. It seems as if the writing staff understood this, but their proposed solution resulted in the single worst narrative arc The Office has ever produced — a temp named Cathy (Lindsey Broad), brought in to replace Pam on maternity leave and maybe in Jim’s heart. This supposed shocking temptation was telegraphed for a number of excruciating episodes, culminating in an halfhearted attempted seduction and the least ceremonial dismissal of an Office character since that blonde assistant Will Ferrell hired in season seven never came back.
The de facto diamond in the rough of season eight is an occasionally inspired arc when half the office travels to Tallahassee for training, a development which gave Leslie David Baker’s Stanley his best showcase of the series, offered some competent split-location storytelling and returned some of the fun to the relationship between Jim and Rainn Wilson’s Dwight, a character that had been spinning its wheels long before this season.
None of that or Kemper’s winning turn is enough to salvage much of season eight. I’ve defended every other season of The Office to varying degrees, but not this one. Greg Daniels’ return as show runner for the final ninth season has definitely gotten the show back on steadier narrative ground so far, and it’s a good thing. Another season of this crap would’ve been a truly ignoble end for a once great show — a show I look forward to revisiting all the way through again someday. All the way through except for season eight, that is.
The Blu-ray Disc
The 24 season eight episodes are spread across five Blu-ray/DVD flipper discs, with the Blu-ray side presenting the episodes in 1080p/1.78:1. Like previous Office Blu-rays, this one has nothing to complain about, offering sharp, bright images that feature a clearer, crisper image than their HD broadcast counterparts. 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are also perfectly attuned, giving clean dialogue and moderately active surround work.
Pretty much the usual suspects for Office extras, although it’s hardly the joy going through these that it used to be. I remember laughing long and loud at the well-curated deleted scenes reels on older releases, but the 100+ minutes of deleted material here doesn’t have the same effect. Several episodes are presented alongside extended producer’s cuts. There’s also a blooper reel, webisodes, and a selection of promo spots.
The Bottom Line
This season is really, really, really for completists only.