It's a new rite of the end of summer – just before the new television season starts, a plethora of boxed sets from the last television season are released to DVD. One of the funniest of those series arrives on DVD today, The Office: Season Four. Despite having a shortened season due to the writers' strike, the series still managed 14 new episodes, several of which are a full hour in length.
The season picks up a few short months after the end of the third one. Karen Filippelli (Rashida Jones) has left Dunder-Mifflin's Scranton office, and Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) may or may not be dating. Ryan (B.J. Novak) has also left Scranton, going to corporate, and is now Michael's (Steve Carell) boss. Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) is still looking for love and Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) is… still Dwight Schrute. Things change as the season progresses, but I don't want to spoil any of the twists, turns, or high jinx.
Ever-present during the show's fourth is the same brand of awkward humor that has made The Office one of the most consistently funny shows on television during its run. Leading that awkward charge is Carell, whose Michael Scott seems to always manage to say just the wrong thing at the wrong time. There are moments when Scott performs far above the expectations of those around him, moments when he shows himself to be far more wise than anyone might suspect, but they only seem to serve to make his failings that much greater.
Inspiring the awkwardness in others are, again, Jim and Pam. They are the two sane people living in an insane world. They are certainly the most well-rounded and most resemble people in the real world. During this season one of their key jobs remains, as it has been, to look the camera (and the audience) square in the eye and acknowledge the lunacy surrounding them. While they certainly inspire some of the foolishness with their practical jokes, this season they also prove once and for all that they truly care for, and do not wish ill upon, their coworkers, even Dwight.
This is an important acknowledgment on the series' part, and one that allows them to be more cruel in their jokes in the future as we know that they don't actually want to permanently harm anyone. It is harder to root for people who are truly cruel to others and knowing that Pam and Jim aren't keeps them in the audience's good graces and makes them more human.
The show's greatness however does not lie in the fact that Michael, Jim, and Pam are so well drawn and portrayed, it lies in the fact that The Office truly is an ensemble comedy. It is a show which has a myriad of characters who may not be its stars, but who are every bit as funny and nuanced as those who headline. It is the Oscars (Oscar Nuñez), Angelas (Angela Kinsey), Stanleys (Leslie David Baker), and other characters in the office who not only provide more plotlines, but make the office feel more real. The whole show is built around the notion that this small paper company's office in Scranton is populated with the biggest bunch of misfits ever put together (and yet it eerily reminds us all of every office in which we've worked).
The DVD release of The Office's fourth season features deleted scenes, a gag reel, outtakes, and several episodes with cast and crew commentary. There is also a panel discussion with the writers of the show which was filmed at The Office Convention. While some of what is said is interesting, the jerky camera and troubled audio often make watching the panel discussion far more trouble than it is worth.
The Office: Season Four is available on DVD September 2, and proves that the sitcom, though it have may changed, is certainly not dead. The show's ability to juggle work and relationships in an at once zany and endearing manner makes it one of the best shows on television today and a great way to spend a few weeks before the new season begins in earnest.