Is a season of The Office with less episodes still a great season? That seems to be the debate among the Emmy-winning sitcom’s faithful audience in regard to season four, which like every program in 2007 and 2008 suffered due to the Writers Guild strike. But even a truncated season can’t dispel the fact that The Office remains one of television’s funniest and most consistently inventive programs. If a theme can be grafted upon season four, it’s Things Fall Apart: former temp Ryan (writer-producer B.J. Novak) is promoted to executive position and then squanders that power, while Dwight (series MPV Rainn Wilson) attempts to recover from his breakup with Angela (Angela Kinsey) and her apparent relationship with the hapless Andy (Ed Helms). Elsewhere, HR’s Toby (writer-director Paul Lieberstein) finally flees Dunder Mifflin for that long-threatened vacation to Costa Rica (and is replaced by Oscar nominee Amy Ryan), and Stanley (Leslie David Baker) reaches his own breaking point in “Did I Stutter?”
The center of office entropy is, of course, boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell), who is knocked off his pedestal throughout the season; his sweetly naïve television spot is disparaged in “Local Ad,” he’s passed over for the executive outing in “Survivor Man,” and in the season’s highlights, he is forced to twice endure humiliation at the hands of his own girlfriend Jan (Melora Hardin), first in the heartbreaking “Deposition,” and then immediately after in the Emmy-nominated “Dinner Party,” which puts their disintegrating relationship in sharp focus. Even office lovebirds Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) experience some rocky moments as Jim anguishes over the right time to propose to her. But don’t let that laundry list of disasters fool you into thinking that season four is a downer; if anything, many of the episodes are among the funniest the show has produced to date.
Most notable among these are the opener “Fun Run” (the Scranton team participates in Michael’s charity race for rabies prevention), “Job Fair” (Michael attempts to hawk Dunder Mifflin to high schoolers, while Jim struggles to land a client), and the aforementioned “Dinner Party” and “Goodbye, Toby.” Longtime viewers may wince at some of the broader gags in the season, like Michael and Dwight driving into the lake in “Dunder Mifflin Infinity,” but the best episodes are so strong–and Carell and his fellow players so dead-on in their performances–that it’s hard to make a case against the season for those relatively few low points. Extras in the season-four set are fewer than in previous releases, though that may have to do with the reduced number of episodes. Deleted scenes are offered for every episode, and many are real gems, most notably those in “Dinner Party” and “Goodbye Toby.” A smattering of commentaries is also included; Carell and Krasinski are noticeably absent, but Wilson, Fischer and the writing and directing staff more than make up for their absence. And the featurette “Writer’s Block,” which includes footage of the writers’ panel at an Office convention, gives an amusing alternate to the usual behind-the-scenes coverage. Michael’s complete ad for Dunder Mifflin, a battery of amusing faux PSAs for rabies, and a gag reel do much to fill out the supplemental features. –Paul Gaita