This is the best comedy on television, but it finished its fourth season languishing at #77 in the Nielsens, while Two and a Half Men ended inside the Top 20. You see, people? This is why According to Jim was just renewed for an eighth season — whenever the networks give you a chance to prove you’re smart enough to handle real comedy, you pass it by in favor of cheap yuks. For shame.
Luckily, thanks to the magic of DVD, it’s never too late to repent, and Tuesday brings the arrival of The Office: Season Four in deluxe shiny disc edition — so set aside $31 of your paycheck for the set, and prepare to be very glad you did. Though the writers’ strike left this season with an abbreviated 14-episode run, five of them are hourlong episodes, and Universal has stuffed the package with a wide array of bonus material. There are only four commentary tracks this time around, but you also get roughly two hours of deleted scenes, a very lengthy blooper reel, a featurette from the Office convention held in Scranton, a fake rabies PSA, and — if you get your set before supplies run out — a 40-page replica of the script for “The Dinner Party” episode.
A surprising number of people had problems with the direction this season took, whether it was because they felt the hourlong episodes were poorly paced, or they were unhappy that Jim and Pam were finally together, or they felt the show had crossed the boundary from hysterically painful to just dark and uncomfortable. These people are all stupid. This run of episodes includes some of the series’ finest, funniest moments, including two classics of squirm comedy, “Dinner Party” and “The Deposition.” (Just try to hold back tears of laughter during the scene where the stenographer is forced to read back the confusion that results from a lame “that’s what she said” gag.)
Does the season have its frustrating moments? Sure. But to me, the show’s appeal lies in the brilliant way it exploits the tension between expectations and reality, both in the characters’ storyline arcs and their wincingly inappropriate actions. Often, you can see what’s coming from a mile away, and as much as you dread what you know is about to unfold, you can’t help watching — and laughing. Especially laughing. If only for the finale alone — which packs the apparent departure of two characters, an unexpected engagement, and a horribly funny running gag about mental retardation — it deserves a place in your collection.
Of course, if you’re a fan of the show, you’ve probably had this on pre-order for awhile already. But if you’re one of the unwashed masses who’s still passing up The Office, purchase this (or, better yet, the Seasons 1-4 Box Set) immediately. Do it now.
(That’s what she said.)