In the third season of The Office viewers find some upheaval in the lives of Dunder Mifflin, a fictional paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. After being rejected by office receptionist Pam Beesley (Jenna Fisher), Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) moves to Dunder Mifflin’s Stamford office where he meets up with hyper-competitive Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) and the beautiful, Karen Filipelli (Rashida Jones). Predictably Jim and Karen bond over the inanity of their jobs and begin to see each other, while he heals from his wounding experience with Pam. Back in Scranton, regional manager, Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) is dealing with a toxic relationship with his superior, Jan Levenson (Melora Hardin), while at the same time trying to maintain his self-constructed facade of competence. Tension arises when a corporate merger forces some of the Stamford staff to relocate to Scranton, having Jim return to his old stomping grounds and bringing Karen with him. Andy decides to usurp office suckup Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), and his thwarted efforts land him in anger management. Along with these story arcs, we also have sales rep Phyllis Lapin’s marriage, Oscar Martinez’ (Oscar Nunez) outing in the office, the staff Christmas party, the staff Diwali party and a retreat to the beach that goes terribly wrong for some of the Dunder Mifflin folks.
In its first season The Office was still trying to “find itself” and remain distinct from its UK counterpart. Whenever American television remakes a British sitcom, there are risks of banality and blandness, and though it was far from terrible, the first season did start off a bit rough. The second season had more breathing room and creating more well-rounded characters that were easier to relate to. The third season, bests the first two, by adding some much-needed dramatic tension that adds weight to the characters. This addition of heft is important as the characters often are a mish-mash of neuroses and gags and even in this strong season, there are times when there is little more than just strings of jokes threaded together in the stories.
Still, the jokes almost always work. The writers – some of whom are cast members – score on fetishizing awkwardness and discomfort. Michael’s efforts in instilling a happy, complacent work environment often lead him to good-intentioned, but often failed attempts at “team building.” A great example would be his welcome meeting for the Stamford employees, where he bullies one of the transplants into climbing a table despite the new guy’s huge girth. Michael’s attempt at being politically correct also backfires when he learns that another Stamford drone, Martin Nash (Wayne Wilderson), is an ex-con, who happens to be black. Throughout the rest of the episode, he makes torturous strides at “accepting” Martin, not wanting to look racist, but ultimately, Martin quits because his prison time becomes the focus of several meetings. In the end, of the six new Stamford employees sent to Scranton, Andy’s the only one that sticks around.
The Jim-Pam-Karen love triangle also gives the show some great plots. Adding Jones to the cast was pretty ideal as she fits into the tone of the program aptly (she’s a cast member of the similar Parks and Recreation). Those wanting to see cat fights between Pam and Karen will be disappointed: the writers wisely decided to have the two women bond, despite the obvious tension and become friends.
Michael’s love affair with Jan has some unfortunate Fatal Attraction shadings that seems to work against themselves. Because Jan was seen as the epitome of professionalism, her progressive breakdown that takes place throughout the season seems a bit tacked on as a gag. Still it does give the writers a fantastic chance in having Michael bond with the office girls during a trip to the mall, where he spills his guts out to Phyllis, Karen, Pam and the other women in what was supposed to be a meeting on women’s issues after Phyllis was a victim of a flasher.
As seen with the absurdity of the plots, the cast members are required to believe some of these twists and turns and commit fully. Carrell plays Michael perfectly, allowing for the passive-aggressive rage that seems to peek behind every false, insincere move. He portrays Michaels utter lack of self-awareness wonderfully. Wilson is the other MVP of the clan, doing comedic wonders as the sycophantic (and slightly psychotic) Dwight. Like Michael, Dwight has also hung too much importance and meaning on his job. Helms also proves to be a priceless addition to the cast and has a character rife with quirks that include suffocating self-importance, a fragile ego, and an unfortunately deluded belief in his musical prowess. The rest of the cast is also good, though no one rises to the level of Carrell, Helms or Wilson. Krasinksi’s handy for a quick laugh, and he still scores points for his impish mugging to the camera (which Jones’ Rashida funnily mocks). As Pam, Fisher does the heavy lifting in acting. She doesn’t have as much laughs, but she does provide the show with some critical heart. The others who populate the setting, often being gifted with some gem lines, create a bizarre world of quirks exaggerated and stretched just to the point of credibility. Some of them you’ll surely recognize, like Kelly Kapoor (co-writer, Mindy Kaling), for example, a talkative bubble head who prattles on endlessly about trivial nonsense like celebrity gossip or fashion; or Angela Martin (Angela Kinsey), a purse-lipped prude who looks down on everyone as a moral failure.
One great episode has to be mentioned, “Business School” that has Michael speak at a business school. Back at the office, the employees discover a bat trapped in the ceiling vent that is let loose and closed off in a conference room. Jim then proceeds to spook Rainn into believing the bat turned him into a vampire. It’s a great episode, made all the more enjoyable because it’s directed by Joss Whedon, director and creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
There are a couple hour-long episodes and while they’re funny, they do drag a bit, which shows that this kind of humor is great in short, self-contained units. The extras also include some fantastic deleted scenes – some of which are stronger than what was broadcast.
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