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The Office: Season One (U.S. series)

People … who … can stand … some very … awkward … pauses … are the most likely to enjoy the painfully funny humor of The Office, NBC-TV's take on Ricky Gervais' same-named British sitcom that found legions of fans on this side of the pond when it aired on BBC America. Thankfully, unlike some other recent remakes of UK imports ("Coupling"), the American version lives up to its namesake. The premise is the same — a documentary film crew captures the everyday workings of a nondescript corporation (paper company Dunder Mifflin) in a nondescript city (Scranton, PA) — and so are the principal characters (albeit with new names and some Americanized tweaks). There's cluelessly inept boss Michael Scott (Steve Carrell of "The Daily Show" and The 40-Year-Old Virgin), ambitious sycophant Dwight (Rainn Wilson), bored salesman Jim (John Krasinski), defeated receptionist Pam (Jenna Fischer), and put-upon temp Ryan (BJ Novak), plus a roster of supporting players who all have their own quirks. As in the British version, the threat of potential downsizing is the source of much of the characters' angst throughout the first season's six episodes. But the show's humor comes from the uncomfortable, generally petty interactions between Dunder Mifflin's employees. Anyone who's ever worked a 9-to-5 job that they didn't really care about, stuck in close quarters with people they couldn't stand, won't be able to suppress a giggle when Jim encases desk-mate Dwight's stapler in a Jell-o mold, or stop themselves from cringing sympathetically when Michael forces the staff to participate in a pointless "diversity" exercise. Of course, because it can be so awkward and true-to-life, "The Office"'s brand of humor isn't for everyone; like Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," it requires a high tolerance for watching other people put themselves into impossible situations — and then make them worse (just watch Michael try to put a hoops team together in the season's penultimate episode, "Basketball"…). Happily, with such talented, funny people involved, that tolerance is often rewarded with laugh-out-loud moments. Carrell is brilliant as Michael, a man who has clearly been promoted beyond his level of competence and literally has nothing better to do than pester his employees with random "words of wisdom" and jokes that no one gets (a running gag is that Michael thinks of himself as a natural comedian, and his futile attempts to score laughs from the staff offer some of the show's most painfully funny scenes). Krasinski and Fischer have great chemistry as kindred spirits/conspirators Jim and Pam; both of their characters only really come alive in their scenes together, particularly when they're planning some new way to take advantage of Dwight. Their successes are always satisfying, considering that Wilson makes Dwight so delightfully easy to detest. In one of the episode commentaries, Wilson says his character has been described as a "fascist nerd," and it's the perfect way to describe the anime-loving Dwight's self-imposed position as the office rule-enforcer (he runs rampant in the season's third episode, "Health Care").

Wilson — along with Krasinski and Novak — weighs in on all five of the commentaries included on Universal's first-season DVD release of The Office (two for the pilot, and one each for "Diversity Day," "The Alliance," and "Basketball"). Carrell joins them for three of the tracks; Fischer and various producers/directors also chime in occasionally. The disc (which features a 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer, English Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, Spanish subtitles, and English closed-captioning) also offers almost an hour's worth of deleted scenes. All are worth watching, and some are hysterical; it's like getting six new mini-episodes, and it should help tide fans over until Season Two starts broadcasting. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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