With partial thanks to a writer’s strike that shortened the fourth season of “The Office,” this batch of episodes “ 14 on four discs “ seems more uncomfortable and painful than ever before. That, of course, translates into high comedy.
This season found Dunder-Mifflin’s incompetent Scranton, Pa., branch manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) in a funk. Debt forces him into taking a night job as a diet-pill telemarketer. His girlfriend Jan (Melora Hardin) is somewhat of a psycho. And technology threatens to render him a dinosaur.
Nowhere does this come to a more miserable head than the instant classic “Dinner Party” episode, in which Michael and Jan host an evening of food, friends and, naturally, fighting. There’s a streak of genuine depression running through it, and yet, you can’t help but laugh hysterically at the same time.
Running a close second is “The Deposition,” where Michael tries to be helpful in Jan’s sexual harassment suit against Dunder-Mifflin, and backfires in the most depressing way possible. But the season closer, “Goodbye, Toby,” offers hope for him as he meets a female version of himself (Amy Ryan of “Gone Baby Gone”), which “ along with other wrenches in the story line “ bode well for season five.
As with prior “Office” editions, deleted scenes are plentiful and offer even more laughs. It’s a shame how many gems they have to trash for broadcast. For fans of the show, which are rightfully legion, a purchase is a no-brainer.