It’s two weddings, a birth and a funeral for Dunder Mifflin in The Office: Season Six (Universal). Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) have their wedding at Niagara Falls, complete with a back-up plan because any wedding involving their blindly insensitive, blithely sexist and attention-starved boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is vulnerable to disaster, but they return to a company on the verge of bankruptcy. Plus Pan gives birth, Andy (Ed Helms) woos Erin (Ellie Kemper) with his usual graceless, sweetly blundering innocence, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) continues his schemes to get Jim fired and Dunder Mifflin gets a new owner: Sabre industries and its straight-talking Texas owner Jo Bennett (Kathy Bates). It’s hard to believe that the docu-reality show gimmick has not worn thin after all these years, but the show has continued to evolve and remain strong for six seasons. The seventh season—and the last season with star Steve Carell—begins in late September.
26 episodes on five discs (four on Blu-ray) in a fold-out digipak, plus commentary on four episodes, an extended version of one episode, the complete “Welcome to Sabre” corporate video (which the office-mates probably should have watched before composing a welcome song extolling the virtues of “saw-bray”), a podcast mini-sode and two hours of deleted scenes among the supplements. The Blu-ray features the usual interactive BD-Live functions along with a new feature: it will also allow viewers BD-Live access to the first few Season Seven episodes of The Office after they’ve aired.
Chuck: The Complete Third Season (Warner) – At the end of Season Two, computer geek turned intelligence asset Chuck (Zachary Levi) was spontaneously uploaded with a whole raft of new skills (a la The Matrix, complete with obligatory tag line "I know kung fu"). It’s Intersect 2.0 and the skills kick in like computer programs launched in his brain when needed. At least as long as he can keep his emotions, which have a tendency to interfere with the process, under control. For Chuck, a regular guy in a James Bond world, that’s not always easy, which is why his handlers—sexy CIA agent Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and NSA super-patriot soldier (Adam Baldwin)—are still around to watch his back. And, apparently, ours as well. "For the last two years, we protected Chuck from the world," warns General Beckman. "But now, we have to protect the world from Chuck."
Former big screen Superman Brandon Routh joins the cast as the new guy in charge of Chuck’s team in the fight against The Ring (basically, this show’s answer to SPECTRE), the bad guys who are after the Intersect program uploaded in Chuck’s skull, as well as control of the CIA, NSA and the rest of the alphabet soup of intelligence organizations around the world. In Chuck’s world, meanwhile, his always volatile romance with Sarah hits the skids thanks to his determination to become a "real" agent (which Sarah is afraid will destroy everything she values in the lovable geek), and a new romance blossoms with a cute computer expert (Kristina Kreuk, most famous as Lana Lang from Smallville) he meets in First Class on a mission to Paris and ends up dating when she joins the Buy More Nerd Herder crew. Plus Casey goes rogue and ends up a civilian reconnecting with a life he thought he left behind decades ago, Chuck’s dad returns (and the Ring is close behind) and Chuck deals with computer overload when the Intersect starts to burn out his brain.
The show still manages a tricky balance between slick spy movie action and intrigue, romantic melodrama and geek comedy among the misfits of the Buy More staff (still serving as Chuck’s ever-more-complicated cover), while more and more friends and family members learn about Chuck’s double life and get caught up in the missions. It’s worth it just to see Chuck’s best friend and roommate Morgan (Joshua Gomez) try to turn himself in Casey’s sidekick, talking a blue-streak of spy-movie nonsense and video-game fantasies in the middle of mission. Just another complication when it comes to covering a secret life as America’s most unpredictable intelligence asset. 19 episodes on five discs (four on Blu-ray) plus two featurettes (“Chuck-Fu…and Dim Sum: Becoming a Spy Guy” and “The Jeffster Revolution: The Definitive Mockumentary,” deleted scenes and an illustrated episode guide.
The Norm Show: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory) – The acerbic persona that Norm Macdonald fashioned for himself on Saturday Night Live got its own sitcom in 1999, with Macdonald portraying a former pro hockey player serving time as a social worker in lieu of prison after he’s arrested for gambling and tax evasion. Norm is crude, socially inappropriate, childish and obliviously blunt, both on the job and in his personal life, and it defines the tone and level of humor in this decidedly comedy. Created by Macdonald and Bruce Helford (of The Drew Carey Show) it’s your usual workplace sitcom with an especially sarcastic attitude, with Macdonald smirking his way through the usual raft of blithely offensive remarks aimed at both clients and co-workers, especially the meek boss (Max Wright) who joins the show in the second season. Laurie Metcalf and Ian Gomez are his best friends and co-workers and is Nikki Cox a former hooker that he hires as the office receptionist. Also joining the cast in the second season are Artie Lange (as his half brother, who is always working an angle) and Faith Ford (as his parole officer and eventually his love interest), and Tommy Smothers plays his racist, insensitive, bullying father in a pair of episodes.
It’s a minor sitcom with crude humor based on insensitive and sexual remarks in place of inventive writing or creative concepts, which is all you need to know when deciding if you have the tolerance for the show. All 54 episodes are collected on eight discs in a box set of five thinpak cases, with commentary on eight episodes by Macdonald and Helford and an illustrated episode guide.
Less Than Perfect: Season One (Lionsgate) – Sara Rue (Popular) plays Claude, a “floating” temp secretary at a TV news station who is taken on full-time by the network’s smugly charming star newscaster (Eric Roberts), in the sitcom that ran for four seasons, from 2002-2006. The cheerfully unpretentious Claude upsets the balance with her giddy cheer and open-floor policy, which means her working-class buddies (Andy Dick and Sherri Shepherd) from the lower floors come up with their brand of goofy distraction, much to the consternation of the toadying assistant producer angling for a promotion (Zachary Levi, now the star of “Chuck”) and an arrogant gold-digger (Andrea Parker) trying to marry her way to success. It’s a workplace comedy with the attitude of a high school dramedy where the cliques are drawn by what floor you work on, and a lot of the initial humor revolves around Claude’s so-called plus-sized figure, which means she looks like a real person rather than an emaciated runway model, and while such jibes make sense on a show like Ugly Betty, they don’t really work here. These aren’t characters, they’re caricatures in a sitcom cliché. It can be funny—you throw that many jokes at the camera in a show and some are going to stick—but it’s not memorable. The episodes are, for some unknown reason, not presented in broadcast order, which becomes evident when the developments of the first season finale are suddenly forgotten in the next episode on the disc. 22 episodes on four discs, no supplements.
Putting time into these cookie-cutter sitcoms meant I didn’t have time for a couple of my not-so-guilty genre pleasures, shows I have little time for during the year but enjoy dipping into on DVD. This week, those shows are Smallville: The Complete Ninth Season (Warner), with small-town superboy Clark Kent (Tom Welling) now a reporter on the Daily Planet in Metropolis and taking his first steps to embracing his destiny as Superman, and Supernatural: The Complete Fifth Season (Warner), with demon-fighting brothers Sam (Jared Padelecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) joining forces with fallen angel Castiel (Misha Collins) to stop Satan and friends (including the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) from pouring out of hell and taking over the Earth.
I look at Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection (Acorn) in a separate post here.
Also new this week: the middle-school sitcom Boy Meets World: Seasons One, Two and Three (Lionsgate) (each released separately) with Fred Savage, Skins: Volume 3 (BBC) with a whole new high school cast, the 2010 made-for-SyFy mini-series The Phantom (Vivendi), Pie in the Sky: Series 3 (Acorn), and the British documentary series The Great Rift (BBC) and Wonders of the Solar System (BBC).