“You can’t put a price on comedy,” says David Brent, the alter ego of Ricky Gervais in the original BBC The Office. But The Office: Special Edition (BBC) has given it a shot: this new edition carries a $39.98 suggested retail price (less with the inevitable discounts of web retailers and other stores). It’s a much more caustic and squirmy comedy than its American counterpart, which was designed to play for more than the 12 episodes (plus two-part Christmas Special coda) of the self-contained British show. That’s not to dismiss the superb American incarnation, but it’s what makes the original so distinctive
Creator/co-writer/co-director Ricky Gervais is fearless as the insufferably self-satisfied office manager of a paper company branch who fancies himself a born comedian and a natural leader. He’s wrong about both counts, naturally, but his yes-man team-leader Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), a brown-noser with delusions of competency, hasn’t noticed, and white-collar joker Tim (Martin Freeman, currently playing Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit”) is too worried about his job to say anything to his boss. This is the show that introduced the mockumentary format that has defined so much of American sitcoms, but plays it differently: Everyone forgets about the camera but Brent, who can’t help but bray and play to his audience, mouthing off inanities while he pontificates as the voice of wisdom.
It gets even more squirmy in the second series as Brent melts down in envy and anxiety when a former fellow manager (Patrick Baladi) becomes his boss and proves to be both more effective and popular and Brent offends just about everyone in the newly expanded office and alarms his corporate superiors with tasteless jokes and the scariest dance unleashed on television. The two-part “Christmas Specials” wraps it all up in a low-key happy ending. It’s a reward that they’ve all earned, even the pathetic David Brent, who — in a moment of rare self-awareness — chucks away his painful pose and eager-to-please phony chumminess to become a real person.
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.
Fringe: Season One (Warner) – From producer J.J. Abrams and co-creators and producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci comes this stylish trip into fringe science with X-Files trippiness but decidedly earthbound conspiratorial overtones. Anna Torv is the serious, straight-laced agent put in charge of a special unit dedicated to cases that defy rational explanation and conventional science, sort of a CSI team that Fox Muldar would have loved. Joshua Jackson is the happy-go-lucky rebel genius to her crisply dedicated agent, an international hustler pulled out of his underworld shenanigans to babysit his estranged father and the team’s star player: brilliant scientist Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), who is pulled out of the high security psychiatric facility where he’s lived in isolation for 17 years. This is a show where freaky things happen on a weekly basis (Astral projection! Teleportation! Interdimensional travel! Humans transformed into hideous mutant creatures!), but the dark style and grave tone of the show is mellowed by Noble’s deft and playful as the eccentric Walter, whose already shaky social skills have long ago evaporated into the ether (“It’s like listening to a broken record but the lyrics keep changing,” describes his sardonic son). It’s one of the most expensive and visually impressive shows on TV, with wildly fantastic cases and a complex history that, like The X-Files, wraps all of the characters up in its web. Watch for the long-anticipated appearance of William Bell, the mystery man at the center of the web, in the season finale: you’ll love it when he finally reveals his face.
There are 20 episodes on seven discs (five discs on Blu-ray) with a nicely produced set of supplements. “Robert Orci’s Production Diary” is a tour through the shooting of the pilot episode and its lavish 31-day shoot, “Fringe Visual Effects” gives a sense of the scope of the show’s special effects by looking into a few key creations from select episodes and “Evolution: The Genesis of Fringe” charts the development of the show (it’s nice to hear Abrams describe how he drew inspiration from David Cronenberg’s films) . Also features commentary on three episodes (including the feature-length pilot) by the writers and producers, more featurettes and deleted scenes. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is “Fringe Pattern Analysis,” with comments on six select scenes by experts on the science and the theoretical ideas behind the applications in the show, and commentary by the writers on the season finale. Continue reading “TV on DVD 9/8/09 – Fringe Science, Wiseguys, Serial Killers and Lies”