Michael Scott''s long tenure as manager of Dunder Mifflin''s Scranton branch comes to a bittersweet end in the seventh season of The Office, leaving viewers to wonder how and if the show will survive without star Steve Carell. The actor''s departure marks a turning point for the comedy that extends beyond finding a replacement for its lead. The Office itself had begun to show cracks in its façade in its fifth season, with too frequent dips into implausible story lines and character behavior that hewed more cartoonish than the careful mix of sitcom humor and human observation with which the show made its mark. How The Office resets itself in Carell''s wake will remain the task of its eighth season, but season seven offers an agreeable place-marker for the cast and crew, who pay tribute to Scott with several genuinely funny episodes and a wrap-up that manages to be heartfelt without tipping into overly sentimental territory. The season also features a recurring turn by Will Ferrell as Deangelo Vickers, Michael''s temporary replacement and a walking collection of frayed nerves and personality tics. Ferrell is amusing in his four-episode story arc, but at times, his livewire routine clashes mightily with the lower-keyed energy of the established cast. More effective is the parade of celebrities who queue up to replace Michael in the season''s conclusion, "Search Committee," with James Spader (a new Office cast member as of season eight), Ray Romano, Jim Carrey, Will Arnett, and UK Office creator Ricky Gervais (as David Brent) adjusting their respective styles to the level of the series. Other highlights include the unveiling of Michael''s long-gestating film project Threat Level Midnight, which features an array of past Office performers, and "Viewing Party," which evokes past after-hours get-togethers in its barrage of neuroses run wild.
Extras on the four-disc Blu-ray set include four episodes with commentary tracks, each featured on a single disc; Carell is again noticeably absent from these tracks, but series creator Greg Daniels and various cast and crew members, including B.J. Novak, Ellie Kemper, and Paul Lieberstein, do their best be informative and entertaining. Deleted scenes from most of the episodes provide more footage of Ferrell and the other guest stars, while extended versions of "Training Day" and "Search Committee" provide some subtle moments of character development. The complete Threat Level Midnight is a welcome addition, as is The 3rd Floor, a series of webisodes about the staff shooting a horror movie in the office after hours. A fairly hilarious blooper reel rounds out the set. --Paul Gaita
Starring: Steve Carell John Krasinski Jenna Fischer Ed Helms Rainn Wilson
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