The Office Season Three
Starring: Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, B.J. Novak
Series Creators: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, developed by Greg Daniels
After the second season of The Office, it quickly became one of my favourite shows on television, following a season finale (“Casino Night”) that might be one of the best episodes in the history of sitcom television. So the third season had a lot of momentum to build from, but also had to be judged against the impossibly high standards that it had set in its first 28 episodes.
In a weird way, it managed to both build on its momentum and not meet the impossibly high standards it set. Season three was a fantastic season of television, cementing the show’s place amongst the very best on TV, but it also wasn’t quite as good the previous season.
Before I go any further, I should make myself clear here: The Office is excellent, and this was an excellent season. Great episodes, great characters, great plotting, everything. I loved watching it, and I loved re-watching it more. That said, the show came down a bit from season two, possibly because it had to for the long-term benefit of the show.
The season starts with “Gay Witch Hunt”, which deals with some conflict stemming from yet another Michael Scott (Steve Carell) social blunder. More importantly, it establishes the new dynamic for the first part of the season, with Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) having left Scranton for a promotion at the Stamford branch of Dunder-Mifflin. The series introduces us to new supporting cast members of the Stamford branch, including Karen Filippelli (Rashida Jones) and Andy Bernard (Ed Helms), while establishing Jim’s reticence about his time in Scranton and his rejection at the hands of the newly-single Pam (Jenna Fischer).
I’ll admit, I was pretty uneasy watching the first quarter of this season when it first aired, as I worried that the writers were going to keep Jim away from Scranton too long. It was an idea that worked well in terms of continuity, and successfully introduced some new characters to the series, but came at the cost of the comedic chemistry of the show. For me, Jim is an essential part of what makes the show work, and while he was still heavily featured on the show, he wasn’t there to temper the oafishness of Michael or the bizarreness of Dwight (Rainn Wilson). Jim is the audience’s tour guide in the weird world of Scranton relations, and without him present for the first seven episodes, I felt that too often the show got swallowed by Carell and Wilson’s antics, without the necessary counter-balance to keep the proceedings from becoming too zany.
Watching the second time around, the anxiety that Jim would take too long to come back to Scranton was gone (it lasted a couple months as it aired, but only a few days on DVD), but my feeling that the chemistry was off remained. For instance, an episode like “Gay Witch Hunt” had some great moments, but was also the kind of cringe-humour-laced episode that needed Jim to tone down. I was surprised that they decided to submit it for an Emmy (which it won). “The Convention” was better, but then again, it featured interactions between Michael, Dwight, and Jim. The best episode amongst these seven was “Initiation”, which might’ve been the most absurd episode of the season, but succeeded by introducing a new element with the interaction between Dwight and Ryan (B.J. Novak), with Ryan’s bewildered detachment serving to counteract Dwight’s insanity.
That said, the slightly reduced chemistry of seven episodes is the only complaint I have for what was an excellent season. What this show does better than any other sitcom that I can recall is develop characters and stories. With the Jim-Pam relationship, the potential closing of Scranton, and the new job at corporate, the season brought many moments that had viewers desperate to tune in to see how they turned out. It’s the first sitcom I can think of that is event programming, rival to serial adventure dramas like Heroes or Lost. Think about it, if you’re a fan of this show, is there another series whose return you look forward to more than this one? I know there isn’t for me.
That they can deliver natural cliffhanger moments while still delivering solid episodic humour speaks to the strength of the show’s writers. They have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish in a season, and develop the long term goals while coming up with fresh ideas for each episode, be it salary negotiations, safety training, a day at the beach, or sales calls. With each episode, they further develop their cast and characters, creating a richer experience than what is typically offered from even dramatic TV shows, with more original comedic situations than those seen in blockbuster movies. It might not have been a perfect season, but it was still good enough to be considered the best show on network television.