“THE OFFICE’S” FOURTH SEASON, newly out on DVD, was not its strongest.

The multiple hour-long episodes dragged at times, the season was disrupted by the writers strike, and with the exception of the blissful-for-now Jim and Pam, most of the main characters were immersed in depressing storylines. Ryan‘s big promotion led to drug addiction and arrest, Dwight spent the entirety of the season in a funk following his break-up with Angela and poor Michael Scott endured an abusive relationship, financial problems and apparently repeated vasectomies.

Thankfully, the supporting characters were able to provide some levity to the otherwise soap-operatic proceedings. As we wait for a new set of hopefully more peppy episodes, here are my nominees for Employee of the Season from the last batch.

» Kevin Malone, played by Brian Baumgartner
Kevin suffered some setbacks during the past season as well, breaking up with both his fiance Stacy and his Scrantonicity bandmates. He didn’t let this stop him from providing some of the most hilarious interview segments on the show, including the following compelling recap of Michael’s confrontation with Stanley: “It’s Michael versus Stanley and it is the clash of the Titans. In one corner you have Michael and he is mad, and then in the other corner you have Stanley and he’s mad! So that’s about it.”

Best Storyline: Dwight decides to haze the new human resources representative by telling her that Kevin is mentally challenged. She is accordingly solicitous and admiring of Kevin’s accomplishments, which include selecting a vending machine snack and driving to the grocery store for barbecue sauce. Kevin appreciates her assistance in sorting his change (“Oh … that’s a button”) and based on their rapport predicts, “I am totally going to bang Holly.”
»Watch the Kevin and Holly scenes here.

» Kelly Kapoor, played by Mindy Kaling
Customer service rep Kelly somehow manages to be charming, despite personifying nearly every annoying cliche about young women. She’s manipulative, obsessed with weddings and chatters incessantly about celebrities, babies and celebrity babies.

Best Storyline: Although she’s now dating warehouse foreman Darryl, Kelly seems to have lost none of her relish for antagonizing ex-boyfriend Ryan. Early in the season, she shamelessly resorts to faking a pregnancy to win him back, but by the end of the season she is merely fantasizing about wearing her hottest tracksuit to make him jealous when she visits him in prison. It’s progress.
» Kelly and Ryan in happier days.

» Stanley Hudson, played by Leslie David Baker
Stanley’s funniest moments are often nonverbal. His sighs, eye rolls and unfailingly withering gaze convey the indignities of working for Michael Scott better than Jim’s mugging for the camera ever could.

Best Storyline: For me, the Stanley highlight of the season was a fleeting moment from episode three. Stanley opens his browser window to the new Dunder Mifflin Web site, and as some tinny page loading music plays, starts grooving ever so subtly in his seat. Phyllis delightedly exclaims, “Stanley, you’re dancing!” He immediately stops, and replies, deadpan as ever, “No, I’m not.

» Creed Bratton, played by Creed Bratton
Much of the fun with the Creed character come from trying to identify which of the bizarre biographical tidbits he occasionally volunteers are drawn from the life of his namesake actor. It has been confirmed that he was the lead guitarist for the Grass Roots, but his cult membership, illegitimate children and multiple identities remain unverified.

Best Storyline: In episode two, Creed becomes convinced that Ryan’s technology initiative is really a conspiracy to drive out the older office employees. He takes it upon himself to adopt a more youthful demeanor, but his awful black dye job, newfound thirst for Red Bull and updated-but-not-updated-enough slang (“Later, Skater!”) aren’t too convincing.

» Phyllis Vance, played by Phyllis Smith
On the early episodes of “The Office,” Phyllis endured considerable abuse from Michael, mostly at the expense of her matronly appearance. Since her marriage to refrigeration magnate Bob Vance, she has become more assertive, and the character is more interesting for it.

Best Storyline: The feud between Phyllis and Party Planning Committee chair Angela has been escalating all season. Phyllis throwing a wad of balled up Post-It suggestions in Angela’s face was one liberating highlight. Expect their confrontations to continue this season, since the finale’s shocking cliffhanger found Phyllis walking in on Angela having sex in the office and not with new fiance Andy.

» The fifth season ofThe Officepremieres Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. on NBC.

Written by Express contributor Meg Zamula

Photos by Mitchell Haaseth/NBC