Every episode, plus the two Christmas specials, from the BBC’s award-winning, documentary-style comedy series starring Ricky Gervais as David Brent, the manager of paper merchant Wernham Hogg’s Slough office, who, in his own mind, is not so much the boss but more of a friend. Unctuous and ineffectual in equal measure, he turns the life of his staff into a never-ending round of irritating mini-dramas. Series 1 episodes are: ‘Downsize’, ‘Work Experience’, ‘The Quiz’, ‘Training’, ‘New Girl’ and ‘Judgement’. Series 2 episodes are: ‘Merger’, ‘Appraisals’, ‘Party’, ‘Motivation’, ‘Charity’ and ‘Interview’.
It feels both inaccurate and inadequate to describe The Office as a comedy. On a superficial level, it disdains all the conventions of television sitcoms: there are no punch lines, no jokes, no laugh tracks, and no cute happy endings. More profoundly, it’s not what we’re used to thinking of as funny. Most of the fervently devoted fan base watched with a discomfortingly thrilling combination of identification and mortification. The paradox is that its best moments are almost physically unwatchable. Set in the offices of a fictional British paper merchant, The Office is filmed in the style of a reality television show. The writing is subtle and deft, the acting wonderful, and the characters beautifully drawn: the cadaverous team leader Gareth (Mackenzie Crook); the monstrous sales rep, Chris Finch (Ralph Ineson); and the decent but long-suffering everyman Tim (Martin Freeman), whose ambition and imagination have been crushed out of him by the banality of ! the life he dreams uselessly of escaping. The show is stolen, as it was intended to be, by insufferable office manager David Brent, played by codirector-cowriter Ricky Gervais. Brent will become a name as emblematic for a particular kind of British grotesque as Basil Fawlty, but he is a deeper character. Fawlty is an exaggeration of reality, and therefore a safely comic figure. Brent is as appalling as only reality can be. –Andrew Mueller
The second series exceeded even the sky-high standards of the first. Indeed, it ventured beyond caricature and satire, touching on the very edge of darkness. Ricky Gervais is once again excruciatingly superb as David Brent, but in this series, Brent’s to-the-camera assertions concerning his management qualities and executive capabilities are seriously challenged when the Slough and Swindon branches are merged and his former Swindon equivalent Neil (Patrick Baladi) takes over as area manager. To compensate, Brent cultivates his pathologically mistaken image of himself as an entertainer-motivator-comedian whose stage happens to be the workplace. Meanwhile, Tim, who can only maintain his sanity by teasing the priggish Gareth, continues to wrestle with his yearning for receptionist Dawn Tinsley (Lucy Davis), a sympathetic character persisting in a relationship with a man about whom she still maintains unspoken reservations. As ever, it’s the awkward, reality TV-style pauses and silences, the furtive, meaningful and unmet glances across the emotional gulf of the open-plan office, that say it all here. As for Brent, his own breakdown is prefaced by a moment of hideous hilarity–an impromptu office dance, a mixture of “Flashdance and MC Hammer” as Brent describes it, but in reality bad beyond description. Then, when his fate is sealed, he at last reveals himself in a memorable finale to perhaps the greatest British sitcom, besides Fawlty Towers, ever made. –David Stubbs
The brilliant and devastating comedy of The Office is brought to a satisfying conclusion in The Office Special, originally a two-part Christmas special on the BBC, set three years after the end of the faux-documentary’s second season. The former office manager David (Ricky Gervais) now ekes out a desperate existence as an oblivious quasi-celebrity, making awkward, humiliating visits back to the office staff he still believes loves him. Gawky Gareth (Mackenzie Crook) has risen to manager and become a petty tyrant, while the sweet but snide Tim (Martin Freeman) continues to pine for former receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis), who fled to Florida with her fiance. When the documentary crew pays for Dawn to return for the holiday party, an unpredictable reunion looms ahead. The Office fuses scathing humor and genuine empathy, turning excruciating social discomfort into inspired satire. Fans will find this special rewarding in all respects. –Bret Fetzer
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