Friday, May 20, 2011


BBC The Office (DVD) 2001-2003 / a Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant production; starring Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook and Lucy Davis

David Brent likes to think of himself as a friend first and boss second ("probably an entertainer third"). As regional manager of the Slough branch of the Wernham-Hogg paper merchants where the BBC are currently shooting a documentary, David lets it be known that he likes a workplace where people can "have a laugh at work whilst getting the job done" because of course "you can't put a price on comedy". But though he believes everyone thinks he's hilarious and great fun to be around, it's obvious office employees find him utterly unfunny, rude and frequently offensive--opinions to which he remains largely oblivious in spite of his generally attention-grabbing habits. Observed regularly is Brent's consistent need to be recognized as a worldly renaissance man skilled in many areas, most particularly humor where he believes himself to be a remarkably funny comedian even though his material is invariably unoriginal, usually consisting of poor impressions and worn-out routines borrowed from old TV shows. Also ever-conscious of the cameras throughout the documentary, Brent rarely misses an opportunity to promote himself, seeming especially keen to be depicted as a progressive-minded, politically correct individual despite the fact he often directs derogatory comments at minorities, the disabled and the third world poor. His frequent faux-pas, always awkward and cringe-inducing, are rarely ill-intended however; rather they're derived from extreme ignorance and a tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, incidents usually exascerbated by inept attempts at a follow-up apology.

Brent's high need for affirmation and bad practical joking (in front of a new employee he pretends to fire his secretary for supposedly stealing post-it notes bringing her to tears) is only eclipsed by the sycophantic, slightly neurotic habits of Gareth Keenan. A sales clerk and assistant (to the) regional manager who seems to have an unhealthy obsession with workplace rules, Gareth never fails to volunteer his services for generally thankless duties. Also a former soldier, Gareth believes (falsely) that his military background and self-assumed titles like being "team leader" give him authority over his coworkers, most notably Tim Canterbury his deskmate, who simply refuses to acknowledge any percieved authority Gareth claims to have. Disillusioned with life and bored at work, Tim, a sales rep, gets a kick out of poking fun at Gareth's eccentricities and juvenile hang-ups through equally juvenile hijinks like putting a stapler inside jello, prank-calling his gun-holstered cellphone and building a dividing wall out of cardboard boxes. One person who can't help laughing at Tim's little jokes and his all-around fun-loving nature is receptionist Dawn Tinsley who's only working a Wernham Hogg because her fiance Lee works in the warehouse. The other employees simply take things day by day, awkwardly enduring David Brent's incorrigible antics and hoping things get better.

There are several reasons why this is THE GREATEST TELEVISION SERIES EVER. The main one is Ricky Gervais, whose late 1990's vision to create a new type of anti-convention sitcom comedy was and remains something of an extraordinary triumph. Together with associate producer and writing partner Stephen Merchant, the pair held firmly to their goal of creating a TV series unlike any other--a show devoted to the wholly inconspicuous humor of the pathetic. The funniest jokes as well as the most poignant bits in "The Office" are never recognized as such on camera; not even so much as a hint of this-is-the-joke-we're-doing-now is ever conveyed for viewer enlightenment. Nor do the supporting scenes attempt to supply any context. The almost cinema verité approach to observing the monotonous drone of everyday life in the most accurate type of fly-on-the-wall, unobtrusive manner is sublimely one of the most rewarding aspects of the show (and something you would never see on American television). Another very crucial reason for the show's sustained notoriety is the talent. "The Office" would not have succeeded the way it did without the supporting cast--specifically and exclusively Martin Freeman and McKenzie Crook. Both virtual unknowns at the time of filming, they're no longer a secret--Freeman especially whose portrayal of Tim, the proverbial 'everyman', is one of the precious few gems of television acting done right. Providing an almost alter-ego to Gervais' David Brent, the character of Tim is masterfully illuminated as the piece's rational center, ultimately balancing the show's edgy humor with enough sincerity to realize every aspect of the series' intentions. The show's run, done entirely within 14 concise episodes, is truly a masterpiece (and if you have to ask why it didn't run longer, you've missed the point entirely). Never can it be duplicated; nor should it have been replicated or imitated with such watered-down, tasteless knock-offs. (DVD OFFICE)


big papa smurf said...


tyson lehman said...

spot on review . . . Gervais' comedy has gone down, kind of like he's trying too hard now