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Welcome to the office!
on January 10, 2009
It's a dark "Dilbert," a realistic "Office Space." Hit Brit-comedy "The Office" takes mockumentaries to the small screen, featuring the hilariously unfunny David Brent, and his unhappy employees. This three-pack includes both seasons, plus the satisfying holiday special, which also serves as the grand finale.
The first season opens with David Brent (Ricky Gervais) learning that either his branch or another branch of paper corporation Wenham-Hogg will shortly be downsized. So this wannabe-comedian sets out to prove that his branch is better, stumbling as he tries. Trailing in his wake is bored everyman Tim (Martin Freeman), dead-looking yes-man Gareth (MacKenzie Crook), and pretty, quietly cynical receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis).
The second season, while more unsteady than the first, takes some new and darker steps. Now David's rival Neil (Patrick Baladi) is his boss, and David has a slew of new employees who are less than thrilled about his racist jokes, chicken suits, and the lack of any actual work going on. Dawn becomes jealous when Tim gets a girlfriend, and Gareth searches for any way to bed Tim's girlfreind. And after a catastrophic managerial meeting, David learns that the next downsizing just might be him...
After the dismal ending of the second season, the feature-length "Office Special" provides a satisfying wrap up. Three years later, everyone from Wenham-Hogg -- including those who no longer work there -- is being called back for a special reunion. Tim is given one last chance to win Dawn's affections, and David finally learns the truth about himself. (Anyone disappointed by the end of the second season had better check out the new endings)
Don't expect a typical sitcom in "The Office." No laughtracks. No punch lines. No gag humor... well, not much. And no episode has a clear-cut ending. Instead, we have the format seen in "This is Spinal Tap" and the Christopher Guest mockumentaries -- hidden cameras watching the madness. And what those cameras see is enough to make the world's cubicle-dwellers cry. Okay, most offices don't have giant inflatable genitalia, or a comedy-for-charity day, but the core of it is frighteningly close to home.
The series gets off to a slightly bumpy start -- at first, the jokes are a bit too thinly-spread. But soon "The Office" gets its footing and the humor steadies itself ("Tim's put my stapler inside a jelly again. That's the third time he's done it!" Gareth complains, displaying the stapler in a Jell-O mold). And a lot of the humor is a subversive, subtle kind -- it creeps into your mind, and by episode two you'll be laughing your head off at David's bad jokes, his spastic chimp dance, and his prejudices hidden behind a veil of political correctness.
Ricky Gervais is brilliant. David is every bit as annoying and obnoxious as the immortal Basil Fawlty, but hides it under a genial mask and stupid jokes. Mackenzie Crook is wonderful as the obsequious boot-licker with a bit of a sex fixation; his Dirty Bertie toy is one of the most tasteless, horribly funny scenes on TV. Tim, like Dilbert, is a lovable loser who can't get himself out of his soul-sucking job. And Dawn is mired in a relationship with an obnoxious cheapskate, yet it takes her the whole series to finally do something about it.
Clearly destined for cult status, this is "The Office" as it was meant to be, with a darkly funny storyline culminating in a satisfying finale. Funny, strange and immensely entertaining.