The Office - Series 1 Review
Forget the critics, The Office is enough to reinvigorate anyone's interest in what is funny about life. Easily the BBC's best comedy series in years, (including League Of Gentlemen and I'm Alan Partridge) primarily because it fuses the genres of documentary and sit-com, The Office forms an alternative hybrid that sits comfortably amongst its own conventions. Granted, many other past series have contained funny moments that seem realistic, and realistic moments that seemed funny, but The Office is so unique, and such a ferocious assault on the audience's sense of humour because it champions all that is mundane. If traditional storytelling focuses on the three-act setup, then The Office is an infinite and recurring voyage into the drab and dreary realms of real-life, in which there are no happy endings, no sensationalist plot events and no chance of the hero ever getting the girl.
It could have gone so wrong, and buried Ricky Gervais' misunderstood career for good, but The Office is almost so perfect it's unwatchable. The humour in the show borders on such a fine line between cruel pain and genuine hilarity that the audience often fluctuates between cringe-worthy embarrassment and frenetic comedic enjoyment. Essentially, the humour is funny because the situations are so close to the home, or indeed the office. It could be set in any office; a paper-merchants is just as uninspiring as the other industries, but the characters of Wernham Hogg are so easily identifiable with any office situation that you have ever been unfortunate to work in, that the show instantly becomes the advocate of any white-collar work environment.
The Office is a pseudo-documentary focusing on a Slough paper-merchants. We never see the presence of the camera crew, unless viewing a few talking head shots of the various workers being interviewed, or manager David Brent (Ricky Gervais) doing his best to play up to the camera. Brent thinks he is a walking comedy legend, and is completely deluded in his own competence and entertainment level that he fails to realise his managerial skills give the sense of being lifted from a misguided textbook. Brent's a frustrated comedian, sucked into the middle-road of office management that has convinced him his life has purpose. It's a pity no one else agrees with him. Gareth Keenan (Mackenzie Crook) is the Assistant Manager, or Assistant To The Manager as Brent likes to point out. Gareth's a weedy toad, obsessed with all things military as if it adds a formidable dimension to his slimy persona. Gareth worships Brent, and craves the power of management that has been constantly denied from him. Gareth is also the constant antagonist of The Office's hero Tim (Martin Freeman), who is a down-in-his-luck university dropout stuck in a dead-end job now that he has turned thirty. Tim is good-looking, funny and likeable to everyone, and madly in love with office receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis), who cannot seem to escape the clutches of her grunting Neanderthal of a boyfriend, warehouse worker Lee (Joel Beckett). Who could also forget Chris Finch (Ralph Ineson), sales rep, witty bully and obnoxious monster that Brent thinks is his best mate, despite being the target of all of Finchy's put-downs. These are just the main characters, but every poor soul inhabiting the world of Wernham Hogg is a brilliantly realised three-dimensional version of a typical office person.
Maybe The Office is so funny because it celebrates situations that are not usually deemed interesting enough to fill a series, such as an office training day, or the annual pub quiz, or even the end-of-financial year disco, in which emotions are soured by the prospect of redundancy. It's possible that The Office is actually funny because we knew the characters before we even saw the characters on-screen, as if the show is just serving us up the ridiculous nature of human behaviour that we always hoped was dormant amongst our dark side. When David Brent interrupts a training day to play his colleagues some songs he has written on the guitar, we laugh not because the songs are funny (despite them being hilarious) but because Brent has obviously waited so long for a chance to demonstrate his musical skill that he seizes it like a predator, even if decorum and office etiquette rules otherwise. Or maybe the show is Greek tragedy for the twenty-first century, in which our hero Tim is crushed in his relentless pursuit of Dawn's love. It's such a cliché to use, but The Office is the closest encapsulation of one's own working life on-screen, and its ultimate strength lies in its effortless ability to observe the humour, stuck in the grey between the black and white.
Performances are masterful throughout, particularly by Ricky Gervais, who has ensured Brent to be one of the most (in)famous comedy creations of the new age of alternative comedy. Gervais' performance is impressive enough, but the fact that he co-wrote and co-directed the show with Stephen Merchant demonstrates pure comedic genius finally given a forum to demonstrate the full range of the skills on offer. It's clear that a sympathetic character lies somewhere deep within Brent's soul, but whether Gervais and Merchant choose to allow this side of Brent to be revealed is obviously for a subsequent series. Either way, The Office is a BBC comedy masterpiece, and a genuine case of how word-of-mouth praise can push a brilliant underrated series heavily into the mainstream public's consciousness. It's compulsive viewing, and you'll soon wish your office was littered with Brent and his underlings, even if it's purely for the wrong reasons.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1, the picture transfer, shot in cheap documentary format and bled of rich colour and vibrant tones, is generally excellent, with sharp and clear imagery complemented by a fine anamorphic conversion that is generally free of artefacts and edge enhancement.
Again, the documentary format limits the dynamic range of the sound, but the two track stereo mix is generally very pleasing, with atmospheric sound events given a decent remastered finish backed with a strong volume level in terms of dialogue.
Menu: A minimalist menu that deliberately uninspires the viewer with its drab, mundane setting.
Packaging: The two discs are housed in a cardboard gatefold packaging which itself fits into an outer cardboard dustcover. No inserts are provided, although chapter listings are printed on the inner-packaging along with John Betjeman's famous poem on Slough!
How I Made The Office By Ricky Gervais: This is an excellent thirty-nine minute documentary concentrating on how The Office was born and the methods behind Gervais and Merchant's fantastic creation. Interviews with all of the cast and crew are present, along with unreleased footage from the original pilot, and hilarious outtakes of Gervais clowning around on set. It's a brilliant companion to the series, and nearly makes up for the lack of commentaries.
Deleted Scenes: The deleted scenes provided are actually very funny, and could easily have found their way into the finished episodes had time constraints not played a part in the proceedings. Six are included, and contain explanations as to why they were removed. The funniest is by far Gareth's anxious take on being made redundant, in which he compares himself to a healthy testicle.
Hidden Extras: On Disc 1, go to the main menu and when the phone rings amidst the background office noise, hit enter on your remote. You should be greeted with David Brent performing Freelove Freeway. On Disc 2, go to the Slough by John Betjemen scene. Wait for the room to go dark and then hit enter on your remote. You will be rewarded with the full length Peter Purves training video featured in Episode Four.
A barebones release of The Office would provide enough entertainment on DVD, and so this two-disc set hardly contains enough extras for more than one disc, and clearly misses Gervais and co participating on a commentary track, but it will certainly do for now, providing the second series is given better extras treatment on DVD. Whatever the small print, this is still a must-own comedy series, and certainly worth the wait of a DVD release.