always a challenge to do a follow-up to a great program. After the
brilliance of The
Office: Series 1,
it was impressive to watch Series
2 and see
how the devastatingly funny (and painfully realistic) show continued
on a high note. When it came time for me to watch The Office
Special, I wondered if it would be as good as the material that
preceded it. Would Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant be able to wrap
up their creation with as much flair as they'd developed it? In a
what you might expect from a "holiday special" of a series.
The Office Special is more than just a "special";
it's the concluding segment of what was really one ongoing story over
Series 1 and Series 2. But now, in the two parts of
this special, the filmmakers have taken several dramatic steps
forward with the material. This is no self-satisfied revisiting of
familiar territory, but a fresh new look at the characters and
stories of The Office.
one of the interesting moves of this piece, the Special makes
The Office fully self-aware. In the first two seasons, the
presence of the camera was always unstated, but it was felt, and
shown in things like the characters' occasional sidelong glances;
this low-level awareness of being filmed gave an interesting sense of
authenticity to the program, making us feel that we were really
sneaking looks into a genuine office, peopled by real workers rather
than actors. Now, the Office Special takes things up a notch.
For one thing, we now hear the questions that the "filmmakers"
ask the characters. More significantly, the characters themselves
refer back to the previous two years' worth of filming as being part
of a "documentary" for the BBC. The eerie effect of this
move is to make The Office even more convincingly realistic.
the Special opens, we learn that two years have passed since
the filming of the second series, and the original filmmakers are
returning to the employees of Wernham Hogg to see how they've fared
since the last episode of Series 2 aired; in particular, the
occasion of the office Christmas party draws together all the
characters, even ones who have left the company. Here we see the
second innovation of the Office Special: the program finally
opens up and takes a look at the characters outside the office. After
seeing them interact with each other strictly in the office
environment for two years, it's a brilliant move to step outside and
see how the characters behave in different contexts.
anything, the Special is even better than Series 2 in
its wickedly, painfully funny expose of the insecurities, flaws, and
petty vanities of characters like David Brent. I've used the word
"painful" several times already in this review to refer to
the Office Special, and it's very apt: in its humor, The
Office continues to hit very close to home. In so many of the
scenes, you'll find yourself wincing at the utter self-absorption and
complete social obliviousness of some of the characters... you'll
cringe and laugh at the same time, because all the humor in The
Office comes with the stab of familiarity. We've probably all had
our uncomfortable moments with a David Brent-like person; we
certainly can see the maddening and frustrating elements of our own
work lives reflected in The Office.
of the brilliant elements of The Office, which holds true in
the Special as well, is that it never, ever goes deliberately
for laughs. This is a comedy without jokes, without one-liners,
without pratfalls, without a laugh track; while some of the
characters are certainly absurd and pitiable, they still fall well
into the "realistic" category. What makes The Office
so funny is, in fact, its unerring eye for the absurd and pathetic
elements of real life, which can get pretty surreal even without the
help of a scriptwriter.
a conclusion to The Office, the Special works extremely
well, providing a very well done sense of closure for viewers while
still clearly showing that life goes on even after the cameras stop
rolling. (Well, for The Office it actually doesn't go on, but
the show is so realistically done that we do have the sense that all
the characters really are still out there...) While I won't spoil
anything, I'll note that the ending is quite remarkable: it develops
in an unexpected and surprising way that nonetheless fits in
perfectly with the way the characters and story have developed over
the past two seasons.
Office Special is a two-part program; you can select each
45-minute episode individually, or choose a "play all"
feature. While the two episodes are clearly two parts of the larger
whole, each is self-contained enough that you can watch them in
separate viewing sessions without feeling like you've been left
hanging after the first one. Although the two episodes were apparently edited together into one long piece when they were aired on BBC America, on the DVD they are distinct episodes, with both opening and ending credits for each part appearing (whether you choose to play them separately or with the "play all" feature). A tiny snippet of a scene appears after the end credits of Part 1 as well.
Office Special appears in a widescreen anamorphic transfer
(1.85:1) as did Series 1 and Series 2, and it has the
same squeaky-clean look to it; no noise or print flaws are anywhere
to be seen. While longer-distance shots still tend to be rather soft,
close-up shots are nicely crisp and detailed.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack does a nice job of handling the dialogue,
with all the actors' lines coming across crisply and clearly. There's
no background noise or distortion, and in general the track sounds
clean and pleasing to the ear.
special features open with a 22-minute featurette called "The
Office: Closed for Business." This piece is a retrospective
on the show overall, with various cast members commenting on their
favorite moments, for instance, as well as talking about their
experiences overall as part of The Office. The "Golden Globes
featurette" (6 minutes) is really just a continuation of the
documentary, but focusing on the cast's trip to Hollywood for the
Golden Globes awards.
Next we get two examples of David Brent's musical talents, with the
full-length version of the "If You Don't Know Me By Now"
video that's shown briefly in the Special, as well as a full band
version of "Freelove Freeway."
Finally, we have the option to hear an audio commentary track for
Part 2 from Steve Merchant and Ricky Gervais.
Office Special is a brilliant conclusion to The Office;
I'll even venture to say that it's the best entry in the series, with
its two-part episode offering a concentrated dose of all that's so
painfully funny about The Office. The Special can stand
by itself, but it will be most enjoyable for viewers who have seen
those episodes are really great, so if you haven't seen them yet,
what are you waiting for?) Highly recommended.