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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Office: Special
The Office: Special
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // November 16, 2004
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted November 1, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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Highly Recommended
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The movie

It's 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 word: yes.

Forget 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.

In 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.

As 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.

If 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.

One 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.

As 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.

The 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.

The DVD

Video

The 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.

Audio

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.

Extras

The 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.

Final thoughts

The 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 Series 1 and Series 2. (And those episodes are really great, so if you haven't seen them yet, what are you waiting for?) Highly recommended.

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