Written, and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, The Office debuted in 2001 on BBC 2 in the United Kingdom but it didn't take long for its popularity to reach North America. Of course, NBC would pick it up and remake it for an American audience and that very different but very enjoyable take has gone on to become quite a huge success in its own right. The original series, however, remains very popular and for good reason - as anyone who has ever worked in an office environment will attest, this show really nails it.
For those who haven't seen it, the series revolves around the day to day activity at the Wernham Hogg Paper Company in a dreary English town called Slough. The company is managed by David Brent (Ricky Gervais) and the 'Assistant To The Regional Manager, Gareth Keenan (Mackenzie Crook), who is always looking for ways to advance his career regardless of who he has to step on to do so. David considers himself a funny guy and is always a little too keen to tell a joke and go for the laugh, even if it means mismanaging the company, but you very definitely get the impression that he truly cares about his employees, even if he shows this is rather bizarre ways. The other central characters in the series are likeably thirtysomething salesman Tim Canterbury (Martin Freeman) and the pretty company secretary, Dawn Tinsley (Lucy Davis), who, when the series begins, is engaged to Wernham Hogg warehouse employee, Lee (Joel Beckett). Although Dawn and Lee have been together since high school, he's not the most romantic guy on the planet and he tends to sometimes talk down to her. Plenty of interesting and funny supporting characters appear throughout the series but the core of the storylines revolve around these four central ones.
Despite the fact that the series did very well and won a load of critical acclaim, it only lasted twelve half hour long episodes and two forty-five minute Christmas Specials before it finished. You can say it's better to burn out than fade away, and it was probably wise for Gervais and Merchant to pull the plug on the series when they did rather than stretch it out for commercial reasons, but you can't help but feel there were more stories to be told here. Regardless, what's here is great - so let's take a look at it:
Downsize: This first episode kicks off with a documentary crew showing up to film the day to day operations of the company and we're introduced to most of the principal characters, specifically David. Later in the day, his boss, Jennifer Taylor-Clarke (Stirling Gallacher), shows up for a meeting and informs him that one of the regional branches of the company is to be downsized - meanwhile, Gareth and Tim get into a disagreement over a stapler.
Work Experience: David is helping out the daughter of some friends of his named Donna (Sally Bretton) who needs a job and a place to stay. He hooks her up at the office and shows her around and eventually finds that someone has been emailing an image of his face on the body of a naked woman around. David asks Gareth to find out who started this whole mess, and all signs point to David's old friend, Chris Finch (Ralph Ineson).
The Quiz: Tim's thirtieth birthday also falls on the company pub quiz night and so David and Chris are as excited as excited can be. Unfortunately some competition arises in the form of new intern Ricky (Oliver Chris), who teams up with Tim - the game ends in a tie so Gareth puts the game into sudden death overtime. What Ricky doesn't realize is that David and Chris will do anything they can to hold on to their championship title.
Training: Wernham Hogg hires an outside contractor named Rowan (Vincent Franklin) to do some company training at the Slough branch but David refuses to let the man do his job properly and proves to be a massive thorn in his side. Meanwhile, Dawn and Lee are having relationship trouble and when Tim thinks they broke up. Frustrated with his job, he quits and then he asks Dawn out for a drink in front of the entire office, completely unaware that they've very quickly gotten back together.
New Girl: With Tim wanting to go back to school to get out of the office, things are a bit tense but this doesn't stop David from hiring a foxy new secretary who, while trying to impress, he manages to headbutt. David doesn't want to lose Tim, so he convinces him to go out drinking with Gareth, Finchy and himself to a bar called Chasers - but that's not going to end well at all.
Judgment: David's hiring binge during the downsizing time at the company comes back to bite him, particularly when he lets a warehouse worker go. Tim's stress is increasing and David's teasing him doesn't help matters, while David is offered a promotion that will take him out of the branch and move him to head office. A farewell party is thrown for David where he puzzlingly announces that he's not taking the promotion and that the Slough branch is going to be safe from the downsizing. Tim accepts a promotion from David and decides not to quit after all, which Dawn sees as disappointing - she'd rather see Tim do what he wants to do in life than toil away in the office.
Merger: Two weeks after the last episode, the Sough office merges with the Swindon location and David meets his new boss, Neil Godwin (Patrick Baladi). David decides to try to impress everyone with a stand-up comedy routine but Neil manages to outdo him with ease. Gareth, on the other hand, has to come to terms with the fact that Tim has now got more authority in the office than he does. David later winds up in hot water for telling racial jokes in the office, something that upper management is not happy to hear about at all.
Appraisals: It's staff appraisal day at the office, where the employees get to open up about what they want out of their careers. Dawn wants to go into illustration, Keith (Ewen MacIntosh) hates his job and is bored by sales, and nobody from the Swindon branch who has come on board likes David in the least and they wish they were still working for Neil. David decides to combat this by taking the new recruits out for a lunch time drink or two.
Party: Once David inadvertently ruins Trudy's (Rachel Isaac) birthday party, a consulting company mistakenly hires him to do some work for them and they offer him a paying gig to work as a motivational speaker. He accepts and boasts about how much money he's going to be making doing this, but is then disheartened to find out that Neil has also been approached by the same company. Making matters worse for David is the friendship that starts to develop between Neil and Finch.
Motivation: Dawn gets upset when Tim starts dating a new employee named Rachel, even though she's still with Lee. Meanwhile, when a corporate IT guy shows up Gareth decides to show off his computer skills to impress him. David, on the other hand, has been busy preparing his motivational seminar, which he delivers with completely bizarre results.
Charity: The staff are celebrating Red Nose Day, each in their own way. Dawn sells kisses, Tim takes all of Gareth's stuff and tries to give it away to charity, and various other characters are dancing and celebrating the best way they know how. David, however, lands in hot water when Neil gives him a shape up or ship out notice. Tim eventually gets to kiss Dawn...
Interview: David tries to keep up appearances while worrying about his future with the company and finds a good distraction in a reporter who wants to write about him for a local newspaper. When Tim, now pretty much completely in love, finds out that Dawn intends to move to America with Lee, he realizes he has to do something about this.
The Christmas Specials:
The two Christmas Specials basically wrap up the storylines that the second season left unfinished. David's position has been made redundant by head office and he now makes a living selling cleaning supplies (when he's not trying to make a go of it as a singing sensation), while Dawn has moved off to Florida. When the documentary crew tries to get everyone back in Slough to finish things up, Dawn returns where her relationship with Tim takes on a different slant. Neil sets everything up for the Christmas Party, which David intends to attend with a date even though he doesn't work there anymore and even though he's painfully single. It all comes to a head at the party where David will have to figure out where he stands with certain employees and Tim and Dawn will get one last chance to be with one another.
All in all, the series remains as consistently engaging and funny the second time around as it does the first time. Yes, this is a situation comedy and so plenty of wacky stuff occurs throughout any given episode but the heart of the series, as corny as that might sound, lies with the well written characters. Gervais and company succeed in crafting characters we can get to know and like, and as such, we can invest enough of ourselves into the show to want to know where it's going and how. Of course, the satirical take on the humdum office lifestyle is also the source of much hilarity and those who have spent some time in such an environment well certainly see the humor in a lot of what happens in this show.
The Office is presented in its original anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio in a series of transfers that look just fine for the most part. Some minor compression artifacts can pop up here and there but that's about all there is to complain about. Keeping in mind that the series goes for that fly-on-the-wall/faux documentary approach, meaning that the shooting style doesn't necessarily lend itself to epic, sweeping visuals, the content transfers well to DVD. Detail isn't bad, colors look natural and so too do skin tones.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix in this set is also fine, offering the dialogue up with nice clarity and properly balanced levels. As this is a very dialogue-centric series, those who have trouble with English accents may want to turn on the optional English subtitles but the audio here is problem free.
The series one disc, extras wise, is light but it does feature some amusing intros (for each episode) from Gervais, Stephan Merchant and fans like Matthew Perry, Ben Stiller and Christopher Guest among others. A few cast members also pop up here, to talk about the show's enduring popularity, and some neat clips from the demo that they shot to get the show rolling are seen here. The series two disc carries over the extras from the previous release, so it contains 13:07 worth of deleted scenes with an intro from Gervais, 7:43 worth of outtakes which also come with an intro from Gervais, and 20:10 worth of video diaries which show Gervais and Merchant among others working on the series and getting involved in various behind the scenes shenanigans.
Extras on the Christmas Specials disc are the same as the last release, so look for the Gervais commentary over part two in which he talks about wrapping up the series and the The Office: Closed For Business Documentary (22:35) which features some great cast and crew interviews in which all involved talk about ending the series at what was basically the height of its popularity. Also found here is The Golden Globes Featurette (5:46) where the cast and crew discuss going to the United States to attend the Golden Globes awards, the If You Don't Know Me By Now music video (3:36), the Full Band Version Of Freeway Love (4:42) video which is mostly just Gervais in the studio singing his song with some help from a few friends, animated menus and chapter stops for the feature content.
New to this set is a disc including the original pilot (19:24) which is fun to see (clips appear in the intros on the first disc) simply because it's incredibly low-fi and obviously put together fast and cheap as a test run to try out the premise. It lacks the polish of the proper first episode but it's fun to see Gervais trying out his character here and it's pretty funny, you can see why this would have caught the attention of the higher ups. There is also a BBC specials here entitled Comedy Connections: The Office (38:43). This is a pretty thorough retrospective look back at the making of the series, discussing how Gervais and Mechant came to be, the casting process, reception to the show, and what it was like working on this series before it was a proven hit and what it was like bringing it from concept to completion. There's a lot of great information on the various players involved in the show and some fun pre-series clips of Gervais and a few others plying their trade. It's interesting to note Merchant saying that he overheard some women on the train one day discussing the documentary about an office that had made them laugh on TV the night before. Carried over from the original DVD release is How I Made The Office (39:16), which is another look back at the making of the series with a bunch of cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes clips. Five short Web Videos are also on the discs (The Beginning, The Style, Comedy, Staff Training and Impact) as are another half a dozen deleted scenes.
If you've already got The Office, either in the complete series package or the individual series releases that have come out in the last few years, it's tough to recommend this as an upgrade based on the fact that there aren't a ton more extra features here (though the new stuff is pretty cool) and the audio and video is pretty much of the same quality as the earlier discs. That said, if you don't already have the series, this is a great way to get one of the funniest and surprisingly influential series of the last decade and it comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.