If you've ever been stuck in a
pointless, boring job... if you've ever thought of Dilbert as an
accurate documentary on cubicle life... if your company (and your boss) seem to
have a grasp of reality that's tenuous at best... then you'll find that The
Office strikes close to home. So much so, that while you're laughing, you
might yourself wondering in the back of your mind "Should I quit my job
and get out while I still can?"
Welcome to The Office.
At its head is David Brent (Ricky Gervais, also a co-writer/director), who
considers himself not just a boss, but rather a friend to all his workers, a
buddy who livens up the dull corporate routine with hilarious comedy routines
and practical jokes. Oh, and of course David will assure you that he's not the
least bit sexist or racist. Well... let's just say that his self-image isn't
quite in line with reality.
Then again, that statement
could describe others in The Office as well, most notably David's
yes-man Gareth Keenan, who has an interesting perspective on the world, to say
the least. His co-worker Tim has an inkling of just how pathetic and limited
the world of the office is, but it's still a familiar one, with its rewards of
tormenting Gareth in petty ways, or chatting with Dawn, the receptionist who's
the object of his adoration (and who is unfortunately engaged to someone else);
his apathy and his ironic perspective is his armor against facing up to the
pointlessness of it all.
The Office is, above
all, highly original. It's also very funny: but its originality is at the heart
of why it's funny.
This is a show that is willing
to stretch, bend, and break the traditional, unwritten "rules" of
television and, specifically, television comedy. There is no laugh track. In
fact, it would be useless anyway, as there are no "jokes," either:
the humor comes from the characters being exactly who they are. And that humor
is far from the traditional "situation comedy" humor. It's humor that
cuts close enough to the bone to make us wince in painful recognition, yet
laugh at the absurdity of it all. These characters are not us, which is what
enables us to actually find humor in their situations, yet they're close enough
to situations that we're familiar with to create an uneasy sense of looking in
an only slightly distorted mirror.
In fact, the cast of characters
is another way that The Office sidesteps the unspoken rules of
television: this time, the "rule" that the characters are always much
better-looking than your average bunch of people (the prime example being a
show like Friends). The cast of The Office is... stunningly ordinary in
appearance. You really could walk into an office at random and see a bunch of
people very much like those in The Office. Even the
"good-looking" characters are attractive in a very normal, ordinary
way, not with the glamorous good looks of a movie star. Combine that with the
fact that the actors do a very good job indeed of creating absolutely
believable (if sometimes completely absurd) characters, and it's another way
that The Office gets things right by doing things differently.
Also thrown out the window is
the rule of never acknowledging the transparent "fourth wall" of the
set: it's clear that the characters are aware of the camera, and their glances
at it or tacit acknowledgement of its presence are part of the dynamic of the
scenes. There's also no particular narrative structure to the episodes, other
than the fact that each roughly encapsulates "one day at the office":
the plot threads are ongoing, and the character relationships develop over the
course of the episodes, but just as in real life, there are no tidy structures
of problem, resolution, and conclusion.
The Office is a two-disc
set, packaged in a cardboard fold-out case. The six half-hour episodes are on the
first DVD, while the special features are on the second DVD.
The Office is presented
in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, at its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
The transfer is of a respectable quality, with a very clean print and clear,
natural colors. The one weak point is in the overall clarity of the image;
while close-up shots are fine, middle- and longer-distance shots get blurrier
the further the focus is from the camera. I would imagine that this is an
effect of the way the show was filmed.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack for The
Office is a bit problematic, though this is largely due to the journalistic
filming style, which creates a fairly realistic ambiance at the cost of some
sound clarity. Depending on where the speaker is located in the scene, the
dialogue is sometimes a bit difficult to understand, and there were
consistently some words or lines that I didn't quite catch. Apart from that,
the sound is fine: there's no background noise or any distortion.
English closed captions are provided.
The second DVD of the set
contains the special features, the most important being a 39-minute featurette
titled "How I Made The Office." Here, co-writers and
co-directors Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant discuss making the series,
along with a few interview clips from other cast members. It's moderately
interesting, if only to see that Gervais is almost as annoying in real life as
he is in his character of David Brent. The other main special feature is a
section of six deleted scenes, running about ten minutes in all. Each deleted
scene is prefaced by a text introduction explaining where the clip came from
and why it was deleted. Although the text stays up for an annoyingly long time
(and can't be skipped), eventually it disappears and we get to see the deleted
scene. Trailers for BBC America, Coupling, and A Mighty Wind play
before the main menu screen; all are skippable.
A booklet is also included,
with short biographies of the characters (not the actors), and an extensive
glossary of "Slough Slang" and its translation in U.S. English. So if
you find yourself wondering what a "wanker" is, you can look it up.
Trust the BBC to come up with a
truly fresh, biting, creative show: The Office isn't like any other
comedy series I've seen. It's very funny, it's extremely original, and more
often than not, it's quite unsettling as well. The Office: The Complete
First Series is highly recommended.