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.