The Office: The Complete First Series (2001) - DVD Review
By ScottC - posted 10.30.05 @ 11:12 pm
Series Created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Released by: BBC Video.
My Advice: Rent it first before you buy.
A word of warning: this is not your standard sitcom with obvious jokes and a laugh track to make them even more obvious. This is satire at its most biting and brutal. But not at its most broad. The situations and characters are kept from getting too stereotypical or unrealistic. Because this show is shot like reality TV a la The Real World, keeping the situations from becoming contrived and the dialogue from sounding scripted is most important. However, while the show is realistic in its portrayal of the numbing drudgery of office work with shots of office workers staring vacant eyed at computer monitors, it just brings the absurdity into sharp relief. The viewers can recognize the absurdity of the situation because they have probably been through something similar and it's that recognition where the joke lies. Of course that recognition can also make you cringe. Anyone with a drop of empathy can feel the pain when David tries to cover his piggishness under a veneer of political correctness and fails miserably. It's that complexity of emotions that makes this show worthwhile. You're not going to laugh every second, but it is still fascinating to watch.
Talented and brave actors help the show. Gervais deserves special praise for creating a character everyone loves to hate. He doesn't play the character as evil and sadistic, just thoughtless and clueless. David Brent is so caught up in his own self-delusion that he tramples on everyone else without even realizing it. Gervais also shows that underneath the bravado is a powerful desperation to be liked and respected. This also gives him opportunities to have David act like an ass. The real accomplishment though is keeping the character from being farcical but still maintaining a level of ridiculousness. Special praise also has to go to Martin Freeman and Lucy Davis who play the unrequited Tim and Dawn. Seeing them together tormenting Gareth or talking about getting out of Wernham-Hogg, you can see how much they care about each other. You can also see the fear of acknowledging that love. The camera captures all the sidelong glances, the friendly flirting, and the just too-long touches. This relationship isn't really played for laughs like in regular sitcoms. It adds an element of pathos to the mix of emotions.
This DVD does something rare by making the included booklet more than a list of the chapters. Besides the Wernham-Hogg newsletter, edited by David Brent, you get employee personnel files detailing some of the sillier accomplishments of the office staff. Also there is a glossary of British terms used in the series for us clueless Americans, which makes for a funny as well as informative bonus. On the disc itself is a documentary about how the show came about and the people who work on it. We watch how the show started as a simple sketch and went on to become a hit. Watching Gervais and Merchant bounce off each other during the interview, even creating a terrible terrible concept for a sci-fi series called Brain Jail which just shows how funny these guys really are. All the actors are amusing and made the featurette much more fun to watch. There are also several deleted scenes with written explanations of why the scene was cut, usually for time. But they don't really add anything to the show, so they feel like an unnecessary inclusion.
As I said before, the humor is very dry, so I recommend renting before buying to make sure it's your thing. But you're on this website, so I have a feeling most of you will end up buying anyway.