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copyright ©1999-2005

tv: arrested development, the office
by Yee-Fan Sun
| 1 2
continued from page 1

the office
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Tim Freeman, Mackenzie Cook, Lucy Davis
The First Season | The Second Season | The Special | The Complete Collection

I've spent a good chunk of my quasi-adult years avoiding any career path that requires me to spend five out of seven days of the week in a cubicle. The drab décor, the putrid fluorescent lighting, the maddening inefficiency of being forced to remain at one's desk even when there's no actual work to be done -- this is the office life as I've seen it in many a television and movie setting, and I've always been happy that that reality is not my own. Britain's biting satire of cubicle life, The Office, pretty much confirms all my worst nightmares of an office-bound career. Still, once I get beyond the horror, it makes for some of the finest television funny I've seen.

Set in one of the branch offices of a British paper company, The Office is a mock-documentary in the grand Christopher Guest tradition, in which fake confessional interviews are interspersed with slice-of-life faux observational scenes, and the comedy is of the totally deadpan sort. Among the employees doing time at the office are Gareth, the uptight, military-obsessed, and thoroughly ineffectual "team leader," and his self-assigned tormentor Tim, a likable, intelligent, down-to-earth sales rep who can't help but feel like there's something better for him than this mind-numbingly dull career into which he's fallen. For Tim, the one saving grace of having to come into the office each day is that he gets the chance to flirt with Dawn, the office receptionist, who's engaged but clearly has doubts about her Neanderthal of a fiancé. Reigning not-so-supreme over the whole office is the unbearably obnoxious regional manager David Brent. Brent is a loud and rather stupid boor who's sadly lacking in talent in the interpersonal relationships department; that he's ascended as far as he has up the corporate ladder is a complete mystery. Pathetically needy of external validation, he's constantly telling bad jokes and lame stories that he believes will make him appear cool, and actually achieve the exact opposite effect. As the series begins, Brent's just received news that a major company shake-up looms on the horizon. The higher-ups are trying to decide whether to shut down Brent's branch in Slough or another branch in Swindon, and they're giving each branch manager a chance to streamline operations and convince the company of their worth. One look at his boss' expression as she delivers this news, and it's obvious that with their fate in the incapable hands of David Brent, the Slough office doesn't stand a chance.

It's one of the amusing ironies of the show that David Brent, who tries so desperately to entertain his employees and generally fails, totally steals the show. Brent is the sort of guy who's always talking about how funny he fancies himself to be, but it's obvious that no one else in the world thinks so, and that deep down, he knows they're right. And it's exactly this that makes it so hard to totally hate him -- basically, he just really, really wants to be liked, and who can fault a person for that? Played to incredibly irritating perfection by Ricky Gervais (who also serves as co-writer of the show), Brent may be exasperating and lame to the extreme, but he's not a caricature. The same is true of every other character you meet on the show -- the good guys, like Tim and Dawn, each have their flaws, while the jerks like Brent and Gareth are given the depth to be human as well. And so the laughs in The Office aren't the jokey one-liner variety. Instead, they're the inadvertent chortles you find yourself emitting when a character that you know is completely fictional says or does something that seems over-the-top ridiculous at first, and then you realize that it reminds you exactly of someone you know in real life. The Office is a prime example of how the best comedy can arise out of everyday situations that are almost painfully not-funny in real life.

more must-see dvd tv:
the west wing, gilmore girls | twin peaks, the sopranos, buffy the vampire slayer | six feet under, my so-called life, sex and the city | firefly, freaks & geeks


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