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Few series in recent memory have produced the press and buzz as The Office. A winner of two 2004 Golden Globes (for Best Comedy Series and Best Actor in a Comedy Series to Ricky Gervais), the series has been a hit both in Europe and in America (thanks to its showings on BBC America). BBC Video has released the first series on a 2-disc set.

The Series
We are introduced to the workers of the Slough office of paper distributor Wernham Hogg. Done in mock documentary style (called "mockumentary"), the office is run by David Brent, played expertly by Ricky Gervais. Brent is an odd sort, believing himself to be the best boss imaginable, seemingly the perfect motivator, disciplinarian and administrator on the planet. In essence, he shows himself to be none of these. In some of the mock interviews he does, he claims he is not racist, or sexist or prejudice, and yet, by the time he has finished uttering the words, he has said something which proves the exact opposite to be true. Brent spends most of his day walking about the office making what he feels are hilarious jokes, and yet, for the most part, only he laughs. The rest of his co-workers often stand in stunned silence at what Brent has said. His idea of a funny bit? A practical joke in which he fires his receptionist for stealing post-it notes. Brent treats the office and his relationship with his workers almost as a medieval king would with his subjects. In his own minds, he is the office. He feels as though he is benevolent and understanding, but the workers see him in much different light. Brent himself sums up his relationship with his co-workers at the end of episode six when he states how he hopes his staff thinks of him. Brent states that he does not want his staff to thank him for anything (after all, that would be rather egotistical and self-centered of him). Rather, he hopes they say to themselves, "I should thank David for everything.". Brent is very keen on the difference between the two, even if the viewer sees through his false magnanimity.  

Office: Complete First Series, The
The other members of the office are equally eclectic. Self-proclaimed team leader and assistant regional manager.....ummm...sorry.....assistant TO the regional manager is Gareth Keenan, a tall, lanky self-important man who fancies himself an expert soldier because he served in the Territorial Army (akin to the National Guard in the United States). He claims he has superior survival and defensive skills to anyone else, and he wears his cell phone in a shoulder holster as though he worked for the FBI. He very much believes in protocol and regimentation. Since he is the team leader, he feels he should hear all information first before the rest of the office, even if that means having it whispered to him as a meeting is being held.

Gareth's main protagonist is Tim Canterbury, a 30 year-old man who lives with his parents and is fond of Dawn Tinsley, the office receptionist. He is clearly bored with the daily work of the office, but revels in causing Gareth anguish and spends much of his time flirting with Dawn, although it is all done rather covertly as Dawn has a steady boyfriend. And yet, you know that the two share some very intimate moments in what would otherwise be considered some rather innocuous and platonic situations. This again is a testament to the writing and acting in the series.

The main unifying plotline which runs through series one is the potential downsizing of the Slough office into another regional office. Introduced in the first episode, the storyline comes to the forefront several times during the six episodes and comes to a head in the six and final episode. Brent feels the resolution is a "good news, bad news" situation, although he is the only one who sees it from this perspective. The fact that he sees it from this angle helps to highlight how truly out of touch he is both with his staff, and with the concept of good management as a whole. It is a truly hilarious bit....made more funny by the fact that everyone else is so appalled.

Office: Complete First Series, The
The genius of the series comes from so many places. Certainly, the uniqueness of the "mockumentary" gives the impression you are watching how things really are in an office and dispels the notion that you are watching a "sitcom" (something that both Gervais and co-creator Stephen Merchant were trying desperately to avoid). The writing is simply superb and the acting is top notch. However, it is the little moments that I feel move this series into its current status as almost a "cult classic". An example would be the silences after Brent has said something so totally absurd, rude, sexist or racist (enough to make one cringe). The discussion on the differences between, midgets, dwarves, elves and pixies in episode six displays this perfectly. Oftentimes these comments are made during the one-on-one "interviews", but several times Brent will make these comments to the entire office, which results in the long, brutal, and hilarious periods of extended uncomfortable silence.

Presented in 16:9 widescreen, the video of the discs are a decent enough presentation. Color palettes are down quite well, and flesh tones are pretty much spot on. There are certain moments which add to the image of a “mockumentary” such as quick pans to the left or right, followed by the camera lens focusing on the image. There are no special gimmicks here, the video is straightforward and serves the material very well.

Office: Complete First Series, The
As with the video, the audio itself is not a reason to pick up the set, other than the fact that in order for the series to work, the audio must be good, because almost every line spoken is important and a gem to behold. Thankfully, the audio here is very good. Although only a Dolby Digital English 2.0 track, once again it serves the material fine. Dialogue is clear and distinct and there is little if any background or extraneous noise. I could not find a single moment where I had to wonder what any of the actors had said, or replay a moment to fully get what had been spoken.

Although a bit skimpy on the number of extras, the ones that are included in the set are very good. There is a booklet which contains a copy of the Wernham Hogg office newsletter (and some of the bits in the edition are just as funny and biting as in the series), as well as a personnel file for each of the main and second tier characters in the series. Finally, for us Americans, there is a handy guide to “Slough Slang”, which translates and explains all the local lingo so we can better appreciate the comedy. This is most helpful when references to British pop culture or television personalities are mentioned. One doesn’t really need the guide to find the series laugh out loud funny, but it does provide some aid if one is inclined to research every word in the series.

Office: Complete First Series, The
The second disc contains all of the supplemental material for the series. There is a 40 minute feature entitled “How I Made the Office by Ricky Gervais” which is itself a rather funny title because the feature includes not only Gervais but also co-creator Stephen Merchant. It does well to explain how the series came to be (including some generous helpings of clips from the pre-pilot and then the actual pilot for BBC), and also has many outtakes from the series.

The final extra are a series of deleted scenes. It is explained beforehand why each scene didn’t make it into the final cut, however, each is in it’s own way rather hilarious and could be watched more than once.

My one complaint is the exclusion of any sort of commentary by Gervais, Merchant or any of the actors in the series. It seems to me that a creative team and cast of this caliber could have put together a truly funny and informative commentary track.

The term “classic” is probably applied to series too often, and yet I can, without a second thought, predict that the Office will have the title before long (if it hasn’t already). The first series has already become the highest selling BBC video DVD here in the states and the second series has already been announced for release on April 20, 2004. Plans are already underway for an American version of the series to appear this fall, which leaves me of two minds. I am hopeful that with the consulting of Gervais it will have the same wit and biting satire (as well as moments that make you laugh and cringe at the same time). However, I am also fearful that it will be another American Coupling, which was so poor in comparison to its British parent that it lasted less than 6 episodes.

Simply stated, the first series of the Office is a DVD set that anyone who enjoys good comedy writing and acting will want to add to their collection. And I am told by my R2 co-workers that series 2 is as good, if not better, than the first. If that’s true, I’ve already made room on my shelf for the second series. Don't forget that you can read our exclusive interview with Ricky Gervais by clicking <a href=";s=13&c=22">here</a>.