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Most people know what it’s like to work in an office. Whether you’ve been slaving away at the same boring job for years or you’ve just started out with your nice clean desk and your little timber workstation, chances are you’ve found yourself in a variety of different situations. The guys down at the BBC are no exception, and probably have as firm a grasp of the inner workings of mundane office situations as anyone. This is social satire at its subtle, most creative best, and it’ll have you squirming in your seat with embarrassment as well as fits of laughter.

The Show
The brainchild of BBC boys Ricky Gervais (who plays the main character, David Brent, in the show) and Stephen Merchant, The Office is a mockumentary about a paper merchant’s branch in a central English town called Slough. The man in charge is David Brent, an absolute twit who thinks he’s the king of comedy and a genuine top bloke. He tries ever so desperately to relate to his workers without any real success apart from in his own mind and makes even the most ordinary situation incredibly uncomfortable, leading to some of the most hilarious awkward silences and puzzled looks.

The one and only David Brent

The rest of the principle cast is an eclectic lot, though all fit in as your average office workers. David’s self-appointed right-hand man and “team leader” Gareth Keenan is the well-behaved, ambitious brown-noser who takes great delight in thinking he’s second in charge. Working next to Gareth is an “average Joe” named Tim, who hates his job more and more every day but loves watching the absurd situations around the office unfold. Plus, he’s smitten with the receptionist Dawn who happens to be engaged but doesn’t mind a bit of a flirt with poor Tim. These four principals are entrenched in an office full of other familiar yet equally interesting characters, including David’s best mate and total chauvinist Chris Finch, the good-looking couple in an ongoing romance and the downright uproarious accounts department, complete with outrageously boring personalities.

While it’s basically just a whole bunch of shots assembled in a loose chronological order, there is some semblance of an ongoing story throughout the episodes. Head-office is planning on merging two branches together, meaning David has to impress his boss just enough so that his branch will incorporate the other. Staff are wondering whether they will still have jobs, head-office is wondering which firm to get rid of, while David is in the middle of hiring another secretary instead of making the necessary cutbacks. Pure genius.

The run-of-the-mill documentary style is entirely fitting for this kind of comedy. Each character and situation is filled with tiny little nuances that’ll either have you turning away in awkward disbelief or bursting out with laughter. The character of David Brent is an ingenious creation that is totally grounded in reality yet still manages to create something out of nothing in every scene, all of which is very believable. Look on as he tries to joke his way through some sticky situations, relate to the people in his office and look good in front of the cameras. The facial twitches and awkward smiles make Ricky Gervais look like a seasoned veteran, when all he is doing is playing a hammed-up version of himself. Needless to say, you’ll probably end up hating him as much as the workers do, but realise in the end that he’s just an absolute tit rather than nasty or obnoxious.

Nerd-meister Gareth Keenan

There are some absolute gems of scenes dotted right throughout this 8-episode series. Just think about a staff training session where the boss nips home to grab his guitar and sing songs from his old band, Tim’s constant bating of Gareth as he submerges his stapler in a bowl of golden jelly, or a trivia night where the macho element really stands out, culminating in Chris Finch trying to throw Tim’s right shoe over a building. And there’s plenty more where that came from, too, but you’ll have to get hold of this DVD to discover the rest. But one thing I do have to mention is the inflatable penis that manages to get involved in proceedings. Classic.

What Gervais and Merchant have put together is a well-grounded, slickly produced mockumentary on something very close to home for many people. They manage to combine impeccable timing for the most hilarious results, a balance between the truly uncomfortable and the amusingly odd, and just enough storyline to give the series some sort of flow. While you’ll most likely cringe at those unbelievable moments from David and the outrageous lines uttered by the completely daft Gareth, it’ll all soon turn to laughter as you realise just how biting and fundamentally true the whole thing is.

Makes me glad I don’t work in a conventional office, I suppose.

Video
This recent BBC comedy gets a good visual treatment on DVD, presented in the 1.78:1, 16:9 enhanced aspect ratio. Everything looks quite good on the eye save for a little aliasing mainly in the brickwork of the opening credits and some shimmering in the usual places. The greys of the office come out quite well, with sharpness maintained throughout. Overall this is a great transfer, but you probably won’t care how this thing looks when you’ve constantly got tears in your eyes.

The lovely Dawn

Audio
Dolby Digital 2.0 here we come. It’s sufficient for this release as there’s only so much stapling and shuffling effects in the rears that I could take. No need for anything more so the 2.0 mix remains, leaving us with clear dialogue and decent effects that sit squarely in the front speakers.

Extras
Unlike some of the other BBC releases of recent times, The Office contains a couple of extras, surprisingly with a disc all to their own, that really do add a bit of weight to the production. First of is the documentary entitled How I Made The Office, With David Brent. This is a great piece that highlights how Ricky Gervais is quite like Brent in real life, and introduces us to the odd-looking Stephen Merchant as they both talk about various aspects of the production. The piece often drift into a mockumentary style itself as the interviews with the actors turn into sarcastic comedy and Gervais and Merchant ham up their relationship. Mixed in with the interviews is footage of the lot of them breaking into laughter, mainly when Gervais is involved. This blooper reel culminates in a hilarious montage of Ricky falling to pieces whenever the word midget is uttered by another actor. In some parts this is just as funny as the production, particularly when Martin Freeman (who plays Tim) and Mackenzie Crook (Gareth) are in front of the camera. The whole thing runs for an impressive 40 minutes or so and is a very valuable extra.

The other supplement on this barren second disc is a deleted scenes section, containing six deleted scenes all prefaced by a thirty second slide detailing why the scene was cut and where it fit in to the series. As expected, most of these scenes are quite funny as well, especially those involving more of Gareth’s antics. This rounds out a small but worthwhile extras section that does add weight to the production.

Tim stirring Gareth yet again

Overall
This is a brilliant and underrated TV series, but hopefully this DVD release will lift its profile in Australia at least. The Brits, especially the guys on this site, are a rap for this show and now I can gladly join them in championing a very subtle and totally hilarious look at the mundane office scenario. Similar in style and effect as Frontline and featuring the money-shot look to the camera perfected so well by the team from The Late Show, Australians should feel very comfortable in picking this one up and being amused in the same way. Heck, I reckon the whole world should take a look because there’s familiarity everywhere, and not just to those who have worked in a similar kind of office. The video and audio do justice to the production, while the two extras included are well worth a look. I’d say we’ve got a very solid series one package on our hands. Now, roll on, season two.


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