Monday, November 27, 2006

"The Office" (2001). A BBC Series.

I've finally gotten around to watching Rickey Gervais' The Office. For those that don't know the series, it is the original BBC production that inspired FOX's American version. It was made several years ago (2001), and I had a friend who tried to turn me on to it when it first came out. I remember liking it, but being too preoccupied with other things to give it the attention it deserved. It's a shame because it is an intelligent and very funny television show. On the other hand, my rediscovery of it has been enjoyable... and it hasn't aged poorly during the few years of its existence. It is filmed as a documentary, meant to realistically depict the folly of the modern corporate workspace.

Gervais co-wrote and co-directed the series with Stephen Merchant (who can be seen in a documentary on the bonus disk packaged with the first season)- but he ends up with the lion's share of the credit because he is also its centerpiece performer. He plays David Brent, a lecherous boob-of-a-boss in a branch of a company that sells office paper. He fancies himself a comedian, but he has no sense of tact, and is therefore almost painful to watch. To compensate for his obnoxious tendencies, he gives free reign to his employees... all of whom express their personal idiosyncracies in the workplace. Because it is British, it is very difficult for an American to catch all the quickly-delivered dialogue. The humor is dry and self-referential. The documentary format allows the viewer access to the inner thoughts of the principles through first person interview interludes. The disconnect between the way people choose to represent themselves, and the actual interaction between the actors, does the comedic heavy-lifting.

Sadly the first season only contains six episodes. But a little bit of a good thing is tantalizing- I was left with the feeling of wanting more. The characters are elaborated slowly, without a lot of artificial exposition, and it's a joy to get to know them. There aren't many conventionally attractive members of the cast... these are the type of people that we can relate to as people we might actually encounter in our workplaces. It's not difficult to understand why an audience in another country can appreciate the show. The foibles and awkward situations of the office seem to be universally translatable. It's no accident that its US version was both critically and commercially successful.

Maybe some of the fun involved in watching The Office comes from wondering how much of it is truly representative of real-life office environments. What kind of effect can ennui have in a workplace organized for the marketing and sale of a product so mundane as paper? People seem to be unstintingly attracted to drama, and if the business doesn't necessarily lend that component of human experience in and of itself, then surely it will be manufactured out of whatever is available. No one in The Office seems to be passionate about paper, but rather they seem to be marking time and drawing a check. How many of a nation's workers are dedicated to necessities that are so ordinary and unsexy? How does one devote his/her entire professional life to such an end without risking their sanity? How do those who don't actually make or sell the product justify their existence? These questions are elicited by The Office with the natural absurdity and surrealism of the corresponding answers.

8 Comments:

Blogger Dagrims said...

The BBC version of the show was fantastic, but sadly just 12 episodes and a couple of specials. I was concerned that the American version would be a huge disappointment, but Steve Carrell is great, and the supporting cast nearly perfect. I can recommend it without hesitation - Amazon periodically sells the Season 1 and 2 DVDs at a discount. Definitely pick them up.

Also, as to your question about how representative of real life office situations the show is - there are elements of truth in each character, although as in any good satire the traits are exaggerated somewhat.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

dagrims,

I had heard the American version was worthwhile. I'll keep an eye open for an opportunity to see it.

Do you think your experience in the workplace informes your appreciation of the show?

1:31 PM  
Blogger Dagrims said...

Without a doubt. People who don't work in an office may still find the show quite humorous, but less likely to relate to some of the situations, or see themselves or others in the characters.

I think it's similar to the comic strip Dilbert. As someone who worked in an engineering firm for three years, I find it extremely funny. Others may not, simply because they don't have the same experiences.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

dagrims,

It's true. I may enjoy "The Office" a bit more due to the two years I spent working at a downtown PR firm.

But Dilbert... not so much.

8:28 PM  
Anonymous jefg said...

I really need to watch The Office. It seems to be one of the "shows to watch". Six Feet Under has also been recommended to me, and a great source of "free" entertainment is the public library. Ours has quite a collection of TV series compilations.

Having viewed Office Space the other night (loaned to us by
someone who said we'd find it funny), I'd say there's more than a little degree of truth hidden in the exagerations. I'm not a big Bevis and Butthead fan, so I wasn't sure what to expect from a Judge movie.

The idea of someone admitting to not working more than 15 minutes a week and being promoted for honesty is truly funny, as is as a guy getting fired months ago and still at work because payroll wasn't informed. Having worked in an office setting for a LONG LONG time, I can vouch for the wasted time and energies on things non-related to work. Computer games, e-mail, personal research, gossiping. Someone must have done research on the amount of lost productivity in America. I might have done it myself, had I not been so distracted with fantasy baseball (dagrims..ummm).

Just finished decorating. Am I the only guy who doesn't like putting up decorations as much as their partner? Beer can chicken on the grill today...A waste of half a can of Yuenglings, but oh so good. Happy Holidays.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

jefg,

I think there is ample suggestion of informed recommendation for "The Office" in this thread. Definitely give it a watch.

As far as "Office Space" is concerned, I didn't find it funny... but I have plenty of close friends that did. Perhaps I just wasn't in the right mood.

At our house, neither of us are motivated to put up holiday decorations. There's enough to keep us busy without that. I can't say I miss it that much.

5:14 PM  
Blogger Rev. Don Spitz said...

Eric Rudolph is not a terrorist, but an anti-terrorist fighter. Those who have killed babykilling abortionists have done so to protect the innocent. People use force everyday to protect the innocent and no one has a problem with it, except when it comes to protecting unborn human beings, then they go ballistic. It's very simple, the unborn deserve the same protection as the born. Born people are protected with force quite often. Force that you would be glad if it was to protect your children against a murderer. Force that you yourself might use to protect your own children from being murdered. The unborn deserve the same protection.
SAY THIS PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am a sinner and am headed to eternal hell because of my sins. I believe you died on the cross to take away my sins and to take me to heaven. Jesus, I ask you now to come into my heart and take away my sins and give me eternal life.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

rev. spitz,

First of all, I'm not sure why you didn't post your comment under the anthrax comment where the terrorist Eric Rudolph was mentioned. But anyway...

Hypocrites like you have done more to turn people from Christianity than all of the "babykillers" in the world. You celebrate a man who commits murder to perpetuate his own misguided religious views.

Perhaps you should pray to Jesus, so that He may come to you and point out the errors in your thinking. Jesus did not give you the authority to judge and execute a man for their sins. In claiming God's righteous role of judge for yourself, you are profaning The Word. YOU are a force for the Antichrist. Whatever organization allows you to continue to propagate your message of hate is spiritually bankrupt. Your Hell was made for people like you. Please stop doing Satan's work.

6:44 PM  

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