In 2001, the BBC aired an original sitcom that would go on to create an impact far beyond its 12 half-hour episodes and 2 year lifespan. The Office brought a format that, whilst not entirely a new invention, spawned a genre of its mockumentary style comedy. Since the UK programme’s success, it was adapted for America, where The Office US took on a life of its own over 9 seasons in 8 years. Subsequently, co-creator, writer and lead Ricky Gervais has become a world-famous personality. So, just what is the premise for this all conquering masterpiece?
Well, erm, it’s a paper company in Slough. And the set up really is as tedious as that sounds, which is, of course, the whole point. The Office follows the day to day working lives of employees in this enclosed environment, going behind the scenes to reveal the minutiae of Wernham Hogg and its individuals. It’s dull and they’re bored; it’s fascinating and we’re enthralled.
The main character is the branch’s boss, David Brent, a man full of faux wisdom and misguided bravado, but beneath the confident veneer, equally desperate and fragile. He’s a proud manager, who spends his days hopelessly trying to have a laugh with his bewildered staff, whose perception of their relationship differ to his own surmising: “I’m a friend first and a boss second; probably an entertainer third.”
Despite his delusions of grandeur, Brent is an oddly likeable character; as much he is laughed at by the viewer and those around him, they are also often on his side, as he flings continually into socially awkward scenarios. In the years since its first release, David Brent has become a national treasure, with an array of classic lines and scenes, most notably the infamous dance he performs with gusto in front his dumbfounded staff.
Besides Brent is ‘assistant to the regional manager’ Gareth Keenan, the one employee who looks up to David, and aspires to reach a similar level. Gareth takes the job seriously, regularly attempting to enforce office rules, but earning little respect from his colleagues along the way. He is mocked mercilessly for his self-unawareness, especially when bragging unconvincingly of military credentials from a Territorial Army past that he appears entirely unsuited for. Despite this, and an often dubious sense of humour, like Brent there is an underlying vulnerability that keeps Gareth’s humanity as relatable as it is annoying.
Much of Gareth’s supposed banter is aimed at Tim, his nemesis and the show’s relative voice of reason, as a laid back, affable guy with a wider view of the world than these office walls. Striking a forlorn figure, Tim is trapped in an existence he longs to escape, both dreaming of a more exciting future and unable to shake off the security this job brings. Whilst bored of everyday life, he entertains himself by winding up Gareth with pranks such as putting his stapler in jelly, and yearns for receptionist Dawn. It is their relationship, of great friends but unobtainable lovers due to her long-term fiancé Lee that arcs over The Office throughout as the programme’s primary love story.
Various other characters enrich the fabric of The Office too; these include Finchy, a cocky salesman that brings out the worst in Brent, as he tries to play up to his laddish laughs; company boss Jennifer, watching over the inane madness and occasionally putting Brent in his place; Keith, emphasising the boredom of it all, with an empty stillness; Oggy, played fleetingly by co-creator Stephen Merchant, as Gareth’s outside of work friend; and Rachel, Tim’s love interest, that only increases the unspoken tension between he and Dawn.
After two triumphant seasons, The Office returned for a Christmas special double, which tied up loose ends in a way that added emotion to the comedy. Having been made redundant, David is lost without his old work, and his insecurities are evident, both professionally and personally. Dawn has moved to Florida but returns for the Christmas party, where she reunites with Tim, still working at Wernham Hogg with Gareth. Their ‘will they, won’t they’ romance becomes key to the plot, as does Brent’s surprising dating journey. Ultimately, as the old gang are back together, it is, like the 12 episodes before it, a fittingly funny and fond farewell to The Office.
Published on June 24th, 2019. Written by John Barran for Television Heaven.