The Office (BBC2, 2001-2002, BBC1, 2003)
This is one of those sitcoms that has been so documented and analysed over the years I have put off my own review for a while because its story is well known and I wasn’t really sure what angle to take on it. Is there anything I could say about this show that people didn’t know already? I’ve decided that I might as well do the piece and begin with how I became interested in this sitcom.
I had heard of Ricky Gervais before The Office launched, I remember that he used to have a programme on radio station XFM which was rather notable for his shouting and endless laughing, and he then went on to appear on various Channel 4 comedy shows including The 11 O’Clock Show and his own Meet Ricky Gervais, so when it was announced that he was working on a sitcom for BBC2 I was rather interested.
At first it didn’t sound that original an idea, there had been comedy shows set in offices before, and there had already been a sitcom called The Office on ITV in the 90s (that I reviewed a while back). Gervais teamed up with “lanky goggle-eyed freak” (as he was described in an episode) Stephen Merchant to create an sitcom that would go on to be a big success.
The Office was set in Slough and was a spoof documentary about working at the Wernham Hogg paper company. The main character in all of this was played by Gervais himself, the self-styled “chilled-out entertainer” David Brent, and he was accompanied by a great cast full of memorable characters, including Gareth and Tim who didn’t get on and spent a lot of time bickering and doing unusual things with staplers, and Dawn. The characters would also often tell us their feelings on working in such a crazy place.
Brent was known for playing silly pranks on his staff when they had work to get on with, who also included the irritating Finchy, and who could forget Keith, a man of few words yet you couldn’t ignore him. By the end of the first series it was clear that the critics had become rather fond of this show, and there was much anticipation for the second series (it even had a Radio Times cover). The Office concluded with a couple of Christmas specials on BBC1, not bad for a show that had started out so quietly.
The Office went on to win plenty of awards and it was also repeated frequently on various channels including UK Play and BBC Choice. The DVD releases sold very well, the extras included plenty of outtakes, some of possibly thousands that had happened thanks to Gervais and his laughing (the making-of documentary made it seem like a group of comic actors including Martin Freeman watching on bemused at this guy laughing all day). There were also script books released that were fun to read and contained lots of good pictures.
With The Office established as one of the most successful UK sitcoms of its era (and an American version also being very successful), Gervais was now a major name in comedy in the UK and the USA, and the follow-up was BBC2 sitcom Extras, which seemed to feature all of his new showbiz mates who were keen to send themselves up, and it had possibly even more cringe-making moments than its predecessor (and I might review that soon too). We met the Brent character one last time in the 2016 film Life On The Road where he has now focused on a music career.