Revisiting Ricky Gervais’ The Office
Most of us have done jobs that we don’t really love. We’ve trodden the same carpet each day, sharing painful small-talk with the same people that, otherwise, we would absolutely have no reason to converse with. We’ve stared at spreadsheets, stressed about stock levels and served rude, self-righteous customers, all the while wondering why the hell we were wasting our time performing such menial work rather than doing what we really love. We’ve gone deeper into office politics than we ever thought possible and we’ve sat at our desks on a Monday counting down the minutes until the weekend.
And this is why BBC sitcom, The Office, struck such a chord. It was easy to empathise with the mundane lives of its characters. Indeed, Ricky Gervias and Stephen Merchant’s two-series sitcom contains surely some of the most well-observed characters ever. Protagonist David Brent is middle everything: middle-management, middle-England, and yet is so desperate to be extraordinary, to be a life-changing boss, a best mate and a star. While we would hate to admit it to ourselves, let alone anyone else, there is something of the Brent in all of us, that desire to be well-liked which often leaves us tiptoeing the murky middle-ground that is neither popularity nor respect.
Realistically though, most of us are more like Tim or Dawn. The ordinary office workers, their youths fast dissolving while they tread water in dead-end, mundane employment as their ambitions become little more than hobbies. Then there’s Gareth. We all know a Gareth. Not a bad person, just a wally, as opposed to Finchy, who is malicious and mean-spirited. We all know a Finchy, too, although we wish we didn’t.
The Office, at first glance, revolves around the day-to-day life of Brent, the manager of a branch of paper suppliers, Wernham Hogg. Indeed, the comedy often comes from the awkwardness he creates. The cringeworthy silence that lingers after one of his jokes falls flat, his lack of self-awareness as to the awfulness of his poetry. Meanwhile Gareth’s tactless interjections are priceless (not to mention the sight of him leaving in the sidecar post-Chasers). Finchy is just about the worst person ever. Meanwhile, Keith’s lady-advice is remarkable. And as for the one-liners, well, where do we begin? “I was just wondering, will there ever be a boy born, who can swim faster than a shark?” is a particular favourite. And how amazing is the IT guy? “No thanks I’m making shitloads from computers”
However, while the comedy revolves around Brent’s endless failings, the show isn’t merely taking the piss. Critics are quick to point the finger at Gervais and accuse his work as being cynical. You only need to read some reviews of Derek, his latest sitcom. However, anyone who says Derek was poking fun at disabled people is 100 per cent wrong. Derek was a tender, tear-inducing piece of work which, while often laying it on a bit thick, showed the protagonist as having a heart of gold, as somebody that we should all try to be more like. The Office, in a different way, has a similar heart at its core.
The narrative arch actually follows the very sweet, very real relationship between Tim and Dawn. They are two colleagues whose flirty glances and playful exchanges are magnified infinitely by their environment and by the fact that Dawn’s fiancé, the odious Lee, is never far away. We follow the story not because we want to laugh at Brent, but because we desperately want for Tim and Dawn to get together, to step out of their safety zones and go for it.
For similar reasons, the Christmas specials were great. Brent finally stands up to Finchy, and the denouement between Dawn and Tim remains my favourite piece of television ever. Anyone who doesn’t have a tear in their eye when she opens her Secret Santa present is made of stone.
I’m pleased that, including the two Christmas specials, there were only 14 episodes in total. It didn’t overstay its welcome and the fact that the baton was passed on to Steve Carrell meant that the legacy was kept alive but in a different form.
If, like me, watching the underrated Derek made you want to revisit The Office, then get the disk in your DVD player and get ready to sing along on the training day episode. All together now “Free love on the free love freeway…”
Words by Bobby Townsend