Tuesday, November 16, 2004

BBC Rules, evidenced by The Office

When I was living in St. Louis, I started seeing a lot of articles on "The Office," a pseudo-documentary program that ran for two seasons on the BBC. It goes without saying that I have maybe too much fondness for all things British. I bought the first season as a lark, thinking that it would be something akin to the very funny movie "Office Space:" "Somebody's got a case of the Mondays!"

I write this today, the release date of "The Office Christmas Special," which ties up all loose ends for the characters at paper company Wernham Hogg in the town of Slough.

So "The Office" is the epitome of what someone I know calls "igry," the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of one's stomach that is caused by watching others go through an awkward and embarrassing moment. (To give credit where credit's due, I think that we may have seen "igry" in Entertainment Weekly, but unlike "issues" and "drama," this word has not caught on so I'm going to give it to Richard for promulgating its use). Basically, igry is the flip side of schadenfreude. The characters in the program are perfect calibrated to be equally funny and poignant. Ricky Gervais is very much like one boss I had who shall remain nameless and the environment is so much like the AG Edwards branch where I toiled that it's uncanny: sad people who try to bolster themselves by being funny all the time, arrogance masking insecurity, all that was missing was the unrequited love between the sweet receptionist (who bore no resemblence to me except that she was a frustrated artist who took the reception job to pay the bills while she did her art and the reception job became her full time job while her art took a backseat) and the thoughtful account guy (we had no such person until charming Mike Landwehr started the week before I left).

In the Christmas Special, former manager David Brent (made redundant in the second series) is a office cleaning supplies salesman. On the side, he makes "celebrity" appearances at corny nightclubs. He's also trying to find a woman and he has some very uncomfortable dates with women who responded to his online profile. He spent all of his severance pay to record and release a single that made it to #315 on the charts. Even though he's been banned from dropping in on his former officemates (because he's a distraction), he is invited to the holiday party. The most tender of the subplots, the burgeoning relationship between genial every guy Tim and receptionist Dawn, was never resolved fully in the second series. She left for Florida with her yob fiancé, Lee. All I'll say is, the relationship is addressed here. And Mackenzie Crook is terrific as snivelling Gareth, David Brent's replacement. They didn't give Gareth much to do this time around, but maybe that's because he was in "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the creators and writers of the program, stopped production after two seasons, and the finale felt somewhat abrupt to me, but I think that's more because I've become used to the American network system of dragging out a sitcom's departure (Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends - is it a coincidence that these are all NBC shows and that NBC has announced plans to create an American version of "The Office?") long after the show's dramatic arc and comedic flair have lost their focus and their energy. The Christmas Special, in less than two hours, re-introduces all the characters, and some terrific new ones, and gently pokes fun at them and lets them find their way towards whatever their destiny is.

Rent, buy, whatever. Watch.

1 comment:

Richard Burgess said...

Kate is "the man"