|The Office: The Complete Collection (2004)
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davis
Director: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Breaking television boundaries all over the world with its unconventional style and unique wit, BBC’s “The Office” is one of the funniest shows you will ever see, but what makes it unusually brilliant is the fact that you won’t even know why you’re laughing. As the first British comedy series to be nominated for a Golden Globe in over 25 years and the first series to ever actually win, “The Office” has more than just a few tricks up its sleeves. Premiering on British television from 2001-2003, most American audiences didn’t even experience the famous import until the show had already ended overseas.
Lasting only two seasons (a total of 12 episodes) with a two-part Christmas special that aired a year later, “The Office” is the most missed show on television, but series creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant chose in favor of ending the show earlier than expected; at least it obeys the show’s realistic notion of the day-to-day letdowns in life. Leading the pack of shows like "Arrested Development" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and lacking all of those annoyingly familiar network sitcom qualities like punch lines, laugh tracks and happy endings, “The Office” is an irreplaceable slot to fill in TV history.
Presented with the idea that the channel BBC2 is filming a documentary about the workplace, the show takes place in the offices of the Wernham Hogg paper company, right dab in the middle of the economically-deficient Slough. Followed by cameras everywhere they go and recording their daily conversations, the co-workers of the office are subjected to an almost annoyingly persistent experiment on the most simple of the human emotions. Front and center is David Brent (Gervais), a middle-manager goofball who hogs camera time in order to rattle off business philosophies about having a good time. Brent desperately struggles for attention and believes that his off-the-wall humor has secured a number of healthy relationships with the workers.
The workers could care less although, who will laugh and smile along with their boss as long as they can slack off during the week. The core group of the office is composed of three characters: Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), the team leading brownnoser whose emotional and physical fragility is in question; Dawn Tinsley (Lucy Davis), a bored receptionist who finds entertainment in teasing Gareth; and Tim Canterbury (Martin Freeman), the “straight man” sales manager who is secretly in love with Dawn.
The Dawn/Tim relationship is probably one of the best TV romances of all time, revealing their hidden emotions through a series of quick glances, playful joking and uncomfortable physical encounters. Joining the four main characters throughout the series are a number of supporting actors that are usually filmed working at their desk or chatting in the break room, but every so often they are given their chance to shine. Among the best, maybe even the most popular character of the entire series is Big Keith (Ewen Macintosh), an introverted accountant who receives barrels of laughs from his deadpan performance. Throughout the series, the Slough office is threatened with downsizing until Brent sacrifices his own job promotion to save the office, Tim and Dawn's relationship goes from good to worse when Dawn suddenly leaves for the US on holiday, and Brent is ultimately offered a redundancy package for his cooperative resignation.
The Christmas Special picks up where it last left off three years later to see the progression of its four main characters. Brent is now penniless after spending his entire severance pay on recording a single of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now" and is now making "celebrity" appearances for money, Tim is still working his dead-end job, Gareth is now the boss of the office and Dawn is invited back for the company's annual Christmas party, only to discover a rekindled attraction to Tim.
The writing for the show (also headed by Gervais and Merchant) is a clever and one-of-a-kind machination of reality. Every episode is so good that each line truly feels like an improvisation, but the scripts are also a subtle understatement to the over-the-top characters that all of the actors embrace wholeheartedly. Appearing as the show's main star, Gervais pushes the envelope with the utterly bizarre, somewhat creepy, but incredibly entertaining David Brent and delivers a memorable performance throughout the series, but no matter how magnetic Gervais can be at times, it's Freeman's everyman Tim that most viewers will identify with.
The DVD release of the show has been presented individually over the past year, but the newly packaged 4-disc DVD box set, "The Office: The Complete Collection," is the best way to own the entire series. Combining the first three discs from the original two seasons with the newly released Christmas special DVD, the newest collection unfortunately doesn't offer anything fresh for those who have already bought the series, but it is cram-packed with two sensational seasons, a rumor-ending two-part special and a cubicle full of bonus material. Presented in a 16:9 widescreen video transfer and accompanied by a Dolby Digital audio soundtrack, the first season of "The Office" is featured on discs one and two, season two can be found on disc three and the two-part special is located on disc four. With only six episodes occupying the first two seasons and the equivalent of three episodes making up the Christmas special, the meat of the collection is dedicated to the special features.
The bonus material for the first season is located on disc two and doesn't offer as much as the later discs. Along with six deleted scenes and introductory commentary from the duo on why they were cut, the documentary "How I Made the Office" is an amusing look at the making of the show, led by interviews with the cast and hilarious outtakes of mostly Gervais either tripping over his lines or causing the other actors to break out in laughter. The second season extras are located on disc three alongside the episodes and include a video diary featurette that shadows the crew from the start to finish of a whole season, fifteen deleted scenes introduced again by Gervais, and another comical outtakes reel that is far better than most bloopers. For only containing half of the material that the first two seasons have in length, the Christmas special extras are some of the best on the set.
Heading the backend of the fourth disc is another documentary about the ending of the series called "The Office: Closed for Business" and director's commentary on part two only. The commentary is fairly amusing with Gervais in the room, but it fails to tell the fans anything solidly informative. The rest of the special features are dedicated to a behind-the-scenes Golden Globes featurette that tracks their surprising win, a full band version of the song "Freelove Freeway" as appeared in episode four of season one and the full music video to Brent's rendition of "If You Don't Know Me By Now."
It's a real shame that a show like "The Office" can finally make its way on to television, only to leave faster than it arrived. It's even more upsetting to know that the creators controlled the quick-ending fate of the series as well. With such animated characters and sharp writing, "The Office" launched the careers of four relatively unknown actors and made TV history at the Golden Globes. A must-see series for those who can find a little comedy in the stark reality of disappointment, "The Office: Complete Collection" DVD box set offers the ultimate viewing pleasure of watching the entire series in one sitting, so take a day off and pick up a copy today.