By: Craig McLeanWhether it’s the Beatles, the Stones, Monty Python, or mad-cowdisease, it seems like the U.K. gets its unfair share of culturebefore the U.S. does. Now, at least, the hit BBC sitcom TheOffice will get the American audience it deserves when thefirst season is released on DVD this month.
The premise of The Office, a cult success on BBC America since its January debut, is deceptively simple: It’s a mockumentary look at a drab paper company in a drab town with the drab name of Slough. All-seeing cameras snoop on the meetings, gossip sessions, and after-hours binges of the dysfunctional staff,including David Brent (Ricky Gervais), the department’s smug, jargonspewingboss; his obsequious second-in-command, Gareth (MacKenzie Crook); and desperate shlub Tim (Martin Freeman), perhaps the show’s sole sympathetic character. “That’s the boss,” says a weary coworker as Brent makes a drunken fool of himself at an extracurricular drinking session. “Yes, I am the Boss,” replies Brent. “Like Springsteen. Born to run…the Slough branch!”
Contrary to the polished sheen of American sitcoms, The Office (thesecond season of which premieres October 12 on BBC America) mixes deadpan dialogue with cringingly real situations. Its stuttering, low-rent feel is meticulously crafted, with the awkward pauses and reaction shots written into the scripts–a debt to American predecessors like The Larry Sanders Show. “People say how torturous it is to watch The Office,” says Gervais, who is also the series’ cocreator, “but Curb Your Enthusiasm, to me, is torture. I really do watch it through my fingers.”
Though it shares some territory with Mike Judge’s anti-work comedy Office Space, The Office draws heavily from the real-life professional miseries of Gervais and cowriter Stephen Merchant. “I’d been on these management-training courses with people who said they were general manager of vending machines,” says Gervais, 41, recalling his days as “entertainment manager” at the University College London. “People took it so seriously. You weren’t being trained as a CIA operative. You were being taught to say, ‘You shouldn’t leave that bucket there–it’s a fire hazard.'” In an original draft, Tim was more of a Chandler Bing-style wisecracker, but, says Gervais, “you didn’t feel sorry for him. You thought he was an idiot for working there. We wanted to make it more possible, more real, and, hopefully, more gratifying. Real life is always better. The funniest people are your friends.”