The Enduring Office


Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s 2001-03 mockumentary The Office is leaving Netflix on the 29th of June. Most people are familiar with the TV show, at the turn of the century this charming, hilarious (and very English) comedy hit pay dirt, and Gervais was catapulted to rockstar status.

Now twenty years since it first hit TV screens, it seems like the right time for a reappraisal. Unlike Harry Enfield and Friends, and Men Behaving Badly, two successful comedies of the 1990’s re-released on Netflix, (whose crude, un-PC jokes now fall flat over the laugh track), The Office remains funny, even after repeated viewings.

The concept is this: A BBC documentary crew are making a reality TV show about the day to day life of a typical office in Slough. Spotting his chance for fame, boss David Brent (Ricky Gervais) attempts to highjack the narrative with almost constant gags, none of them successful. Meanwhile, receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis) and senior sales rep Tim (Martin Freeman) find themselves falling in love on camera, despite the fact she is engaged to be married to Lee (Joel Beckett), a scary but dull warehouse worker. Meanwhile, Tim is continuously irritated by Gareth, Team Leader, a funny looking, childlike man with a blonde step in his hair, who is in the Territorial Army. In a still extraordinary performance, Mackensie Crook plays Gareth as an eternal innocent, irritating, but completely loveable in a very English way.

There are only two seasons of The Office, and a two-part Christmas special. For anyone who has lived in the UK most of their lives, Christmas is always a special time, and The Office does not disappoint, offering a beautiful, family friendly double bill. Gervais and Merchant are romantics at heart, the primary reason they were welcomed into Hollywood with open arms, seemingly overnight. I tried to get into the US version, but thought the pilot was a watered-down dirge with none of the sly, satirical wit of the original, the reason why David Brent and co are so compelling, even twenty years later.

Gervais and Merchant’s sophomore effort Extras, took into account the rockstar celebrity they had now attained. Starring Gervais as Andy Millman, (a film extra with dreams of movie success), each episode had a celebrity cameo, including Gervais’s real life heroes David Bowie and Robert DeNiro. Less successful than The Office, with a genuinely bizarre sub plot concerning the female interest and Andy’s only friend Maggie (Ashley Jensen) who he doesn’t wind up seducing, despite being a grown man in his forties. This kind of uneasy resolution can put off an audience, and Gervais flopped with his later, strange, vanity project Derek, where Gervais played a mentally disabled man who does voluntary work at an old folks home. Playing his winning hand again, but failing to produce the same magic, a documentary film crew is also making a film about the unit.

The brilliance of The Office lies in its complete, narrative structure. Creating a self-contained universe and ensuring each character arc is cleverly and carefully resolved, the audience satisfaction of a good story, well told, is massive, ensuring it to be up for repeated viewings.

Netflix recycles its product every now and then. The Office will be available to watch only until 29th June, so you haven’t got long to enjoy it, either for the first time, or for long-time fans.