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The Office - Second
BBC America Comedy Series
The British series The
Office returns to BBC America with six new episodes in its second season. Far from
losing any of its edge, this brainchild of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant is nastier
than ever. A wickedly written, expertly acted take on self-deceptions born of class envy
and sexual anxiety, and set in a sterile modern workplace, its a screamingly funny
and often ferociously dark work that refuses to deal in easy answers or happy endings. For
anyone whos had it with the bland sentimentality of so-called
"heartwarming" sitcoms, The Office is most appealing when its at
its most appalling.
As recounted in Ben Stephens review of the
first season, The Office takes place in the depressingly gray branch office of
a London area paper merchant. David Brent (Gervais), the rotund office manager whose
desperate congeniality barely masks a seething hostility, is still force-feeding himself
with delusions of his own grandeur. Sales rep Tim Canterbury (Martin Freeman) continues
his feud with the boot-licking Gareth (Mackenzie Crook) even as a recent promotion is
causing him to take a high hand with Dawn (Lucy Davis), the receptionist with whom his
stop-and-go flirtation had been the offices one healthy sign of life.
Season Two picks up just as the promised merger of the Slough and
Swindon branches is taking place. Neil Godman (Patrick Baladi), Davids previous
opposite number, has suddenly become his boss, and to rub salt in the wound, Neil is
everything that David is dying to be: handsome, athletic, andabove
alleffortlessly popular. In one of the subtle, thought-out touches that
characterizes The Office, Neils incoming staff is just a shade more worldly
and attractive than the drab and doughy Slough crew. The new group includes a disabled
woman and a wryly aware black man who become instant recipients of Davids special
brand of "equal treatment," as well as the nubile girl-woman Rachel (Stacey
Roca), whose arrival throws some curves into Tims relationships with both Dawn and
Gareth. As always, the grotesque Finchy (Ralph Ineson) is doled out in rations calculated
to mesmerize us with his loathsomeness yet stop us just short of launching our TV sets out
But center stage is firmly occupied by David Brent, as only befits one
of the great comic inventions of our time. Gervais and Merchant pull off a wild balancing
act, pushing our feelings about the Brentmeister back and forth without ever quite asking
for our full-bore pity or hatred. At points Gervais willingness to use his roly-poly
body and nervous eunuchs giggle for our amusement (or revulsion) soars to levels of
such fearless largesse that his professional generosity"giving laughter,"
as Brent would put itverges on the masochistic. Gervais has announced that, except
for a single Christmas party episode, we have now reached the end of The Office.
This sounds like a wise decision, for not only does it avoid the possibility of the
shows becoming diluted by superfluous storylines, it may let us see him in other
roles without the ghost of David Brent breathing too hotly down his neck.
The worst thing one can say about this season is that its
"mockumentary" style doesnt always show the lightest touch: the camera
zooms in on the characters with a little too much emphasis in a couple of places, and a
shot or two of Dawn eyeing Tim from afar should have been left on the cutting-room floor.
(When their romantic feelings for each other are finally brought into the light, its
done in a way thats believable, satisfying, andwell, well let you supply
the final adjective.) The odd thing about these episodes is that tawdry as some of their
goings-on arehonestly, you wont believe what Finchy does with a clown-nose on
Comic Relief DayThe Office never slides into misanthropy or despair. The
employees of Wernham Hogg stir too much recognition in us for that to happen, so that a
show which constantly tests our gag-reflex ultimately makes us wonder how were seen
by those around us. That cell-phone ringing monotonously in the background tolls for thee.
- Tom Block