Christmas 2003, my mother’s house. My twin brother and I are taking turns on her DVD player playing scenes and clips from our new Christmas presents. She mentions, to our horror, that she has a (gasp) videotape she wants us to see. We reluctantly ask for clarification, and she mentions, again to our horror, that it’s a BBC show involving office life. I’ve never been much of a fan of BBC productions (with the occasional exception of a Monty Python episode here and there or, more recently, "Absolutely Fabulous"), and my brother is even less so. We ignore her and fire up the DVD player again. She then proceeds to stand in front of the TV, blocking our vision, and again pesters us to endure this tape. We eventually give in, realizing we had been watching our discs for over an hour and, after all, it is Christmas, so we can make a small sacrifice. Our main caveat is that she has to only show us what she thinks are "the funny parts", and we wouldn’t stand for a viewing of an entire show, let alone the full season. When she popped in the videotape, I didn’t realize I was getting the best Christmas present of the year.
For those new to the "Office", the series focuses on a merger between two branches of the Wernham Hogg Company: The "Slough" branch, headed by David Brent (played by Ricky Gervais/co-creator), and the "Swindon" branch, managed by Neil Godwin. The show’s scripts are largely based on improv, and are shot in the context of a documentary recording the merger. Long takes, handheld shots, and "talking head" interview scenes are the norm here. While Season One introduced characters, romance, and was played mostly for comedy, Season two, though still funny, develops the characters even more, taking much darker and serious twists as "Sir David of Brent" begins to see his world disintegrate. The series also contains numerous interesting, intelligent, and often hilarious side stories and plotlines than just the merger. Season two is also the last season for the "Office", as the creators were rumored to have run out of ideas (hardly evident when watching, however), and the last episode does not disappoint. Without giving anything away, the show truly resembles British tragedy at its finest. A word of caution: The British accents are quite hard to understand at times, and I found myself switching on subtitles occasionally and looking up certain words in the provided "Slough Slang" glossary.
The DVD is presented in widescreen format, without noise, and the transfer is what you expect of a recent production shot on video. True to a documentary feel, scenes are occasionally and intentionally "out of focus" and highlights are blown-out/overexposed.
Sound is stereo, and obviously mostly dialogue-driven, so expect the center channel to get all the action. Ambient noises are rendered well both in content, volume, and direction, and add texture to the episodes.
Bonus Material, though sparse, contains a "Video Diary", a vignette that features the show’s creators covering some behind the scenes info, as well as insight on their editing and production process. Deleted scenes are also included, and though brief, contain some real gems. The outtakes, easily my favorite, will have you rolling on the floor in laughter, and shows you what a 25+ take scene looks like. The last extra is the previously mentioned glossary of "Slough Slangs", which will come in handy when hearing words like "Mullered", "Div", and "Het".
The Office works on so many levels I can’t honestly recommend it highly enough. It has brilliant improv – and moments of hilarious slapstick. It has a great romantic story - and moments of unrequited love. It shows subtle moments – and moments of characters going insane. It combines the best of similar genre, such as the hilarious banter and ridiculousness of "Spinal Tap", or the underscored insanity of an office exposed in "Officespace". Seldom does any show feature such a talented cast, and here lies its greatest strength. Whether it’s the growing mental illness of David Brent, the very sane prankster Tim Canterbury, the psychotic Quiz Master Gareth Keenan, or the sweet receptionist with a real dilemma, Dawn Tinsley, you’ll grow to love, hate, be shocked and even care about these characters as the show reaches its final end. The only negative about this disc is that it represents the end of the show.
This is brilliant stuff, my Disc of the Year, and in the words of David Brent, "don’t muck about", and "give it a go".