'The Office' (U.K.): THR's 2003 Review

The Office UK - H - 2001
Newest show on the British invasion slate sardonically and hilariously explores the "ghastly" world of dead-end jobs at a paper supply company.

On Jan. 23, 2003, Ricky Gervais' comedy The Office made its way stateside, where it premiered on BBC America. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below. 

Here are your clues: a sitcom without a laugh track, crass behavior, dark and "ghastly" realism and tragic humiliations broken by laugh-out-loud joke lines. 

That's right, it's another comedy series from BBC America, this time set in the desperate world of The Office, where life can get pretty much intolerable for the working stiffs. Ah, but we get to laugh at their misery and petty triumphs, and we eagerly anticipate the next wacky line or monologue. 

Office has been running in Great Britain and other markets and won the British Comedy Awards in 2001 and 2002, plus a few other honors. 

Relieved by wonderfully arch lines and mad behavior, the show is marginally reminiscent of Seinfeld in that it's essentially about nothing. In the first episode, jobs are threatened by cutbacks, but nothing much is made of this dramatically except as a device to point out the phony, falsely hopeful way the boss spins the problem. 

The setting is a paper supply company in an industrial town near London. Without a clue as to how to behave or effectively run things, office boss David Brent (co-writer/director Ricky Gervais) is a smug, desperate to-be-liked misfit who tells jokes frequently and badly. David often banters with the receptionist, Dawn (Lucy Davis), and he honestly can't see that his jokes are sexist and offensive. 

David is told by a higher-up that there's a good chance jobs will be slashed unless he can prove that his is the most efficient department. Instead of taking action, David fritters away the time, playing class clown with his workers and lying to them about the personnel cuts. The cruel practical jokes include "firing" Dawn and reducing her to tears. 

Sarcastic, smart joker Tim (Martin Freeman) is constantly at odds with office creep Gareth (Mackenzie Crook). Wrangling over office equipment, it's discovered that someone (probably Tim) has made Jell-O with Gareth's stapler inside the dessert. 

One odd and delightful note in the series is that the actors often break the fourth wall, addressing the camera directly, docu-style. This gives them a chance to ruminate about their lives, their work — and lie through their teeth about their personal ethics. 

It's a wonderful, subversive concept, and by failing to romanticize the players, Office remains true to its ghastly, funny self. — Michael R. Farkash, originally published Jan. 23, 2003.