J.D. Lafrance
The Office: The Complete Collection DVD Review

The Office: The Complete Collection

June 2, 2005

Director: Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant,
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Martin Freeman, Mackenzie Crook, Lucy Davis, Ralph Ineson, Stirling Gallacher, Patrick Baladi, Ewan Macintosh, Joel Beckett, Sally Bretton, Oliver Chris, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

The Office is a British TV comedy that came seemingly out of nowhere to garner enthusiastic universal critical acclaim and wide spread popularity in its home country and a devoted cult following here in the United States where it is shown regularly on BBC America. The two seasons and the Christmas Specials have all been released separately on DVD but now all three have been re-packaged in a Complete Series box set.

The Office is a faux documentary focusing on the day-to-day workings of the staff of Wernham Hogg, a paper manufacturer in Slough, England. David Brent (Gervais) is the office manager and he has the uncanny knack of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. He so desperately wants to be loved by his subordinates but they see him mostly as a buffoon. He tells awful jokes and often creates embarrassing and uncomfortable situations because he feels that he has to perform for the camera.

Tim (Freeman) and Gareth (Crook) are two office drones who have a playfully antagonistic relationship. Tim delights in tormenting the oh-so serious Gareth and taking him down a notch. For example, in one episode he encases Gareth’s stapler in jelly and when the enraged co-worker questions if he did it, Tim replies dryly, “How do you know it was me?” as he eats a packet of jelly. Tim is smarter than most of the others in the office because he is self-aware and yet trapped in this soul-deadening job. He also secret pines for the office’s cute secretary, Dawn (Davis) but she already has a fiancé, the boorish Lee (Beckett).

The first season sees David’s branch in danger of being closed down or absorbed by another branch. There is a certain tension that plays out in the background of many episodes as everyone’s job hangs in the balance. This culminates in the season finale when David has to finally make a tough decision.

Arguably, the best (and funniest) episode of this season is the staff training day. David takes over the session in a show-stopping moment where he brings out an acoustic guitar and launches into “Freelove Freeway,” a bizarre pseudo-folk song. The poor, beleaguered session leader has his hands full with David and his people who, in all honesty, could really care less about becoming better employees.

Sandwiched between comedic set pieces are nice little visual haikus that show people in the office performing boring, mundane tasks complete with the drone of a vacuum or photocopier whirring away. These moments perfectly capture the banality of most office environments.

The second series begins with the merging of rival branches, Swindon and Slough. Office manager David has a new group of employees to deal with, including a new boss, Neil (Baladi). They aren’t nearly as tolerant of David’s antics or his lackadaisical attitude as are his long-suffering crew. Tim has a new girlfriend but still secretly pines for Dawn and continues to torment Gareth.

The first season maintained a balance of very funny, laugh-out-loud moments with uncomfortable ones. The second season purposely upsets this balance by emphasizing situations that are truly cringe-worthy because they have a real ring of honesty to them. For example, there is a scene where David introduces himself to his new staff and he tries to tell a few jokes to break the ice. He bombs badly and doesn’t stop, even when it is painfully obvious that no one finds him the least bit funny. Where most shows would cut away to the next scene, The Office keeps its camera trained on David. There is the occasional cut to a reaction shot-a shocked or upset look on someone’s face-but for the most part, the show stretches the scene out to an almost unbearable length.

The Christmas Specials pick up three years after the end of the second season as a BBC documentary crew returns to find out what everyone has been up to in that time. David is no longer working at the office and is bitter about how he was portrayed in the documentary. He is now working as a traveling salesman pushing cleaning products while trying to exploit what little fame he has garnered in a series of increasingly embarrassing and pathetic public appearances to promote a single he recorded. Tim and Gareth still work at the office but now Gareth has David’s job and is making Tim’s life hell. Although, he still finds time to play jokes on Gareth but sadly Dawn is no longer there to be his co-conspirator. She and Lee are now living in Florida, working illegally and clearly miserable until the documentary crew gives them the opportunity to go back to England to be reunited with their old workplace.

It is quite clear that Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant want their cake and eat it too as they maintain the same uncomfortable and often painful comedy but also provide satisfying conclusions to the major characters.

Special Features:

For the first season there is a retrospective documentary entitled, “How I Made The Office.” It pokes fun at these kinds of things as the cast talk about how “irritating” they find Gervais. The repartee between him and Merchant is funny and gives insight into why the show works so well. Not surprisingly, Gervais likes to adlib and there are outtakes of him going on and cracking up the crew. There is good footage of the original demo that they made for the BBC which should be of interest to diehard fans.

There are also six deleted scenes, including one where David disciplines Tim and Gareth for all of their squabbling. There is also a funny bit where Gareth and David discuss records they would take if they were stranded on an island.

Ricky Gervais introduces the first two extras on the second season DVD. The first one is a 13-minute collection of deleted scenes. Alas, there is no real context for where this footage fits in with the rest of the season but they work as stand-alone skits. One highlight features an interview with Tim where he reveals that Gareth’s favourite band is Mike and the Mechanics and how this drives him crazy.

There are also seven minutes of outtakes, which amounts to a pretty standard blooper reel as actors blow lines as they try to keep a straight face.

The highlight of the extra material is a video diary that looks at the making of this season. The mindless boredom of Gervais and Stephen Merchant trying to brainstorm ideas and dialogue gradually degrades into childish antics to an effort to procrastinate and avoid the inevitable-doing some work. In many respects, it is an anti-featurette in that it really isn’t your usual puff promo piece but isn’t really a straight-forward, this-is-how-we-did-it documentary either.

The Specials disc starts off with “The Office: Closed for Business Documentary” which has Gervais and the cast reflecting on the end of the show and how it impacted on their lives including the ensuing fame.

“Golden Globes Featurette” features Gervais and the cast talking about the Golden Globes experience, including footage of their time at the ceremonies in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, they figured that they had no chance of winning.

The hilariously cheesy “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” music video by David Brent that was in the Special is featured in its entirety here. Shot in soft focus with David decked out in white, it harkens back the ‘80s as it trots out and makes fun of every music video cliché.

There is also footage of Ricky Gervais recording a full-band version of “Freelove Freeway” with Oasis’ Noel Gallagher backing him up on guitar!

Finally, there is an audio commentary by Gervais and Merchant on the second part of the Special. Their trademark, dry, self-deprecating humour is in full-effect here.

For fans that have not purchased the seasons individually, this is definitely the collection to get. Everything is included in a nice package so that one can have the complete Office experience.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 98%



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