November 9th, 2006

Rachel phones

The Office (UK)? More Like The Orifice (Dookie)!

I was going to boast that I watched the entirety of the UK version of The Office in one day, but that didn't work out. I almost made it, though! After all, it was only twelve half-hour episodes and a two-part Christmas special. I wanted to watch it before catching up with the US version on principle, since it came first, and also because some people suggested that it was harder to appreciate the UK version after falling in love with the US version (although others have reported the exact opposite). Also, it's complete! Over! Done! It should be done first, so I can move on.

I had always been wary of the show because of all the bloody hype. It was supposed to be OMG BRILLIANT. It was also supposed to rely on so-called "humiliation humor" that many people found uncomfortable to watch. I wasn't sure I would like it.

It's shot in a documentary-style like Arrested Development, but unlike AD, it's not just a style: the show purportedly is a documentary. The characters are aware of the cameras; they're aware they're being watched, that they're talking to an audience. The conceit is followed mercilessly, which is cool, although you have to accept the fact that the cameras seem to sit in on meetings that you normally wouldn't allow to be made public.

No one is more aware of the cameras than David Brent, who, in my opinion, is the major reason to watch the show. Because Ricky Gervais is amazing. I think David Brent may be one of the best television characters of all time.

See, I had been under the impression that David Brent, the boss, was a Very Bad Man, some sort of raving asshole. But he isn't, and that's the genius. He is completely oblivious to what a terrible person he is. In fact, he takes great pride in himself and how much he strives not to be a terrible person. And, to be honest, I don't actually think he's a very terrible person. He has his bad qualities, but I really do think he has good intentions somewhere in there. Incredibly self-centered though they may be. David Brent, you see, is wholly concerned with appearances, which is what makes the documentary style of the show perfect for him. He wants a happy workplace, high in morale. He wants everyone to have a good laugh. He wants everyone to like him. It was probably bad that I identified with him a lot, huh?

Ricky Gervais is amazing. I just had to repeat that. He's somehow able to play Brent as this brilliant paradox: the most insincerely sincere man you'll ever meet and the most sincerely insincere man you'll ever meet. He lets us see the bruises to David's ego without actually letting David show them himself. He's immensely likable, and yet, he'll say things you wouldn't believe without recognizing the humor and offense in what he's saying.

And there is one scene, one scene in the entire show where we see David drop that facade, where we see him truly vulnerable, and it is heartbreaking. There were almost tears, guys. TEARS. For the third time: Ricky Gervais is amazing.

But what about the rest of the show? And is it actually funny? Oh, it's funny. It's funny when you least expect it, really. Because you never know what's going to come out of these characters' mouths since they just sort of spout whatever they're thinking with no filter most of the time. These aren't nuanced, complex characters, so much. There are a lot of office hijinks and inappropriate humor and homosexual innuendo and unresolved sexual tension. The "humiliation humor" aspect comes in because these characters never realize they're being made fun of. You can see them sort of uncomfortable, or you can see them not being uncomfortable when you know they really should be uncomfortable, and, well, it's sometimes an uncomfortable space for the viewer to be in. Sometimes, it's just hilarious. There are some scenes I just could not stop laughing through, some lines that made me laugh out loud for a long time.

I didn't like the second season as much as the first season. The beginning and end of the second season were really good, but the middle was hard to watch. The Christmas special was also hard to watch, but I liked the second half more than the first half.

For the few of you who find this relevant: Boyce and Kim from Green Wing! And Harriet, for one episode! And, for the men in general: attractive British ladies with accents!

One interesting thing was that the end credits always had a short scene right before the end, except...they were almost never funny, so...I don't know why they bothered. And I didn't like the theme music.

So, now I trek on to the US version, and I find myself wary of the cognitive dissonance. Because there's no way Steve Carell can match Ricky Gervais. And...the US version looks a lot...sunnier. Is Jim as awkward as Tim? Dwight doesn't seem like he has Gareth's military history, which was the butt of many jokes, and by butt I mean gay. I really enjoyed Gareth, although Dwight looks like he's enjoyable in a different way. I'm already certain I'll like Pam more than Dawn because I have a crush on Jenna Fischer just from the icons. Plus, there's an Indian chick!

Soon, I will join everyone else's squee. But if you're a fan of the US version and you've been wondering about the UK version, well, there you have it. I liked it! It's funny! The end.