Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Office

Yesterday, I finished rewatching the brilliant British series, The Office. The Office is about a bunch of people who work at an office. It's a brutally realistic show, reveling in the awkward moments that people have when interacting in everyday life. It's similar to Curb Your Enthusiasm, in both shooting style and level of humor, but it has another element, which elevates above mere comedy. The show transcends genre, it's just a story, the story of four people, and what happens to them over a period of time. I can't reccomend it highly enough, it truly is one of the greatest stories ever told.

The series has a ton of stuff to analyze, and I'm going to cover a little bit of it here. The central character for most of the series is David Brent. Throughout the series, we are made aware of the way that Brent's image of himself contrasts with both the reality of who he is, and the way that he is perceieved by the people who work with him. Brent considers himself the best boss that people will ever have. He's a "chilled out entertainer" in the work place, and considers "having a laugh" the great compliment he can receive. He considers himself one of the funniest people in the world, and feels like the office is a stage for his comedy. He never seems concerned about actual productivity, he is concerned with keeping morale up, but this is really just an excuse for him to make jokes.

Throughout the first series, the myth of David Brent is built up. We get to know the character and the way he perceives himself. He thinks he's hilarious, but the people in the office generally view him either negatively or with complete apathy. For them, it's just a job, and they don't understand the fact that they're supposed to be David's audience. David also has major problems understanding his people. In the first episode, he tells Dawn she's fired as a practical joke, but she doesn't realize this, and ends up in tears, leaving him sitting there, just staring at her very real emotion. He's supposed to be an entertainer, but he's reduced her to tears.

During the first season, Brent has some successes. When he plays guitar for his co-workers, they seem to actually enjoy it. In the first season, most of the workers tolerate Brent's schtick. They may not find him hilarious, but no one really calls him on his behavior either.

Running parallel with this over the course of the first season is the story of Tim and Dawn. Throughout the series, they're treated as parallel characters, simultaneously pushing each other forward and holding each other back. Tim clearly is in love with Dawn from the start of the series, but she has a fiancee, Lee. They're both different from Brent and Gareth in that they don't like their jobs, and consider it only a stopover on their way, rather than an end in itself. Both see the office as something of a prison, and feel that the longer they stay there, the less likely they are to ever leave. Tim asks Dawn out in episode four, and she rejects him, so, from then on, there's a slight awkwardness in their relationship.

As season one ends, Brent is promoted, and is given Jennifer's job. He promptly rejects all his workers in favor of taking the promotion himself. Thus, all his rhetoric about caring about his employees, and treating them as a family is gone when it comes time to help himself personally. One of the best scenes of season one is when Brent presents the "good news and the bad news" to his workers, namely that they all may be fired, and will have to relocate, but he's got a promotion. The party scene at the end of the season is also brilliant. Brent says that he's decided not to take the promotion, to help them out, but later, he's confronted by Malcolm, who says that Brent couldn't get the promotion because of a medical problem. This is the first example of Brent's image being broken down. He's at his high point in their esteem, and when his lie is brought to the surface, he doesn't know what to do.

The other major event at the party sequence is when Tim tells Dawn that he's accepted a promotion, and is staying on, rather than going to university. For Dawn, this represents the vicarious destruction of her dream. If Tim could get out, it gave her hope that she could also, so his choice to stay there destroys a part of her also. The season ends with Tim and Brent having sold out, Dawn is distraught, and things generally look bleaker than they did at the beginning of the season.

The entire second season is devoted to destroying the myth of David Brent. Over the course of the first season, he builds up this idea that he's the greatest boss, and a hilarious entertainer. In the second season, we see this illusion smashed, and reality hits Brent.

Neil comes into the show to serve as a double for Brent, basically being the person Brent wants to be/thinks he actually is. At the meeting with the workers, Neil is witty, kind, and clearly liked by the people he is working with. Then, Brent goes on, tries to get huge laughs, and completely bombs. Later in the episode, Brent is brought to task by his bosses twice for making racist jokes. In the second season, Brent is constantly under watch, and as a result, his failures are much more apparent. He cannot get away with doing whatever he wants.

In the second episode of the season, we see Brent's facade crack for the first time. He takes the Swindon lot out for a drink, and attempts to win them over, but completely fails, and even admits that he has failed. He comes back and gets yelled at by Neil, which leads to his confession to Dawn that he's unhappy. This is the first time we see David at loose ends, unsure of himself.

This downfall continues when he bombs at a motivational speaking session, culminating in the dance scene. For comic relief day, Neil and Rachael do a dance, with Brent dismisses, claiming he could do a better one, and proceeds to perform an incredibly awful dance that leaves the workers flabbergasted. His showboating, combined with lack of doing any actual work leads to him getting fired. The scene in which he's fired sees all his negligence catch up with him. He never does any actual work, and it becomes a problem. It's perfect that he's fired on comic relief day, which should be the ultimate showcase for him, and ends up being the sight of his downfall.

In the final episode of the season, things go worse for him, he's fired from the motivational speaking job, and forced to beg Neil for his job back. This scene sees the myth of David Brent completely destroyed. He's no longer in control, he's not trying to be funny, he just wants his job, because without it, he has nothing. The office is his stage, and his purpose in life. He doesn't have any friends outside the office, and being fired is the equivalent of death for him. I love the way the season ends on such a down note. There's no attempt to make him feel better, there's just the reality, this guy is bad at his job, and has to be fired, and his feelings on the matter don't really come into play.

At the same time, over the course of the second season, we discover Dawn's dream of being an illustrator. Dawn is watching herself drift towards a life she doesn't really want. In marrying Lee and keeping the job as a receptionist, she's doing the safe thing, the thing that will keep her from being poor, but she's also destroying her passion. The most important speech for her is when she talks about how she used to say she was an illustrator, who did some work as a receptionist, but now she's just a receptionist. She has given up the dream, and basically accepted her role in the office. There's a divide between people who consider the job their ultimate goal, like Gareth, and those who just consider it a stopover. In saying this, Dawn has basically given up the hope that it's just a stopover, and consigned herself to an unfulfilling life.

While this is going on, she's seeing Tim drifting away from her. At the beginning of the season, he's a stickler for work, and discourages frivolity in The Office, but later, it's when he is going out with Rachel that we see Dawn at her lowest ebb. Tim had been the hope that she had that she could get out of the office and do something with her life, and to see him not only drifting into a permanent position, but also a permanent relationship is to see all her dreams destroyed.

For Tim himself, there is also an element of accepting his fate. He hopes to be in David's chair one day, and at the beginning of season two is clearly on the way up within the company. He's put his dreams on hold, but indefinitely. Gareth talks about the fact that having pipe dreams is good, even though you're never going to get to them, and Tim still has the dream of leaving to become a psychologist, but with each year, it becomes less and less likely.

As season two ends, Dawn is ready to leave for Florida with Lee, which is basically her deciding that being practical and having someone who can pay the bills is more important than persuing your dream. Despite pining for Tim the entire season, when he finally does ask her out, she rejects him, and leaves the country. The sequence in which he asks her out, done with no sound, is absoultely phenomenal, the silence is suffocating.

So, the end of series two leaves Tim and Dawn with their dreams shattered, and Brent with his world destroyed, but there is hope, in the special.

Related Posts
The Office: The Christmas Special (12/27/2005)
Top 10 TV Moments (1/29/2005)

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