The Office aired back in 2001 – and fans have been watching ever since (Picture: BBC)
There aren’t many shows out there that people choose to build their entire sense of humour – and even personality – around. But The Office is one of them, and it’s been that way for the last 20 years.
Two decades after first arriving on our screens, the much-adored sitcom is as firmly ingrained in the zeitgeist as it ever was. For a generation of men and women in their teens and early 20s at the time, who obsessed over it and bought the DVD box sets in their millions, it became a lens through which everything came to be viewed.
Get two fans together in a room, even now, and they’ll adopt a language all of their own, inflected with David Brent-isms and littered with quotable lines. They aren’t always conversions you’d want to sit through, mind, but they’re certainly still happening.
It’s still on rotation on streaming services across the world and being discovered by new generations, too. It’s here to stay: El vino did flow then, and it will do for decades to come.
But what’s made it endure so long? A comedy about the Slough branch of a paper merchants isn’t exactly the sexiest sell. But it helps, of course, that it features some of the finest writing from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and the most understated, but truthful performances of any sitcom ever made.
There’s the playful mockumentary format, too, which despite following the lead of Christopher Guest’s Spinal Tap and Best In Form, helped to popularise the genre.
But the key thing is the pathos of its lead character – the feckless and deeply tragic David Brent, played indelibly by Gervais.
Chilled-out entertainer David Brent (Picture: BBC)
For all the outlandish, cartoonish scenes and toe-curling dance moves that provide the series with some of its most memorable moments, he remains one of the most nuanced comedy characters ever put to screen.
It’s through Brent that the show was able to touch on tricky subjects – themes such as racism, sexism and homophobia, which might have comedy commissioners running a mile in 2021 – but The Office plays its approach to them cannily.
The show consistently justifies the flashes of unacceptable behaviour from Brent, which if handled differently could have aged the show horribly. Nothing is there for shock value. Instead, every outdated belief and action only serves to highlight just how out of touch he, and other lonely middle management types like him, really are.
The hit show ran for two series and two Christmas specials, from 2001 to 2003 (Picture: BBC)
Its masterstroke was in using Brent’s pitiful lack of self-awareness as the moronic filter with which to tackle these difficult subjects, and it’s what has helped The Office emerge unscathed through these recent years of cultural recalibration.
Even after Gervais found himself tackling the nature of offence in his work – pushing the line of acceptability and often tipping facefirst over it – The Office consistently falls on the right side of that line.
Ultimately, it boils down to this: In The Office, David Brent was the villain. In Gervais’s standup, and in the Twitter tirades that have at times come to define the public’s opinion of him in the 20 years since, you get the sense Gervais thinks he’s the only one who isn’t the villain.
Chris Finch and David Brent (Picture: BBC)
Brent, bloody-good-rep and awful bloke Chris Finch and the warehouse crew in the Office are painted as the sinners of the piece. We’re always laughing or pitying these characters and their attitudes, rather than laughing along with them. It’s part of what’s helped the show stand to the test of time so well.
While other sitcoms found themselves lacking when reappraised through fresh eyes in 2021, slapped with warnings about sensitive content or pulled from streaming services entirely, The Office remains a piece of work to be admired and enjoyed now just as much as it was then.
It’s been an integral part of the comedy landscape for the last 20 years for a reason. You will never watch a sitcom like this again. It’s brilliant. Fact.
The Office is available to stream on BritBox.
Credit: Original article published here.