Paper Trail

Ricky Gervais is not a self-important and hot-headed office manager, but he plays one on TV.

Everybody knows David Brent. We've worked with, under or over someone like him, and it's nothing other than excruciating. He's the boss who points to a "Billy the Big Mouth" fish plaque and says, "You can't put a price on comedy." He's the guy who warrants an unflattering PhotoShop job of his head on a female porn model, and deserves having that creation forwarded to the entire office. Brent interrupts training sessions to run home and grab his acoustic guitar to prove he was once part of a successful rock band. He talks over everyone; he exaggerates with every sentence; and he has an inherent need to win any trivia challenge. He's that guy.

The fact that we've all met a David Brent makes the character, impeccably portrayed by Ricky Gervais, the most loathed of The Office, if not all present-day television comedy. But in a good way. The difference with Brent is, the writers (Gervais and Stephen Merchant) of The Office didn't screw up and write a character who's meant to be loved but is absurdly irritating i.e., Ray on Everybody Loves Raymond. They crafted a completely believable self-interested manager an audience loves to "ugh" and "just shut up!" at. Equally as realistic is the team of employees Brent "motivates" at Wernham Hogg paper supply.

Take out your office roster and peruse it. Does that list have on it, like Wernham Hogg's, an anal-retentive kiss-ass, a grudge-holding rep, a flirtatious twentysomething, a mysterious temp or that 30-year-old guy who's virtually normal with the exception of living with his parents? Some might say such similarity to real life deters an audience. After all, why would you want to watch what you've been experiencing for the past eight hours? Television may be about escape, but without something the audience can relate to, that escape is all about fantasy and not so much about release via comic relief.


BBC America hosts a week of The Office from Thursday, June 16, to Sunday, June 22. The show airs each night at 9 p.m. Check local cable guides for channel assignment in a particular area.

Like the 1999 feature-length film Office Space (similar in cubicle hell, but unrelated), the Office cast is deft at making jokes out of what tortures the office dweller. Mackenzie Crook brings to life skinny, bag-eyed Gareth, a former soldier still confident he could "catch a monkey in the wild," but now entirely too possessive over his office supplies. His desk mate Tim (Martin Freeman) spends time treading water in a job he hates seemingly so he can pull random pranks on Gareth--like hiding his stapler in a gelatin mold or ringing him on his cell phone only to say "cock" and hang up. Between calls Tim gazes fondly upon Dawn (Lucy Davis), the engaged receptionist who means well but can't keep a single thing confidential.

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Supplying paper may be the industry on the show, but The Office blurs the line of business particulars, makes the scenarios universal and focuses on what's really not important. The characters may seem hauntingly familiar or completely unknown, but the one brilliant thing the show accomplishes is taking average office experiences to the next and more absurd level.

It's the age-old "what if everyday were really like that?" And if nothing else, watching The Office on BBC America makes us grateful for our cable...and our personal daily grind. And that, business associates, is priceless.

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