The Office UK

Over a decade later, I’ve just finished watching The Office UK. It’s not as laugh-out-loud funny as I expected, and is extremely short (a dozen episodes plus a special) but it’s extremely believable, and Gervais’s wannabe-comedian, falsely modest narcissist is depicted with creepy plausibility. He’ll do anything for validation (“for a laugh”), hopelessly idolising the laddish Chris Finch, despising the popular Neil, and always “trying to be a friend before a boss”. One thing that surprised me was his powerful jealousy towards the university-educated intern – apparently an expression of underlying class tensions.

Moreso than the US version, the UK Office is a bleak affair: the environment is excruciatingly dull and non-confrontational, most of the communication passing in the form of bug-eyed reactions; the characters slowly coming to the bleak realisation that they’re wasting their lives. The series revolves repeated social ignorance and insensitivity and the ensuing awkwardness, which is arguably at odds with Tim and Dawn’s main joke of making Gareth sound like he’s gay.

Unfortunately, few characters outside the main four (David, Gareth, Tim and Dawn) are depicted as more than targets to be belittled or offended, and I liked when Keith (sullen and impassive), and Rachel (who Dawn becomes progressively more jealous of) took more of a role. By contrast, the US series is populated with all sorts of wacky characters whose lives are filled in by many, many more episodes: while Michael Scott is a supreme idiot, there are many other littler idiots and idiocies.

Continuing the mandatory cross-Atlantic comparisons, I do concede that the US cast is more attractive – the UK characters are kind of (realistically) dumpy. (I may have insulted all of the UK there…)

The UK characters are far less committed to their work, but are largely good (if sometimes ignorant) people. Gareth is a try-hard and suck-up not driven crazy by power like Dwight; Neil is likeable and competent, but his US version Josh sells out his office for his ambitions; Finch is mean (usually to David) but is popular with women and can get along with colleagues while his translation Todd Packer is completely repulsive, and the conversion of the competent Jennifer Taylor-Clarke Jan Levinson-Gould goes quickly off the rails.

At the very end there are happy endings all round, which I was surprised by. David Brent’s situation after the second season is kind of horrible, and despite his terrible, terrible personality I felt sorry for him. I suppose I should feel sorry for salespeople in general.

Incidentally, the series demonstrates how stupid open plan offices are.

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