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October 4, 2015

The Office: Episode 1

by Annie Wu, posted May 30th 2006 10:09PM
The Office
Do not adjust your web browser. You are now entering the Retro Squad, where we are reviewing past episodes of your favorite shows, in order, every week.

In the beginning, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant decided to create a mockumentary comedy about the painful emptiness of office life. And it was good.

The Office
debuted in England in 2001 and later aired on BBC America, where I promptly fell in love with the show. I think I was watching Monty Python's Flying Circus on BBCA when a commercial popped up, promoting the premiere of The Office. It featured a scrawny fellow named Gareth (played by Mackenzie Crook, who would later be the wood-eyed pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean) talking about office relationships. He had a horrible bowl haircut and dark circles under his eyes, and yet I thought he was the most hilariously adorable thing I had ever seen. At that moment, I promised myself to watch. Little did I know I would soon have a new favorite show.

I suggest you American-version fans rent or buy the DVDs and watch along. You might even notice that this episode bears a striking similarity to the American pilot. That's because a large portion of the US script was pulled out from this episode word-for-word (save for a few Americanizations, like changing "Camilla Parker-Bowles" to "Hillary Rodham-Clinton").

This episode started off with a terribly awkward moment that set up the viewer for what kind of pain was to come. David Brent (Ricky Gervais) finished a phone conversation with a friend by jokingly asking, "How is Elaine? She left you yet?", only to stammer a good-bye, hang up, and glance at the camera, saying, "... She has left him. I forgot about that." I like a good show that hurts so much that I have to watch from between my fingers.

As Brent showed around a new temp, Ricky (played by Oliver Chris, Boyce from Green Wing), viewers met everyone in the office. The company, Wernham-Hogg, sold paper, so the atmosphere was less than exciting. Workers quietly went about their business, despite Brent's desperate attempts to funny up the environment (with Billy Bigmouth, comics on the walls, random stuffed monkeys on coat-racks, and other pointless novelties). We also learned that there were trust issues against Brent, especially since the news of a possible downsizing. The only person with full faith in Brent is the Assistant (to the) Regional Manager, Gareth. He's pale and scrawny, but he talks like a manly sort of guy, boasting about his fixed-up car and Territorial Army activities (the TA is pretty much a volunteer army of part-time soldiers).

We also first learned of the relationship -- or lack thereof -- between Tim and Dawn (played by Martin Freeman and Lucy Davis). They were doing some innocent flirting throughout the episode, playing with each others' hair instead of working. Just as Tim invited Dawn to a post-work drink toward the end of the episode, we were introduced to Dawn's fiancé, Lee, who worked at Wernham-Hogg's warehouse. Watching Tim and Dawn hold back their feelings for each other will remain a recurring theme in the series. I've always felt that the best part about their "relationship" was the importance of Gareth. Tim and Dawn (especially Tim) constantly picked on Gareth with childish jokes and teasing.

Tim: You're a twat, Gareth. You're a twat and a knob-end.
Gareth: I'm still not listening, so it's not offending me.
Tim: Alright, so you won't hear this... You're a cock, you're a cock, you're a cock... You're a cock.

For Tim and Dawn, these pranks and jokes were like mini-dates, time for bonding, since they couldn't actually go out with each other. One of the first pranks we saw Tim play was the encasement of Gareth's stapler in jelly (pictured). The moment also allowed for Brent to promote himself as a humanitarian (this will happen throughout the series) when he watched Gareth fish out the stapler with his fingers ("No! Eat it out! There's people starving in the world... which I hate," he said, making a point to look at the camera).

The episode ended with yet another painful moment. I remember cringing so much while watching this for the first time. To show Ricky just how fun he is in the office, Brent decided to play a little practical joke on Dawn.

Brent: As you are aware, there are going to be redundancies. And you've made my life easier, in as much as I'm going to have to let you go first.
Dawn: What? Why?
Brent: Why?... Stealing. Thieving.
Dawn: Thieving?... What am I meant to have stolen?
Brent: Post-it notes.

And so it continued, until Dawn broke down into tears. "That was... a joke there," Brent finally said, to which Dawn replied, sniffling, "You wanker. You're such a sad little man." Brilliant.

Ladies and gentlemen, that was when I became hooked. Just 30-minutes of this hilarious, agonizing pain had me sold. More cringe-worthy moments and biting irony to come next week with the second episode, aptly named "Episode 2" (ooh).

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GENIUS!! Pure comedic genius!
Ricky Gervais, along with Larry David are truly the KINGS of comedy!

June 01 2006 at 2:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have to agree with everyone here. Well, everyone but Jaymez, of course... I've been a huge champion of the UK office on this site for a long time. I posted scathing bits about the U.S. version when it first came out, but like niccomm I've come to appreciate it for what it is - once it became its own entity, it became watchable.

Like erin, I can just watch this series over and over. When I was living in London we must have watched both seasons straight through at least five times, and lord knows how many times I've watched it since. It's just classic, brilliant comedy that will never be duplicated. Just one of those singular shows that will always stand in a class of its own on TV.

Glad TVS added this to the "retrosquad" lineup.

May 31 2006 at 10:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The UK "Office" is one of the few series I can watch over and over again and still laugh out loud. I wish Tim worked in my office - I'd play with his hair anyday.

May 31 2006 at 10:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tim Goral

Thanks for doing this UK version review. I agree with Mike, this was definitely one of the greatest shows ever. I've come to accept and appreciate the US version for what it is, but this one is far superior and a classic television series.

May 31 2006 at 9:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

About a year or so ago my sister bought all "The Office UK version" Dvd's.
We spent a whole weekends watching all of it. I must say it was one of the greatest shows on earth, and to think that someone could act even more stupid then Steve Carell.

May 31 2006 at 9:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Aaron M

Jaymez: It is indeed meant to look like a documentary. It can be an odd format to adjust to, but allows for some nice creative flourishes.

I'd encourage you to take another look at the US Office, especially if the ep you saw was from the first series. In that one, they were basically cribbing from the original UK version, and it was *very* uneven. Steve Carrell and Rainn Wilson in particular tended to slip too far into "I'm being deliberately wacky" territory. The style of the show is a tricky balance to maintain, demanding the actors to appear to be believable people who do strange and inappropriate things, rather than Funny TV Characters. By the second season, the US cast had found a much better groove, and it became quite good. Wilson still goes over the top a bit, but it's forgivable.

And my massive crush on Jenna Fischer should be in no way construed as bias.

May 30 2006 at 11:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've only seen one Ep of the American version. Is it supposed to look like a documentry or was that just a special Ep? If it was a regualr Ep, I surely can't see what all the fuss is about.

May 30 2006 at 10:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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