“The Office” plus 20

Garry Berman
10 min readJul 9, 2021

The Office, a modern sitcom classic co-created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (and starring Gervais), premiered on the BBC July 9, 2001. Its comedy was of a nature that required the viewer’s undivided attention, especially for its quieter conversations and other subtle comic nuances. In fact, it almost doesn’t feel right to refer to it as a “sitcom” at all. Like many of Britain’s best comedies through the years, The Office took the traditional sitcom form and discarded all but the most basic elements. Its creative success, though, inspired a number of other contemporary sitcoms to emulate its style.

We first visit the offices of Wernham Hogg, a paper company in the grey, industrial city of Slough, through the camera lens of an unseen documentary crew as they film the work-a-day activities of the Wernham Hogg staff. The employees are aware of the camera’s constant presence, and some adjust their behavior accordingly, while others simply ignore it. But their faces reveal the spirit-crushing boredom of their daily routine, as they crunch numbers and call clients.

They can rely on their manager, David Brent (Gervais) to shake things up — for better or worse. Far from being a traditional company man, David doesn’t have deadlines and office productivity foremost on his mind. He sees himself as the office cheerleader and comedian, believing, with all of his heavyhanded sincerity, that a happy staff will ensure quality output for the company.

The only problem is that David’s sense of humor consists not of wit, but primarily of contrived puns, inappropriate ethnic references, and practical jokes that inevitably backfire and cause considerable distress to their intended targets. He is well-meaning, however, and his attempts to make his colleagues laugh expose an almost desperate loneliness and craving to be liked. But give him enough verbal rope, and he’ll invariably hang himself, bringing a casual office conversation to a painfully awkward silence, from which David might skulk away and retreat to his office. But even his office often fails to provide adequate protection. David’s boss, the humorless Jennifer Taylor Clarke, appears regularly to check up on him, and to reprimand him in private for his clowning at the expense of getting work done. Ever aware of how he’ll come off in the finished product, David glances repeatedly to the camera…

Garry Berman

Pop Culture historian, Freelance Writer, Author, specializing in American comedy history in films, radio, and TV. Beatles and jazz enthusiast, animal lover.