And so we continue our week in television, with a review of the second series of The Office. See here for part 1.
Sadder and darker than the first series, the second series of The Office is so embarrassingly funny that I had to repeatedly pause the DVD, both to laugh and to stop myself from shaking. The show dares to go deeper into the psyche of office manager David Brent (Ricky Gervais), who is revealed to be a pathetic, lonely man. We already knew this from the first series, but it’s excruciating to watch as he discovers it as well. In one episode, he gives a rambling, god-awful motivational speech, complete with shaking his beerbelly to bad techno, ostensibly to pump the crowd up. The sequence ends entirely without applause. In another episode, he proves his inability to dance, at length, to a roomful of coworkers. He gets told off by an intern that he wants to sleep with, in front of his entire staff of underlings.
As his meltdown approaches, the camera catches more flashes of the anger underneath his giddy façade than we’ve been allowed to see previously. When he inevitably gets fired (I’m not giving away any surprises—the name of his bad ex-band, “Foregone Conclusion,” tells us all we need to know.), he gets tearful. Dressed in a hilarious chicken outfit, he’s unable to summon up a single laugh for himself.
Gervais is so brilliant that it’s unnerving. He pushes David’s dawning self-awareness so gradually and convincingly that we feel sorrowful for him, even as we realize that he absolutely, positively deserves to be fired. The character finally sees himself through the eyes of others, and finds out that there’s almost nothing to like.
This is depressing stuff, all the more depressing because we’re laughing maniacally at all of it. The office antics become more charged and tense when a new, handsome, popular boss arrives. Neil (Patrick Baladi) is confident, and an actual advocate for his workers. This puts him two legs up from David. Neil gamely dances with Rachel (Stacey Roca) to Bee Gees songs for charity. He gets things done, on time, and with respect for his immediate underlings.
So why don’t we like Neil more? Perhaps it’s because he’s entirely without foibles, which makes him seem alien when set against the rest of the all-too-flawed cast. The most humanly flawed character—because sometimes David seems too outlandish to be real—is Tim (Martin Freeman). Freeman proves himself a deadpan comedian without peer—he gets uproarious guffaws from blinks, blank stares, and minute changes in expression. The Office is most funny when it creates scenes of unintentional humor amongst its characters. Tim, however, is a real wit—he’s the only character acknowledged by others as being funny. Neil has perfect teeth and a perfect chin, but it’s Tim, with his bad haircut and dry cracks, who we root for.
So it’s especially painful to watch him turn down a promotion because he doesn’t have the self-confidence to take it with pride; or to watch him get turned down by the woman he loves; or to watch walk away from a smart, sexy girl who’s crazy about him. Tim, like everyone else in the show and like everyone I know, justifies his behavior to himself with malarkey that even he doesn’t believe. By the end of the show, almost everyone has turned against (if only for a moment) the bullshit that they shove down their own throats. The rebellion itself is cathartic and hilarious. The fact that it does little good, however, is humiliating and oppressive. That clutch at your throat as you’re laughing? It’s called suffocation.