British Mockumentary Work Com
(2001-2003) in the style of a fly on the wall, created by Ricky Gervais
and Stephen Merchant
The main setting is the administrative office of paper supplies company Wernham Hogg
, presided over by Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist
David Brent. His Number Two
, Gareth Keenan, is an unpleasant, pathetic loser with a military obsession. The most sympathetic character is Tim Canterbury, the witty clerk whose friendship with receptionist Dawn Tinsley borders on the romantic. The series was met with great critical acclaim and won several awards, hailed for its original style and subtle, insightful humour.
The series is a mockumentary
: the characters are very aware of the cameras being on them
, all the time. Brent in particular is given to preening and showing off for the camera, and Gareth explicitly notes that he's only behaving a certain way because "they're filming".
Inspired the highly successful American adaption
of the series. Also highly successful is the German remake Stromberg
, wherein the main protagonist Bernd Stromberg
(the German version of David Brent) works for an insurance company. It has also inspired French (Le Bureau), French-Canadian (La Job), Chilean (La Ofis), Israeli (HaMisrad), and Swedish (Kontoret) remakes, as well as a still in-development Chinese version.
Came twenty-fifth in Britain's Best Sitcom
This show provides examples of:
- Agree to Disagree: "Motivation"
- Amusing Injuries: David Brent headbutting his new receptionist.
- Aside Glance: Tim and David both do it constantly.
- Audience Surrogate: Tim's role is partly this. He's not quite the Only Sane Man, but he is the one we're supposed to identify with.
- Bad News, Irrelevant News: Trope Namer. The bad news is the Slough branch is being closed. The good news is that David's been promoted. The staff don't see it this way, describing it as "bad news and irrelevant news".
- Belated Happy Ending: Tim and Dawn in the Christmas Special.
- British Brevity: Fourteen episodes (two six-episode seasons and a concluding two-part Christmas Special). Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant felt that as it is supposed to be a 'fly on the wall' documentary (rather than a work-com) it would stretch belief that the crew are still there months or years later. This is the biggest difference between it and the American version.
- Broken Aesop: Done by David. During an excercise on how not to deal with an irate customer, when acting as the customer he shouts "I think there's been a rape!" and says to always get attention, and when acting as the manager, has the other person say his room number, then states his hotel doesn't go up to that floor and that some complaints will be fake.
- Casanova Wannabe:
- Gareth is a particularly repulsive hence spot-on example. Contrast this with his American counterpart Dwight, who is apparently quite the Kavorka Man.
- David Brent also, particularly with his new secretary in Series 1.
- The Cast Showoff: Ladies and gentlemen, the blues rock stylings of Ricky Gervais!
- Christmas Episode: which was also the Grand Finale.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Gareth and Keith.
- Comically Missing the Point: Given the nature of the series, it happens with alarming regularity. However, a particularly egregious example is when David reads John Betjeman's "Slough" at the end of "New Girl".
- Also notable is the Training episode, where Gareth somehow misses the point of every single exercise the instructor puts the staff through.
- Comic Role Play: The training episode! "See, I fazed you."
- Crapsack World: One of the themes of the series was the soul-destroying nature of working in an office for a paycheck and largely watching your dreams die horribly slow and painful deaths.
- Talented artist/receptionist Dawn wanting to be an artist, but stuck working a dead-end job with a deadbeat lover who constantly belittles her talent, because he doesn't want her to give up the paycheck that supports the two.
- Tim, who has dreams of going to University for Psychology, ends up abandoning them when he gets promoted. Even more alarming is in his rationalization to Dawn, he starts using management speak that is very similar to how David talks.
- Keith says his job is just a stopgap and he wants to get into music.
- David says he could have been successful in music, but gave it up for his job at Wernam-Hogg. When he actually tries to start a musical career, it doesn't go well. Apparently the people who actually enjoy their mundane jobs are talentless hacks.
- Cringe Comedy: It's almost physically painful to watch at times. A standout example is the second season premiere, where David follows an effortlessly funny introduction from his new boss, Neil, with an incredibly desperate comedy routine based on obscure inside jokes about other employees in the corporation. And despite nobody responding to the jokes, not even the one guy present who actually knows the employees being joked about, he just continues to double down on the schtick until he eventually just sits down in frustration.
- Deadpan Snarker: Tim!
- Death Faked for You: The tech support guy, Simon, is convinced that Bruce Lee's death was a cover-up to allow him to go Deep Cover Agent and bust up the Triads.
- Deconstructed Character Archetype: David Brent. The bulk of the series paints him as a Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist, yet the Series 2 finale and ensuing Christmas specials reveal that he's actually a very lonely and frustrated man.
- Digging Yourself Deeper: David normally does this without anyone prompting him.
- Don't Explain the Joke: David Brent is constantly doing this, as part of his chronically misfiring sense of humour. He explains other peoples' jokes too, apparently just to prove that he gets it. In one instance, where he explains a misunderstanding involving Blue Peter star Peter Purves in an instructional video, it's actually helpful for US viewers.
- On the other hand, David gets mad at Garreth for explaining his jokes (mostly for making explicit David's innuendos which weren't true).
- Earn Your Happy Ending
- Failure Knight: Gareth.
- For the Funnyz: David.
- Happily Ever After: Mocked in an after-the-fact (out of character) documentary. Dawn and Tim's actors think the two characters will go on to a happy life together, only to be shot down by Ricky Gervais, who basically says, 'Only if it's funny.'
- In Da Club: Deconstructed in the last ten or so minutes of "New Girl".
- Jerk Ass: Chris Finch and Lee. Neil is also a bit of this, albeit more subtly.
- Brent also qualifies despite the more sympathetic aspects of the character. This is the guy who tried to throw his staff under the bus for a promotion and then lied that he turned it down (when in fact he failed a medical) to make them think he was a hero.
- Kavorka Man: Chris Finch is obnoxious, arrogant, sexist and not particularly attractive, yet he is successful with women.
- Mood Whiplash: Tim and Dawn are having a laugh at Brent's latest faux pas, when Lee spots them getting a little too physical for his liking. He pins Tim up against a wall, then storms off with Dawn running after him. The episode ends with Tim sitting at his desk in stunned silence.
- Pet the Dog:
- David standing up for Gareth when Donna insults him in "The New Girl."
- Tim agreeing to go out for a drink with David when everyone else shuns him in the Christmas special.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: David
- Precision F-Strike: Possibly only done twice across the entire series, with the post-watershed airing of the series meaning they didn't need to be bleeped out. Both come from David, upon being told he's redundant, and telling longtime friend Chris Finch where to go;
David: Oh 'fucking hell.
David: Chris — Why don't you fuck off.
- Real Song Theme Tune: "Handbags and Gladrags", in a version similar to the cover by Welsh rock band Stereophonics.
- Romantic False Lead: Lee, coming between Tim and Dawn.
- Running Gag: Keith says something grossly inappropriate, before taking a huge bite from a scotch egg.
- Separated by a Common Language: "Because fanny means your arse over there. (Beat) Not your minge."
- Seven Minute Lull: David gets caught in the middle of a (lame) dirty joke in the Seven Minute Lull at the end of "The Party."
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Used intentionally (and hilariously).
- Star-Making Role: Take a bow, Ricky Gervais.
- Stylistic Suck: David Brent's music, and particularly his cover of "If You Don't Know Me By Now".
- Take-That Kiss: Tim gives Gareth one, just to wind him up.
- Ted Baxter: David.
- Theme Tune Cameo: The "Training" episode ends with David singing and playing "Handbags and Gladrags".
- Trust-Building Blunder
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: David Brent walks a fine line, as he is so pathetic that it's increasingly difficult not to sympathize him. By the Christmas Special, he borders woobie territory.
- Wacky Marriage Proposal: Lee's proposal to Dawn was done by way of a small piece in a newspaper.
Dawn: I think he had to pay for it by the word because all it said was, "Lee love Dawn. Marriage?" Which...I like, because it's not every day you get something that's both romantic and thrifty.
- What Does She See in Him?: Lee and Dawn. Although they're engaged, Lee is never shown being nice to Dawn, and is instead seen being horrible to her on several occasions. Word of God concedes this, admitting that they had originally intended to make the Tim / Dawn / Lee triangle to be more of a match of equals, but since Tim by default ended up getting more screen-time he couldn't help becoming more likeable.