The Office


Is there something intrinsically funny about Jell-O? That quivery texture? Those see-through Crayola colors? The legacy of tacky recipes-Jell-O salad, Jell-O vodka shots, and the like?

Certainly when Dwight (Rainn Wilson, the self-important nerd in NBC’s The Office), whipped out the evidence of a colleague’s prank-a stapler congealed inside a bowl-shaped mound of Jell-O-it was the lightest moment in this new comedy’s pilot episode. Sunnyness, after all, has scant place in the series, based on the British television hit (of the same name) whose dark and often agonizing humor has made it a cult sensation in the United States, where it’s been aired by the cable channel BBC America. Brilliantly conceived and written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, Britain’s The Office is a mock documentary about Wernham Hogg, a drab paper company whose staffers toil and bicker through monotonous days, patiently enduring the torments inflicted by their appalling boss, David Brent (Gervais), a smug, lecherous egoist who considers himself a superb comedian.

Over the course of the show’s mere dozen installments, David and the other actors turned in dazzlingly naturalistic performances, but what made The Office truly seminal was the flatness of its humor and the bleakness of its vision. The jolting hand-held camera, reproducing the look of a real documentary, captured Wernham Hogg staffers in situations of soul-numbing...

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About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.