Before Dunder Mifflin’s Michael Scott in Scranton, Pennsylvania, there was Wernham Hogg’s David Brent in Slough, England. Both are office managers at a paper company and both have been described individually as “the boss from hell.” As played by Steve Carell for the first seven seasons of NBC’s The Office, Michael Scott began in mold of David Brent but gradually became a distinctly different character. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t want to work for a generally fun, caring, and nice boss like Carell’s Scott. But as originally conceived and portrayed by Ricky Gervais in the BBC’s original The Office, Brent really earns his “boss from hell” title.
Now with The Office – 10th Anniversary Special Edition, newcomers can experience the hypocrisy, pettiness, and egotism of David Brent. Longtime fans can re-experience his ineptitude, as well as experience new-to-DVD special features. As good as the American version of the show has been (primarily during its first few seasons – it has become increasingly uneven over the years), it never quite captured the perfection of its source. With two short seasons – six half-hour episodes each – and a pair of 45-minute specials that conclude the series, the original U.K. show never wore out its welcome. The single-camera faux documentary style was replicated by the U.S. version, but it never quite matched the UK version in dry realism.
What keeps The Office so fresh and funny, and at times devastatingly poignant, are the dozens of subtle moments that enhance every episode. The show is filled with hilarious as the set pieces are, such as Brent’s embarrassing dance demonstration during Comic Relief day, his disastrous motivational speaking engagement, and his performance of his “Hot Love on the Hot Love Highway” song during a team building seminar. But each episode is also full of quieter moments that make the show relatable. There are so many great subtle moments it’s impossible to remember them all. Sometimes it’s just the look on the weary office ‘everyman’ Tim’s (Martin Freeman) face. Other times it’s receptionist Dawn’s (Lucy Davis) reaction to Brent’s insensitivity. As riotous as the U.S. version’s Dwight (Rainn Wilson) can be, he never has the same touching fragility of his UK inspiration, Mackenzie Crook’s Gareth.
The original Office is loaded with U.K.-related references and often thick accents that might throw American viewers. Watch it with subtitles if you must (not a bad idea even if the accents don’t trouble you, considering it’s nearly impossible to catch every great line). There is just something almost indefinably special about the creation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who co-wrote and co-directed the entire series. As a sympathetic portrayal of life as an office drone, The Office is pretty much in a class of its own.
The Office – 10th Anniversary Special Edition is only available on DVD. There is no Blu-ray version of this release. I don’t think the series was shot using high definition cameras, so it’s likely a Blu-ray version would not have improved the visuals significantly. The audio/video quality is the same as the original DVD versions, so don’t expect an upgrade in those areas.
What is different is the bonus features included on this new edition. The features from the original three releases (the first and second series, along with the Christmas specials) are carried over. But fans will be excited by a slew of new-to-DVD features. The most interesting by far is the original 1998 “Seedy Boss” demo pilot, which runs about twenty minutes. Three years before the actual show came together, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant put together an ultra low-budget test pilot. It allows fans to see that Gervais had a pretty good concept of the David Brent character well before the proper show began. The rest of the cast is different, which makes this episode kind of a fun “alternate reality” version of The Office.
The other highlight of the new features is the BBC making-of special “Comedy Connections,” which runs just under 40 minutes. The early parts of the special are the best, giving a lot of background about the origins of The Office and how Gervais and Merchant came to work together. Glimpsed in a couple brief clips is the 2000 pilot of The Office, which is not an official part of the series as it is different from the first episode of the first series in 2001. It’s a real missed opportunity that it isn’t included in its entirety, along with the 1998 pilot. As “Comedy Connections” gets into the second series and the Christmas specials, it becomes mostly just a bunch of clips with explanations of what is happening. Also new to DVD is a series of five “Web Videos” that were previously only available online. Running a total of about forty minutes (unfortunately with no ‘play all’ feature), these are interview clips with Gervais, Merchant, cast members, and other commentators.
The most problematic of the new features are the introductions included for each of the six first series episodes. There is no way to play the episodes without these intros, which run four to seven minutes each. Personally I can’t stand this, as I think that special features should be kept separate, or at least have the option to be kept separate, from the main program. The intros sometimes contain clips and spoilers about their given episode, so really this feature is detrimental to first time viewers of The Office. Yes, the intros are indexed on their own chapter, so you can hit your chapter skip button to start the episode, but we shouldn’t have to. Plus the very first episode includes actor Mackenzie Crook’s comments over the opening credits. If you skip that intro chapter on episode one, you jump immediately to the first dialogue scene.
The intros themselves – which aren’t brand new, but rather extensions from the “Web Videos” – aren’t a bad thing. But tacking them onto the episodes as a permanent fixture makes for a very bad presentation. Most people are very unlikely to want to watch these every time they watch the show. And to make matters worse, most of the episodes end with interview clip embedded in the end credits. This is an even worse idea, because you can’t avoid them. Each episode of The Office ends with a very brief tag at the very end, making it worth watching the brief end credits. But now the mood of the end credits is spoiled by the inclusion of these picture-in-picture interview clips.
I dislike the first series “wraparounds” so much I find it difficult to recommend The Office – 10th Anniversary Special Edition to anyone who already owns the original DVDs. The new bonus material – with the exception of the 1998 pilot – is not essential. But the new package is likely to be the only version remaining in print, so new fans have no other option. The introductions are infuriating and intrusive, but ultimately they should stand in the way of discovering the show if you have never seen it. It really was an incredibly poor choice of presentation by producers of this special edition, but it doesn’t dim the brilliance of The Office.