Never have lives of quiet desperation been so laugh-out-loud funny as in “The Office,” an export bowing its second season of six episodes on BBC America. Mimicking a fly-on-the-wall docu of life at paper supply company Wernham Hogg, show dryly records the antics of insufferable boss David Brent (Ricky Gervais) and his downtrodden staff. Spot-on writing may throw off some — each episode is like reliving a half-hour at the most soul-crushing job you’ve ever had — but the humor is broad enough to expand its aud beyond the cult following it attracted during the first season.
The genius of the show is Gervais, who also writes and directs, putting the vile Brent into situations that are ripe for disaster — and promptly turn out much worse than anyone could have imagined. As Gervais portrays him, Brent is so convinced of his superiority that none of his egregious gaffes faze him in the slightest. It’s appalling and wildly amusing at the same time.
The second season opens with a merger between Brent’s Slough branch and the far more efficient sales team from Swindon. Trying to win over the newcomers and create a sense of camaraderie, Brent gathers a crowd and proceeds to tell an extraordinarily offensive joke (it involves the queen’s sex life) and then follows up the aghast silence with a “How ya doin’ little lady?” to his shell-shocked female employee who’s in a wheelchair.
Afflicted by Brent is recently promoted Tim (Martin Freeman), who tries to make the best of having a fool for a boss; receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis), who does the Gal Friday routine without much complaining; and creepy military nut Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), who actually thinks Brent is doing a bang-up job.
The office crush between Tim and Dawn is played nicely and provides relief from the barrage of inanities spewing from Brent.
But it’s to Gervais’ credit that when Brent finally does receive his comeuppance — in the form of Neil (Patrick Baladi), his suave counterpart from Swindon who becomes his supervisor — you actually kind of feel bad for the guy. The character is such a buffoon that it’s impossible to think he’s really evil at heart, just monumentally clueless.
Production values are documentary-style subpar on purpose, with shaky camerawork interspersed with one-on-one interviews with staffers.
Credit should be given to the crafts side of the production team for creating an office environment that breeds desperation — look for the piles of trash that litter certain corners and the snarky comments on computer screensavers. The hum of fluorescent lights, ringing of telephones and the clicking of an aged copier are the perpetual background noises.