When "The Office" scored two Golden Globes for comedy actor and series -- the first U.K. effort in 25 years to be nominated, the first ever to win -- it was a deserved, if somewhat unexpected triumph for British TV comedy, given that the skein was virtually unknown to U.S. auds as well as being far removed from mainstream American sitcoms.
When “The Office” scored two Golden Globes for comedy actor and series — the first U.K. effort in 25 years to be nominated, the first ever to win — it was a deserved, if somewhat unexpected triumph for British TV comedy, given that the skein was virtually unknown to U.S. auds as well as being far removed from mainstream American sitcoms. With its success came the widespread recognition that Britain was producing innovative, unconventional and thoroughly hilarious small-screen comedy. With TV re-issues being one the foremost growth areas in DVD, many of these recent U.K. gems — usually to be found in the U.S., if at all, in the graveyard slots on cable — are now easily available Stateside.In Britain, “The Office” is now routinely mentioned in the same breath as the ’70s classic “Fawlty Towers,” and with the recent release of “The Complete Office” — collecting the two seasons with the climactic Christmas 2003 special’s — it’s clearly no hollow comparison. As with “Fawlty Towers,” the show’s overall smoothness and richly realized characters clearly emanates from a similar meticulousness displayed by star Gervais and director Merchant. In David Brent, there is a lovably monstrous and captivating character to finally rival Cleese’s manic hotelier — no mean feat. While the main body of 12 episodes (shown on BBC America) remains undiminished in its wonderful mix of hilarity and teeth-grinding discomfort, they are greatly augmented and exceeded by the climactic specials, which ends the story of Brent and co. both flawlessly and crowd-pleasingly. Made redundant from his raison d’etre management job and living a half-life existence of door-to-door sales and wearily exploiting his Z-list fame in seedy nightclubs, we follow the tragic Brent (Ricky Gervais) as he negotiates blind dates and an inability to stay away from his ex-workplace. Weaved with this is the denouement of the series popular hook, the simmering romance between weak-willed Tim (rising star Martin Freeman) and Dawn (Lucy Davis), now relocated to Florida. It would be cruel to spoil the ending, but few comedies finales have been as edge-of-your-seat as this, making it, like the show as a whole, unmissable. The “Office” collection has a small yet solid set of extra features. Only the final episode has a commentary from Gervais and Merchant, and unfortunately, it’s a rambling, unfocused affair. Better are the two documentaries that provide a decent perspective of the show before and after it became the toast of British comedy, including its conquests at the Globes. Aside from the sizeable array of deleted scenes, the best extra is surely the spectacularly earnest pop video of Brent’s cover of “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.” While recent theatrical cult-hit “Shaun of the Dead” charmed many a U.S. movie geek with its infectious enthusiasm and smart references to classic genre pics, few realized that the film was previously brilliantly road-tested on Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s “Spaced,” a cult show that was recently aired on Trio. Very much aimed at the “Star Wars” generation, the skein chronicles the trials of a pair of twentysomethings struggling with adult responsibility. Over its two seasons, “Spaced” displayed an astute sense of pop culture, especially film, literacy: paying tribute to everything from “Star Wars” to Kubrick’s films, “The Matrix” and “Scooby-Doo.” The “Spaced” DVD betrays the filmic aspirations of its creators. It boasts an impressive array of extras, including commentaries on particular episodes, outtakes, deleted scenes, raw footage, amusing character biographies and, most helpfully, an ‘homage-o-meter’ that details the show’s range of influences. Release also has a third disc that sports a comprehensive 80-minute documentary that gathers together practically everyone involved the show — and alas, offers a little hope there will be a third season. Sketch show “Little Britain” is something of a cultural phenomenon in the U.K. Skein has its roots in “Monty Python,” with abundant absurdity and an array of drag-dressed characters, and the taste-baiting “The League of Gentleman,” with its unrestrained grotesquerie. The two-disc DVD of the eight-episode first series evinces the deliriously funny results and a fine British predilection for black comedy. With its quick fire, scattershot approach, “Little Britain” hits far more than it misses, mainly thanks to an excellent array of characters — divided between distinctively featured comedians Lucas and Walliams — that will likely do nothing for the country’s image: a juvenile delinquent who swaps her baby for a CD; an overly dramatic Welsh homosexual who’s insistent he’s the only gay in his small village; a government aide with a crush on the prime minister and a put-upon care worker and his wheelchair-bound friend — who’s more mobile than he lets on. As with “Spaced,” “Little Britain’s” DVD incarnation abounds in extra features, with cast and crew commentaries for each episode, the pilot episode, deleted scenes and a selection of Lucas and Walliams’ hugely enjoyable music celeb spoof interviews, entitled Rock Profiles, including an uncannily accurate parody of Sir Elton John.