THE BBC comedy series The Office started a second series on Monday this week. Its huge success is a sign of the times. It is a brilliantly sustained assault on all the management bollocks about caring and sharing concern for employees. Every episode tears into myths about work being a partnership between workers and management where everyone is in the same boat.
The chance to see this fable held up to derision is the main reason why people like the programme. The Office centres on the staff of a paper merchant in Slough. It is filmed to look like a docudrama without canned laughter.
The top manager is David Brent, who swaggers around being patronising, thinking he is a well respected wit when in fact everyone hates him. Brent pretends to love his staff. But when it comes to making redundancies he instantly stabs all his ‘colleagues’ in the back while securing promotion for himself.
He oozes the oily and fake charm, especially towards women, that reminds you of the flesh-creeping managers who inhabit every business. Ricky Gervais, who plays Brent, is clear that the programme works because it is ‘a comedy of recognition and observation’. Gervais adds, ‘It’s saying if you are not happy do something about it. Don’t just moan for 45 years then retire with eight people signing your card and saying, ‘Do drop in’.’
It is about the false dreams that are offered by corporate culture and the real dreams that get dumped as we are pressured into the narrow horizons offered by business. It also has sweet moments of resistance, of defiance against the company singalong, the bonding weekend and the scramble for the bonus. Good BBC programmes have a habit of getting worse when they appear for a second series. Let’s hope that is not true of The Office. There are very few programmes which have been so consistently subversive.
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