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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
The Office goes back to work
Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais is back as the socially inept David Brent

When a show has been as well-received as The Office it is only natural that the second series will have a lot to live up to.

After all, it was one of the most critically adored shows of 2001, picking up plaudits, fans and numerous awards along the way.

So can creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant keep the momentum going and, with the acclaim behind them, produce a second series that lives up to the hype?

The answer, if the first episode is anything to go by, is a resounding yes.

The Office succeeds where so many other comedies have failed because it draws from real life, rather than trying to create hysterical situations from stereotypical characters.
Lucy Davis
Lucy Davis returns as receptionist Dawn

This is no cosy situation comedy; rather a dark, edgy series that even the most contented office worker will watch in cringing recognition.

In this first episode, Gervais' David Brent, the socially inept boss of the anonymous Slough paper firm where the series is set, is welcoming new recruits from the Swindon branch.

Brent is certain that his own unique brand of wacky humour will win over the office.


But his welcoming 'comedy routine' - which involves cracking feeble jokes ('My parents used to own a paper shop...until it blew away') and impersonating obscure colleagues - leaves the Swindon mob stony-faced.

Desperate to win approval from the newcomers, Brent resorts to some altogether saucier material - yet at each attempt succeeds in digging himself into an even deeper hole.

Meanwhile, Tim (Martin Freeman), having just been promoted to senior sales rep, uses his new found status to continue winding up colleague Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), and trying to lure receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis) away from her fiance.

All of which may not sound like a recipe for mirth, but from an opening sequence which sees Gervais paying impromptu tribute to a classic Muppets sketch, this is genuinely hysterical.

The scene in which he 'performs' for the Swindon team, only to be met with bored glances and disdainful looks, is one of the finest examples of painful comedy since Basil Fawlty - from whom Gervais takes inspiration here - tried not to mention the war.
The Office's Rachel
New recruits from Swindon are a focal point of the show

It's excruciating to watch, yet so well done as to be side-splittingly funny.

And yet for all his obnoxious behaviour, it's hard not to feel sorry for Brent as his continued efforts to cheer up his new colleages end in continual disaster.

Cookie jar

But this isn't just a showcase for Gervais' talents.

The supporting characters are as delightful as ever, and the script stuffed with memorable comic asides (expect Gareth's novelty cookie jar routine to be repeated in offices all over the country come Tuesday) .

Some might accuse The Office of being too clever for its own good - but to suggest that is to miss the subtleties of the show, one of a handful that actually lives up to the hype.

Comedy shows this inventive and funny come along all too rarely, and on the basis of the first episode, one of 2001's finest new shows is set to be one of the small screen highlights of 2002.

See also:

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