Ricky Gervais took the lessons of Garry Shandling and Larry David to the next level with his BBC show about white-collar workers being filmed for a documentary/reality-TV-style project. He became famous for creating the show, writing it, and starring as David Brent, the clueless boss who has no idea what an insensitive jerk everyone thinks he is. And he had the good sense to surround himself with other equally odd-but-recognizable characters, none of whom realized how much of their true selves they were revealing in what they said, or didn’t say.
The show turned the traditional idea of the workplace sitcom – since the days of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, and Cheers, a genre built on the premise that the workplace is one big happy, wacky surrogate family – on it’s head. Here, the family is an extremely dysfunctional one, made all the more so by power dynamics that workplace comedies usually gloss over. Gervais’ show was the blueprint for the American Office, but while that show really did evolve into a workplace sitcom about a happy surrogate family of eccentrics who generally got along with each other, the original show never lost its uncompromising satirical edge. Maybe that’s because it ended after just two seasons. As Gervais would display again, in his equally short-lived, celebrity-obsessed, Larry Sanders-like series “Extras,” even the boss has to know when to quit.
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