The main setting is the administrative office of paper supplies company Wernham Hogg, presided over by Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist David Brent. His Number Two, Gareth Keenan, is an unpleasant, pathetic loser with a military obsession. The most sympathetic character is Tim Canterbury, the witty clerk (see Tough Room) whose relationship with receptionist Dawn Tinsley seems to be an example of Star-Crossed Lovers. The series was met with great critical acclaim and won several awards, hailed for its original style and subtle, insightful humor.
One inspired departure from the usual Mockumentary formula: the characters are very aware of the cameras being on them, all the time. Brent in particular is given to preening and showing off for the camera, and Gareth explicitly notes that he's only behaving a certain way because "they're filming".
An American version of this series, starring Steve Carell and John Krasinski, premiered in Spring of 2005. It started out as a fairly poor Cultural Translation (the pilot was simply the British pilot with the word "jelly" changed to "jell-o" and with 8 minutes and all of the funny cut out) but has since come into its own as it has moved away from the original's cringe-inducing awkwardness format and towards more of an absurdist style. Quite notably, the American version has focused on the rest of the office workers to a far greater degree than the original. In the UK (where it's subtitled An American Workplace to avoid confusion with the original) it has, shaky start notwithstanding, been much better received than most American remakes and become one of the most acclaimed comedies on TV today, winning accolades in particular for the performances of Carell and the rest of the cast. The US version also spawned Parks and Recreation, a Quietly Performing Sister Show set in the public sector rather than the private.
Came twenty-fifth in Britains Best Sitcom.
- Agree to Disagree: "Motivation".
- Amusing Injuries: David Brent headbutting his new receptionist.
- Aside Glance: Tim and David both do it constantly.
- Bad News, Irrelevant News: Trope Namer. The bad news is the Slough branch is being closed. The good news is that David's been promoted. The staff don't see it this way, describing it as "bad news and irrelevant news."
- Belated Happy Ending: Tim and Dawn in the Christmas Special.
- British Brevity: Fourteen episodes (two six-episode seasons and a concluding two-part Christmas Special). Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant felt that as it is supposed to be a 'fly on the wall' documentary (rather than a work-com) it would stretch belief that the crew are still there months or years later. This is the biggest difference between it and the American version.
- Casanova Wannabe:
- Gareth is a particularly repulsive hence spot-on example. Contrast this with his American counterpart Dwight, who is apparently quite the Kavorka Man.
- David Brent also, particularly with his new secretary in Series 1.
- The Cast Showoff: Ladies and gentlemen, the blues rock stylings of Ricky Gervais!
- Christmas Episode: which was also the Grand Finale.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Gareth and Keith..
- Comically Missing the Point: Given the nature of the series, it happens with alarming regularity. However, a particularly Egregious example is when David reads John Betjeman's "Slough" at the end of "The New Girl".
- Also notable is the Training episode, where Gareth somehow misses the point of every single exercise the instructor puts the staff through.
- Comic Role Play: The training episode! "See, I fazed you."
- Crapsack World: One of the themes of the series was the soul-destroying nature of working in an office for a paycheck and largely watching your dreams die horribly slow and painful deaths.
- Talented artist/receptionist Dawn wanting to be an artist, but stuck working a dead-end job with a deadbeat lover who constantly belittles her talent, because he doesn't want her to give up the paycheck that supports the two.
- Tim, who has dreams of going to University for Psychology, ends up abandoning them when he gets promoted. Even more alarming is in his rationalization to Dawn, he starts using management speak that is very similar to how David talks.
- Keith says his job is just a stopgap and he wants to get into music.
- David says he could have been successful in music, but gave it up for his job at Wernam-Hogg. When he actually tries to start a musical career, it doesn't go well. Apparently the people who actually enjoy their mundane jobs are talentless hacks.
- Cringe Comedy: And how.
- Deadpan Snarker: Tim!
- Death Faked for You: The tech support guy, Simon, is convinced that Bruce Lee's death was a cover-up to allow him to go Deep-Cover Agent and bust up the Triads.
- Don't Explain the Joke: David Brent is constantly doing this, as part of his chronically misfiring sense of humor. He explains other peoples' jokes too, apparently just to prove that he gets it. In one instance, where he explains a misunderstanding involving Blue Peter star Peter Purves in an instructional video, it's actually helpful for US viewers.
- Earn Your Happy Ending
- Failure Knight: Gareth.
- For the Funnyz: David.
- Happily Ever After: Mocked in an after-the-fact (out of character) documentary. Dawn and Tim's actors think the two characters will go on to happy life together, only to be shot down by Ricky Gervais, who basically says, "Only if it's funny."
- In Da Club: Deconstructed in the last ten or so minutes of "The New Girl".
- Jerkass: Chris Finch and Lee. Neil is also a bit of this, albeit more subtly.
- Pet the Dog:
- David standing up for Gareth when Donna insults him in "The New Girl".
- Tim agreeing to go out for a drink with David when everyone else shuns him in the Christmas special.
- Pointy-Haired Boss: David.
- Real Song Theme Tune: "Handbags and Gladrags", in a version similar to the cover by Welsh rock band Stereophonics.
- Romantic False Lead: Lee, coming between Tim and Dawn.
- Running Gag: Keith says something grossly inappropriate, before taking a huge bite from a scotch egg.
- Separated by a Common Language: "Because fanny means your arse over there. (Beat) Not your minge."
- Seven Minute Lull: David gets caught in the middle of a (lame) dirty joke in the Seven Minute Lull at the end of "The Party".
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Used intentionally (and hilariously).
- Star-Making Role: Take a bow, Ricky Gervais.
- Stylistic Suck: David Brent's music, and particularly his cover of "If You Don't Know Me By Now".
- Ted Baxter: David.
- Theme Tune Cameo: The "Training" episode ends with David singing and playing "Handbags and Gladrags".
- Trust-Building Blunder
- Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: David Brent walks a fine line, as he is so pathetic that it's increasingly difficult not to sympathize him. By the Christmas Special, he borders woobie territory.
- Wacky Marriage Proposal: Lee's proposal to Dawn was done by way of a small piece in a newspaper.
Dawn: I think he had to pay for it by the word because all it said was, "Lee love Dawn. Marriage?" Which...I like, because it's not every day you get something that's both romantic and thrifty.
- What Does She See in Him?: Lee and Dawn. Although they're engaged, Lee is never shown being nice to Dawn, and is instead seen being horrible to her on several occasions. Word of God concedes this, admitting that they had originally intended to make the Tim / Dawn / Lee triangle to be more of a match of equals, but since Tim by default ended up getting more screen-time he couldn't help becoming more likeable.
- You Look Familiar: Stephen Merchant appears twice, first as a corporate rep and second as "Oggy" - Gareth's friend.