The second series of the award-winning BBC2 mockudrama The Office exceeded even the sky-high standards of the first. Indeed, it ventured beyond caricature and satire, touching on the very edge of darkness. Ricky Gervais was once again excruciatingly superb as David Brent, a subtly shaded modern English comic grotesque in the desperate and self-deluding tradition of Alan Partridge and Basil Fawlty. In this series, however, Brent's to-camera assertions concerning his man-management qualities and executive capabilities are seriously challenged when the Slough and Swindon branches are merged and his former Swindon equivalent Neil takes over as area manager. To compensate Brent cultivates his pathologically mistaken image of himself as an entertainer/motivator/comedian whose stage happens to be the workplace. This culminates in a comically disastrous motivational session ending with a sing-along of Tina Turner's "Simply the Best", which is greeted, typically, with stunned, appalled silence. Meanwhile, Tim, who can only maintain his sanity by teasing the priggish, puddingbowl-haired Gareth, continues to wrestle with his yearning for receptionist Dawn, a sympathetic character persisting with a relationship with a yobbish bloke about whom she still maintains unspoken reservations. As ever, it's the awkward, reality TV-style pauses and silences, the furtive, meaningful and unmet glances across the emotional gulf of the open-plan office, that say it all here. As for Brent, his own breakdown is prefaced by a moment of hideous hilarity--an impromptu office dance, a mixture of "Flashdance and MC Hammer" as Brent describes it, but in reality bad beyond description. Then, when his fate is sealed, he at last reveals himself as a humiliated and broken man in a memorable finale to perhaps the greatest British sitcom, besides Fawlty Towers, ever made. All this and Keith too. --David Stubbs On the DVD: The Office, Series 2 is a single-disc release unlike the more generous Series 1. Extra features are enjoyable nonetheless. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant feature in a gleefully shambolic video diary--highlights of which include Gervais flicking elastic bands at his cowriter and taping their editor to his swivel chair. The ubiquitous Gervais also mockingly introduces some outtakes (mostly of him corpsing throughout dozens of takes) and a series of deleted scenes, notably of Gareth arriving in his horrendous cycle shorts. --Mark Walker
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