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Wincing Once Again at 'The Office'

The Office
is back, and the humor is darker than ever. That might mean it will appall many U.S. sitcom fans. But if it's short of perfection, that's only because last season set too high a standard.

This brilliant BBC America satirical mockumentary series cut through the comedy clutter last year, winning big international awards and attracting the kind of blurbs money can't buy. The word "wincing" showed up twice, in reviews by the Seattle Times
and Entertainment Weekly.

Anyway. The show is set in a paper-sales operation in a bleak London suburb called Slough (like "plow") — cubicles, accountants, salesmen, office assistants. The boss, David Brent (Ricky Gervais), is a hilarious egotist whose every offense against his underlings and humanity in general are filmed by a never-seen documentary crew.

The first season of six half-hour episodes had many moments where you cringed — the pornographic e-mail that turns all too public; the office night out at a hellish Slough pub.

But there were also many very funny jokes and light comedy that softened the edges.

Season 2 — also six episodes, of which five were reviewed — is flintier. Wincing ensues more frequently.

The biggest situational difference is Brent has a new boss, who's actually popular, unlike Brent, who fancies himself a comedian and motivator but isn't. So of course, Brent vents his hostility, and the new boss crushes him.

A romantic triangle that seemed to have played itself out in the first season is rekindled in ways that remind you how close an office can be to a high-school homeroom.

The funniest show in the first season had Brent take over a sales seminar, going home to get his guitar so as to show off his songwriting repertoire. This time around, Brent completely improbably is hired as a motivational speaker, and does everything inappropriate possible but sing "Springtime for Hitler."

It's dicier this time around to recommend the show to, say, your mother-in-law, as I did during the first season (she didn't like it).

But it's still completely different from any U.S. comedy, and required watching — now, before a no-doubt-diluted U.S. remake comes out.

The Office
returns to BBC America Sunday, Oct. 12, at 9 p.m. (ET/PT)

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.