Millions of Americans spend at least eight hours of every weekday at their jobs. You'd think this fact would offer ample material for a decent sitcom. But white-collar comedy is easier said than done. Remember Daniel Stern in "Dilbert" or Fred Savage in "Working"? Of course you don't. Many office comedies, including "NewsRadio," "The Drew Carey Show" and most recently "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" opt for the absurdity of a live-action cartoon. In contrast, the new British sitcom "The Office" (9:20 p.m., BBC America) treats its subject with deadly realism. And the results are very funny.
Filmed in documentary style, "The Office" stars series writer and creator Ricky Gervais as David Brent, the harried manager of a paper supply company located in a nondescript London suburb. Well into his middle age, Brent still desperately wants to be thought of as the office's youthful party animal and practical joker.
Whether he's drinking too much with his subordinates or flirting with Dawn (Lucy Davis), the firm's pretty receptionist, David is a brutally amusing portrait of male self-deception.
At its best, "The Office" may remind viewers of "This is Spinal Tap," the 1984 faux documentary about journeymen rockers and their hilarious delusions. Like "Tap's" Christopher Guest, Gervais completely inhabits his character and turns rambling, nonsensical dialogue into comic gold. It's easy to see why "The Office" has become one of Britain's most acclaimed new series. Episodes of "The Office" will air weekly on Thursdays for the next six weeks.
- He's not a doctor, but he played one on TV for many seasons of "Diagnosis Murder." Dick Van Dyke guest stars on "Scrubs" (7:30 p.m., NBC) as a venerable physician who gives J.D. (Zach Braff) some medical advice that may have passed its expiration date. Meanwhile, Turk hopes a visit from his older, married brother (D.L. Hughley) will show Carla (Judy Reyes) that he is serious about his proposal.
- Ted Koppel is host of "America in Black and White: Jasper, Texas" (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings), a town-hall discussion about race in America. A joint production of "Nightline" and "P.O.V.," the meeting features many of the Jasper citizens who were interviewed in the documentary "Two Towns of Jasper" about the brutal 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr.
Tonight's other highlights
- Arsenio Hall is host of "Star Search" (7 p.m., CBS).
- The slasher movie-inspired mayhem continues in the 1997 sequel "Scream 2" (7 p.m., Fox).
- A Hollywood star's murder-defense team targets the individual flaws of Grissom's crew members on "CSI" (8 p.m., CBS).
- Monty Hall is host of a talent show on "The Surreal Life" (8 p.m., WB).
- A minor league catcher (Kevin Costner) and a team follower (Susan Sarandon) churn up some major-league heat in the 1988 comedy "Bull Durham" (8 p.m., TNN), co-starring Tim Robbins.
- Scheduled on "PrimeTime" (9 p.m., ABC): Major corporations that reap major profits from pornography.