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TV review: W1A makes me wish I was back in The Office

The first episode of this new 'mockumentary' was a pale and sorry copy of The Office.

A spoof documentary, it follows Ian Fletcher, the BBC's new Head of Values, as he settles into the job and we're with him as he is thrown against the corporate culture, pointless people and irritating interns of the BBC.

However, before the promised satirical attack on the idiocy of middle-management, we first had to watch Fletcher awkwardly trying to collapse his folding bike. He struggled and puffed and went red in the face. Finally he struggled through the glass doors to make a phone call to a person who - hilariously! - was actually sitting beside him.

I despaired. TV critics are constantly sneering that Mrs Brown's Boys is too broad and slapstick, but this opening sequence was just as bad. The only difference was that it involved a posh bloke in bicycle clips not an Irish mammy in drooping tights.

Once our pudgy hero made it upstairs to his new department, the show dropped the pantomime Irish buffoonery and began to ape a different comedy.

Fletcher is taken through the building, still in his sweaty day-glo cycling gear, still clutching his clunky hipster bike, still looking puzzled, and is immersed in meaningless management speak. No question has a straight answer, which is fine as no-one is sensible enough to ask a straight question.

In amongst the tweeting and chattering and shouting of his trendy media colleagues, poor old Fletcher sits, gentlemanly and forlorn, lost in the madness of the incoherent corporate world.

Yes, this time they're trying to copy The Office and I cringed as I watched, though not in a good way. We all cringed when watching Ricky Gervais, as we squirm and wince at the agonies of David Brent, but W1A made me cringe because they are so blatantly trying to be something they are not; trying to elbow themselves in alongside the iron-clad genius of Gervais and, in doing so, showing how flimsy they are in comparison. They are the ugly bridesmaid grabbing for the bouquet.

The Office attacked the corporate culture which crams every employee into a suffocating slot in the company. The spark or individuality of each person is compressed by the ugly demands of the business and the only response is to resign, to cave in or to escape into a glorious and gargantuan delusion. The power of The Office, apart from unspeakably brilliant writing, was that David Brent was clearly mentally unwell, Tim was slowly wilting each day and Gareth was all bravado and bluster but it was a courage that was pinned to his wilfully misheard status as 'Assistant Regional Manager'.

W1A tries to make fun of the same corporate world but the writing isn't good enough and it has no characters of the same troubled complexity as The Office. Perhaps they'll develop over the weeks but, in the first episode, seeing the smattering of smart media types chatter and froth, it just seems like a dud. If they're trying to launch an assault on the citadel of corporate culture then they're doing it with a battering ram made of candy floss.

There were some flashes of humour, though. I laughed out loud at one very surreal moment when the bumbling Fletcher throws open the door to a meeting room, only to find Salman Rushdie and Alan Yentob arm wrestling over the coffee table.

That was weirdly funny and also made me sit up and say 'Hey, there's Salman Rushdie.' Other such exclamations, although more muted and far less impressed, followed later with a 'Hey, there's Carol Vorderman'. Next week, we're promised an appearance from Clare Balding too, so, where the writing is limp, the thing is reinforced with pop-ups from famous faces.

As the show progresses I predict a lot of 'Hey look there's thingmy!' from bored viewers who have slumped into the sofa, wishing they were back in Slough with the masters of satirical writing.

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