My life has felt a little discombobulated lately. My family just moved, which is a harrowing situation with two young kids even if you’re not doing it in the middle of about a dozen overlapping global crises. I spent the weekend trying to frantically scrape together some sense of order, which mostly failed. So when I finally got a chance to sit down and do some work, I decided it was time to try Stath Lets Flats, a British comedy that had been on my list for a while, something that felt light and low stakes but also absorbing. I watched both seasons in one day and then I sat and thought about why Stath Lets Flats is the first show in nearly 20 years to feel like a legitimate successor to The Office.
If your brain doesn’t immediately parse the Britishisms in the title, the premise of Stath Lets Flats needs some explanation: Stath (Jamie Demetriou), an enthusiastic and incredibly incompetent young man, works for his father’s rental agency, where he helps people find apartments (flats) to rent (let). Stath’s sister, Sophie (Natasia Demetriou), is equally incompetent and equally enthusiastic, especially in her efforts to chase her dream of becoming a professional singer and dancer. The office is staffed with plenty of distinctive, goofy characters — Carole (Katy Wix) is hypercompetitive and much more effective than Stath but also a bit of a mess; Al (Al Clark) is sweet, awkward, and weedily tall; Dean (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) hates his job and the agency and all the employees but is among the best agents.
The Office parallels are obvious and no doubt intentional. Stath Lets Flats ditches the mockumentary format, but the workplace dynamics and grubby, low-to-midrange scrappiness of it feel direct from the U.K. Office and the early seasons of the U.S. version. The sense of humor is in that vein too. Stath is an unutterably bad employee; it’s truly hard to imagine how anyone could be worse at showing apartments. There’s a cringing discomfort in watching perfectly nice, normal people try to stay calm while Stath fails at his job, and it’s a close cousin to the awkwardness of watching Tim and Dawn try to maintain a typical office environment while working with David Brent.
The great thing about Stath Lets Flats, though, is that it’s not a copy or a knockoff or a barely adapted new version. Stath is entirely his own man — his own sweet, obnoxious, inept, strangely sheltered, and beautifully cheerful man. While he does share some qualities with characters like Tim or David (especially the incompetence and loneliness), Stath and his colleagues are dysfunctional and endearing in their own distinctive, clueless ways. Plus, the U.K. version of The Office asks its audience to soldier on even though Ricky Gervais’s David is relentlessly horrible. The American version, meanwhile, became increasingly soft and cuddly about its very flawed characters and wanted its audience to feel that way, too. Stath gets to do both. It doesn’t pull any punches about how Stath & Co. are idiots, but they’re also well meaning and goofy. Spending time with them doesn’t feel like a gruesome exercise in awkwardness.
Or at least it’s not always a gruesome exercise in awkwardness. Stath’s professional life is an unmitigated nightmare, and there are a few scenes where things just get really, very bad. (In one early episode, for instance, he scores an exciting property with a garden and is sure he can rent it quickly. By the end of the episode, he has managed to set the whole garden on fire.) But Stath is saved by his love for his equally weird sister, Sophie, who loves him back with matching fervor and is just as hilariously not good at her chosen profession. At one point, Sophie and her friend Katia (Ellie White) decide to do a choreographed dance at the halftime of a soccer game, and it’s a swift demonstration that Sophie’s pretty bad at dancing. She loves it, though, and she loves singing, too. Stath Lets Flats makes space for the two things to sit comfortably side by side: Sophie and Stath suck at many things, but there’s also a sincere warmth for how earnest they are.
Stath and Sophie are played by real-life brother and sister Jamie and Natasia Demetriou, and Jamie is both the show’s creator and one of its main writers. That closeness feels key to what makes the show work as well as it does. It’s not just that Stath and Sophie are clowns. They’ve grown up in a specific, extremely sheltered immigrant experience after moving to the U.K. from Cyprus when they were 12 (Jamie and Natasia are also English Cypriots), and it’s as though they’ve been wrapped inside their father’s Cypriot house for the past 15 years and only now set loose in the streets of London. They have no cultural references, no sense of how social media or the internet works, and no sense of other food cultures, other fashions, or other forms of socializing. Stath loves slang, for instance, but the furthest he gets with using it on his own is when a client says he just “had a little sesh” at the gym. “Had a little sesh!” says Stath. “Love things like that. I always want to say things like that.” The client chuckles, confused but also flattered. It would be so easy for Sophie’s and Stath’s naïveté to be off-putting, but instead it feels charming and sincere.
I think there are two reasons Stath Lets Flats feels like the first really Office-y show I’ve seen in the almost two decades since that series came out. For most viewers, the most important one will be that it just feels like that show. There’s an unmistakable emotional footprint: messy roughness, goofy shenanigans, characters trying to navigate weird work relationships, and the feeling that professionalism is something to be desired and reviled at the same time. There’s even a familiar will-they-won’t-they element to Sophie and Al, two characters who clearly like each other but just can’t seem to get the timing right.
For me, though, the thing about Stath Lets Flats that’s so reminiscent of those early Office seasons is its laser-cut specificity. All the tiny, absurd apartments Stath is so bad at selling. The way that Stath and Sophie’s father, Vasos, uses the word bravo like “okay.” Al’s fluency in Japanese. Stath’s slightly baggy suit and his diamond ear stud, Sophie’s strange blue newsboy cap and fur-trimmed puffer coat, their likes and dislikes, the boring everyday things they find remarkable and hilarious, the fact that Stath doesn’t understand what most people like and dislike. They’re people I don’t know, in a work culture I have never been a part of, and yet they immediately feel true.
Barreling through the two seasons of Stath Lets Flats on HBO Max this week was a real gift for me, especially because my brain was in such a weird, post-moving, dislocated place. It was exactly what I’d hoped it would be — funny and absorbing but not demanding or mean. What I didn’t expect about Stath Lets Flats, but was extra delighted to discover, was how nice it felt to spend a day in such a goofy, peculiar, distinctive little world. Now I’ve run out of episodes, and I miss it already.