We all know a David Brent: alienating, socially tone-deaf, embarrassingly goofy, and insecure. Frankly, a bit of a weasel. But this maddeningly exasperating anti-hero was also brilliantly humanized in The Office, the groundbreaking Britcom by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (that led to a highly enjoyable American rendition). Still, it was the BBC’s short-lived series of two seasons (then two Christmas specials) that led to the TV “mockumentary” style, seen in shows ranging from The Comeback to Parks and Recreation. Looking back now, and with all due respect to Steve Carell, nothing tops the original. The following three episodes prove this positively.
3. Season 1, Episode 4: “Training,” (2001)
Empathy and side-splitting madness combine in this particular episode concerning Rowan (Vincent Franklin), an outside consultant who’s been hired to teach the staff about the vagaries of Customer Care. Any effort to get the office-mates to bond via trust exercises, instructional films, and group cooperation is repeatedly undermined by Brent (Gervais), who simply cannot share the spotlight. He whips out his guitar to serenade his cohorts with absurd tunes, then derails all planned activities until he’s driven the hapless Rowan out the door. A side story involving Dawn (Lucy Davis) arguing with her verbally-abusive boyfriend Lee (Joel Beckett) culminates with Tim (Martin Freeman) putting his pride aside to ask her out for a drink in front of everyone. Alas and unbeknownst to him, Dawn has already patched things up. Ouch. Because they got that on camera, too.
2. Season 2: Episode 6: “Interview” (2002)
Now that his slick new boss (Patrick Baladi) has given him the boot, Brent tries to spin unemployment as a fresh opportunity, mainly as a motivational speaker. (Flashback to one mortifying gig!) Later, he’s interviewed by a woman (Olivia Colman) from a trade magazine whose efforts to get a straight answer are met with asinine lines and even some insults. When the depth of his job loss descends upon Brent, you can practically hear the painful “key change” in his tone. No longer on a self-created pedestal of delusion, he quietly begs his bosses, “Please don’t make me redundant.” They are unmoving in their decision though, leaving him crushed – if accepting – of his fate.
1. Christmas Special, Part 2 (2003)
The American version of The Office wasn’t the only one with footage set in the USA. In the original show’s final episode, a slim and tan Dawn has crossed the pond to live with Lee and his relatives in Florida where she’s ultimately become the free babysitter. But for the benefit of the documentary, the less-than-happy couple are flown back to the UK for the office Christmas party, far from the cliché you might expect. Sure, the cast drinks, hooks up and argues, but they also reveal themselves to be their own whacky, accepting family. It’s a beautiful thing to witness and played to subtle, profound effect. Brent, never known for his way with the ladies, lucks out with a blind date named Carol (Sandy Hendrickse), a lovely woman who finds him funny and accessible. This openness lets his humanity shine; Gervais and Merchant have finally given their oddball creation a break. Perhaps he’ll find happiness after all! Better yet, Tim and Dawn have their long-awaited reunion leading to the first real kiss between two people we’d long hoped would go off into the greyish sunset of Slough together, and not just on video.
Photo Credit: Ricky Gervais in The Office, courtesy of BBC