One of the most highly-lauded and formidably witty post-modern television series of recent history, ‘The Office’, concluded in 2003, garnering praise not just in the United Kingdom, but universally. This resulted in the contemporary classic becoming franchised and exported worldwide, most notably to the States, renovated and remodelled to appeal to the ostensibly, potentially brain-dead American audiences. Unmistakably, the plaudits the original ‘Office’ received stemmed from a distinct hyper-real depiction of the repugnantly drab and dry state that so many Brits found their career-path to be stagnating in, during the early 2000s. It was a poignantly visceral experience, masquerading as a post-watershed mockumentary sitcom, located in a listless commuter belt town, surrounded by the perpetual dullness of the industry workplace, and apathetic jobsworth co-workers and bosses, each possessing their own flawed characters entwining with the trivialities of everyday life.
‘The Office’ was the brainchild of British comedians, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, with Gervais playing one of the foremost characters David Brent. The character of Brent is a tragic role relying heavily on the use of pathos, evoking emotions from contempt to pity, and even great sadness. David Brent, objectively is an obnoxious and narcissistic boss, who is beautifully lacking in any real sense of self-awareness, incapable of accepting any form of culpability, and is overtly oblivious to his employee’s disdain for him. Regardless of his frequent social faux-pas and unintentionally offensive attitudes towards marginalised groups in society, the comments he makes contain no true malice, but rather are the combination of his absence of forethought. His delusions of being an entertainer thread constantly throughout the show, offering concepts for new quiz shows, performing awkwardly improvised dance routines, (which he inaccurately described as a fusion of “Flashdance and MC Hammer shit”), and derailing work training days by offering up guitar renditions of his songs. David Brent is perhaps so cringe-inducing because he precisely captures a small, deluded part of all of us that possesses the same illusions of grandeur as he. Fragmentation exists, between Gervais and Brent, each one enabling the other, only a vague line existing between them both.
The show rounded itself off exceptionally with Brent finally finding a companion, and possibly more importantly, received authentic laughter from his former employees. The sanguine hint of the futures for the characters was enough to sate a lust for more episodes, and I, among with the population I would like to believe, was extremely contented. ‘The Office’ closed, with all of its dignity intact.
But my chiefly qualm comes on the 19th August 2016, in the form of the release of the film, ‘David Brent: Life on the Road’. Of course I haven’t seen it yet, but reserve significant doubts over the feature-length. The plot joins Brent, 15 years after the events of ‘The Office’, now as an entertainer, eponymously and unsurprisingly on the road, with his band ‘Foregone Conclusion’. The film, unlike the original series, looks unabashedly lacklustre and unexceptional, as many rehashes and money-grabs do. But this, I don’t believe is a money-grab, but on the contrary a way for Gervais to partially exact a life that he didn’t manage to originally lead, and to also return to the most iconic role he had the fortune of playing.
Alongside an incredibly difficult man to presently track down called Bill McCrae, Gervais, during the 1980s belonged to the new wave band, Seona Dancing. The band wasn’t particularly successful in the two years it existed, but managed to perform one of their singles on ‘Razzamatazz’, an ITV syndicated children’s show. Both singles they released, ‘More to Lose’ and ‘Bitter Heart’ failed to break into the UK Top 40, and subsequent to their disappointing positions in the charts Seona Dancing split. Though the band may have not been as successful as they hoped, it provided Gervais his first experiences as a public performer, which acted as a catalyst for his meteoric rise in comedy and television. Even despite an incredible career in the television world, an apparition of Gervais lingers over the music industry from 1984, yet to conclude unfinished business.
The dream of musical stardom seemingly runs parallel between both Gervais and Brent, and the ability to employ the character to carry out his malcontent wishes seems almost nefarious. Gervais was clearly building his way up to a film coming to fruition, with the release of the 2013 single for Red Nose Day ‘Equality Street’ and it must’ve tickled enough people for the movie to be pushed forward. The new Brent, now free from the shackles of the original series seems to simply be a parody of the old Brent, the original parody. He is hackneyed and tired, and painfully lacks that which once made him funny. Uploaded to Youtube in late June was the track ‘Lady Gypsy’, another rehashing of Brent’s innocuously politically incorrect views, turning his racial insensitivity from bumbling mistakes to a permanent characteristic of his. David Brent and Foregone Conclusion provide an outlet for Gervais to act out the fantastical music videos as he wishes, something that was lost when Seona Dancing ended.
‘The Office’ was the lack in variety of the environment; the story thrived from characters, and external events that occurred which then directly affected the happenings within the office. ‘Life on the Road’ undeniably mitigates the humdrum and inexplicably ordinary scenarios in the series, with much more vibrant colours and situations such as Brent, equipped with Chekov’s t-shirt cannon at one of his performances, firing a top straight into the path of a portly woman’s belly, knocking her to the floor. Occurrences like this don’t exist in early-2000s Slough, because it isn’t the same lethargic life. It’s far removed from the portrayals of a 30-year-old man, living with his mother, watching his dreams die in front of him, while he is tethered to his cubicle from the fear of having nothing upon taking a leap of faith away from it. This on the other hand, is a slapstick, crass, unsubtle and very unrelatable abortion.
There is an age-old maxim concerning showbiz, “make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait”. The Office managed to do all these things to the audience, but unfortunately in the end it was Gervais who could not wait, and in the process managed to taint his and Merchant’s more renown creation. Perhaps it be wiser to wait until the entire film is out to properly critique it, but it seems that sadly the foregone conclusion is that this needless project has stigmatised the David Brent Office legacy, forever.
Sketch by Charlie Fischer