October 23, 2004 | Unknown

Shutting Up Shop: The Office – The Christmas Specials

The final episodes of the mock documentary The Office plumb the depths of despair, but ultimately celebrate the importance of having people in our lives who accept us for who we are.
Emerging at a time when many comedies were pursuing the lazy path of sending up other shows, The Office’s perceptive, if somewhat brutal; take on the employees of a paper merchant’s firm was welcome, even when we could see our worst traits mirrored in characters such as the insufferable David Brent (Ricky Gervais) and risk-averse Tim Canterbury (Tim Freeman), who will never leave the position he loathes to return to university.
After series two finished with Brent almost out of a job and receptionist Dawn Tinsley planning a new life overseas, these latest instalments reveal nobody has moved on, whether they have remained at Wernham Hogg or not.
With Brent ‘retrenched’ from the middle management role that gave him an identity and a captive audience, we now see him struggling to establish himself as an “entertainer” following his turn as the “boss from hell”.
During the day he sells cleaning and personal hygiene products.
“Can I ask you something”, Brent questions a client who is mortified at being filmed, “who does your tampons?”
Even if Brent’s level of self-awareness is low, he seems to realise his new life is not great since he spends a lot of time at his former workplace trying to recreate what he believes he once had.
“You don’t like it ’cause I’m popular; it was snatched away from me, you don’t like me coming back because it reminds (you)”, he says to his enemy, Neil Godwin, who became area manager after Brent failed a physical.
Neil, who is played by the conventionally handsome Patrick Baladi, comes across as a tad snide and insecure in these episodes.
While we always sensed it, we finally get a real chance to see Brent’s loneliness, depression and anger, which he medicates with alcohol and exaggerated merriment.
There is a scene in The Bedsitter from The Very Best of Hancock, also recently released on DVD, in which the anti-hero looks sadly out a window before resuming a dialogue with himself. Similarly, Brent’s life is interspersed with images of isolation, including when he is seen drinking coffee in a restaurant alone.
Though we know those in The Office are responsible for their fate because they have settled for less, most could empathise with Tim as he endures the incessant ramblings of his obnoxious colleague, Anne, or recalls his “feelings” for Dawn, who rejected him twice and then flew to Florida with her long-standing, yet incompatible, partner, Lee.
Even though Brent’s life is in disarray at the end of episode one of the finale, when Dawn slides her engagement ring down her finger before putting it back in place, the audience is given hope Tim’s persistence may pay off (since it has yet to screen on free-to-air, I will not give too much away).
The writers’ cynicism about modern celebrity culture and how it rewards just for being on the idiot box doing bugger all is very much in evidence. Sharing the stage with Brent at a particularly awful appearance at a club are a D-lister from Big Brother and an actor who stars in commercials for a bank.
“Who are you, what have you been on before, nothing”, Brent barks at a woman who fails to recognise him, or be impressed by his ill-conceived impersonation of Austin Powers.
Other special moments are when the never tactful Keith gives Tim advice in the lunchroom about women, Gareth’s militaristic management style (“…I use discipline. In a war situation, if you want your platoon to go…with you to certain death…it’s a direct order, “come with me” and they’ll go, “yes, he’s got good leadership skills, let’s all go with him to our certain death”) and Brent’s blind dates, during which he is at worst and near the conclusion, his best.
As is the case with most really good comedies, there are tears mixed with the laughter. However, the last two episodes of The Office give us something to be optimistic and joyful about.

Posted by Unknown at 3:21 pm | Comments (2) |
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  1. Have you checked out the website for The Office? Why doesn’t the ABC manage to do anything like this? Loved the paper aeroplanes!
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/theoffice/planes/ if anyone else wants to check them out.

    Comment by Graham Young — October 24, 2004 @ 1:50 pm

  2. Well, I must put in a plug for Kath and Kim’s website at http://www.abc.net.au/kathandkim/
    I for one endeavour to emulate Kim’s fashion style, and fortunately I have the right body shape to do it.
    Mmmm, I think those of us who have experienced, or are still experiencing, the joys of office life, might like to make paper planes of that very special former or current colleague who gets on our goat.
    Just a thought.

    Comment by Darlene — October 24, 2004 @ 4:18 pm

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