Back to Work

When last we saw David Brent, manager at Wernham Hogg's Slough branch, he was being fired by higher-ups Neil and Jennifer. Brent, his eyes welling with tears, begged for his job, without which he believed he would cease to exist. "I will try twice as hard, I really will," Brent insisted, "I know I've been complacent, and I'll turn this place around if we just say that it's not definite now, and then we can, um..." Alas, it was to no avail, and Brent vanished. He lost his job and, thus, his starring role in the BBC documentary The Office, which had chronicled over two short seasons his desperate attempts to gain admiration, attention and affection from his underlings, chief among them Tim, the paper-goods sales rep who wears to work the hang-dog look of a man who knows he deserves better than his shite job; Gareth, the former soldier who believes he's single-handedly conquered the world; and Dawn, the receptionist who harbors dreams of being an illustrator despite her fiancée's repeatedly telling her she's no damned good. Off Brent went, stripped of his live audience and the millions of viewers who tuned in to be turned off. And off The Office went, too, with Tim and Dawn saying their farewells in silence and Gareth getting promoted to the new boss, who wasn't the same as the old one, because at least the old one was lovable in a pathetic sort of way.

The Office, the doc that was entirely mock, ended its run in the United Kingdom long ago; over there it's as old news as Margaret Thatcher and Oasis. But in the States it lives on and on, with an Americanized version (now titled Office: An American Workplace) destined to debut on NBC in the coming months, with former Daily Show-er Steve Carell as the Brent-like Michael Scot. Last week, BBC Home Video also released the final two episodes of The Office, which aired last year in the U.K. and finally debuted this November on BBC America; we've only begun our farewells to David and Tim and Dawn and Gareth, who long ago moved on to begin better lives for themselves.

Ricky Gervais, who created Brent and then became him, could not stand to see David disappear with such a sorrowful, humiliating ending. So in August and September 2003, he and co-creator Stephen Merchant gathered the cast for two 50-minute episodes, which would catch up with the characters: David had become a minor celebrity and pissed away his severance package by recording a single ("Freelove Freeway"/"If You Don't Know Me By Now") and a video, Dawn had moved to Florida, Tim still pined for Dawn and Gareth had become the martial-law boss. David, when not doing shite personal-appearance gigs or going on miserable computer-service blind dates, still popped in to the office; he was like the grad who returns to high school every few months, pining for good ol' days that never existed.

The special will make you cringe more than the series: Brent, it so often seems, hasn't learned his lesson, hasn't acquired a dollop of self-awareness. He's still a "prat" (Gervais' favorite term for the poor schmuck), still thinking he's funny when others find him miserably pathetic. But slowly, you realize there's hope for this idiot--and when it arrives, as a pretty blind date who finds him funny after all and forces Brent to take off his clown makeup, you can't help but be touched by the moment. Indeed, it's happy endings all around, but they're never false finales; these people always felt real enough to deserve their good fortunes, because they came 'round so rarely. "I hope people watch The Office like a drama or a sitcom," Gervais said last year. "Just for that half hour, I hope they suspend their disbelief and feel that they are eavesdropping on these people. I hope they don't think of me as an actor, but they do sort of think, 'I wonder what Brent's doing now,' because I watch and go, 'I wonder if he's at work.' Just for a minute, you want to think that he exists." He did and he does, and he always will.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky