Movies We Like
The Office Special
After only two seasons (twelve half hour episodes total) The Office returned for two more final episodes that beautifully wrap up the short-lived British series. The series had a massive influence on television, spawning a still on-going American version and made its star and creator, Ricky Gervais, into an instant comedy guru (he co-wrote and directed every episode with his partner, Stephen Merchant). Season Two ended on a rather depressing note. In the office of Wernham Hogg Paper Company blowhard boss David Brent (Gervais) had been fired. Everyman Tim (Martin Freeman) turned down the offer to take David’s job, leaving it open for David’s toadie, Gareth (Mackenzie Crook). Also Tim’s pursuit of Dawn (Lucy Davis) came to a fizzle as she and her fiancé, Lee, headed off for the United States. With The Office Special we pick up some time later. The Office had been a minor blip on the BBC TV schedule. David, by day, is now a cleaning supplies salesman, but in the evenings he is using his new minor fame (or infamy) to break into show business, doing the washed-up reality TV star circuit. Unfortunately it means appearances at rowdy bars with ex-Big Brother cast member types for a hostile crowd (they hate him). Not working at the office but spending much of his free time there, with Gareth’s help, he is also pursuing a relationship on an Internet dating site (so he can score a date to the Office’s Christmas party). David trying to find reasons to be back at the office is David at his most pathetic - all one can do is pity the man.
The Office has always been about the slow burn. The humor is not in the immediate joke but in what the characters say, it may only be a funny line to someone who already understands the character, their motivations, and their insecurities. Like the influences Gervais has cited for his humor, the films of Christopher Guest (the one good one, Waiting For Guffman), This Is Spinal Tap (Guest co-wrote and co-starred in it, but it was actually directed by Rob "Meathead" Reiner), and the most obvious influence Garry Shandling’s brilliant inside Hollywood, character-driven The Larry Sanders Show. Both are giddy in the burning humiliation of their characters, but unlike the cruelty of much cynically spirited humor, it's obvious that Shandling and Gervais both have hearts and affection for the men they play and the characters around them.
The two episodes that make up The Office Special (also known as The Office Christmas Special) have some of the best moments in the short history of the show: David explaining to his ex-boss, Neil, why he has a dog in the office; David’s blind dates; and, for some reason, David does a pub Dating Show, but to make the humiliation even more cringy he dresses like Austin Powers. It’s also revealed that David used his meager earnings from the BBC to make a record and music video, taking his self-delusion to a new high. It’s a soulful cover of the Blue Notes' even more soulful, "If You Don’t Know Me By Now" (not David’s own song he composed and performed from an earlier episode, "Free Love Freeway").
The clips from David’s music video are a good example of what makes The Office’s humor so special (the entire video is an extra feature on the DVD). If you did not know the show or Ricky Gervais and you heard the song or saw the video you would not know it was fake or a put on, you might just think it’s rather bland or kind of lame. Gervais as David plays it straight, wearing a white pajama outfit in a big loft; this is David’s idea of cool. But unlike, say, the film-within-a-film of Christopher Guest’s limp comedy For Your Consideration, it’s not obviously bad. There is no tripping over things or purposely singing out of tune, it’s David’s best effort. Like most of the humor on The Office, it’s incredibly hilarious, but honest, earned and real - not forced.
These final two episodes of The Office also manage to bring the show to a perfect close. Dawn's impending return to England has Tim agitated and nervous. Their story has a great payoff, it’s surprising but inevitable for their relationship. The end also leaves David - and us - with some optimism; he finally meets a potential mate and doesn’t muck it up too bad. Ironically, Gervais and Merchant’s next series, Extras, did not work as well as this one because what makes The Office so unique was not employed by Extras. Where The Office is so precise with its characters, the guy Gervais played in Extras was all over the place. Sometimes he was an arrogant David Brent type, other times out of nowhere he was heroic, it was never clear for me who he was. Also the supporting characters just relied on being stupid and saying moronic things (like most of Christopher Guest’s later films).
At less than seven hours total running time, the entire run of The Office is as good a seven hours of TV there has ever been. It really is a marvelous perfect little treasure. And that last hour (the final two episodes comprising The Office Special) is maybe the greatest hour of TV comedy ever. You will need the first six hours to know the who, what, when, and how, but the payoff is priceless.