David Brent is back but is that a good thing?
In Febraury, I wrote a column about the state of American pop culture and how it could fix it’s problems. One of the issues I had at the time was in the way U.S. TV shows tend to drag things out way longer than they should be rather than knowing when to walk away. I cited a few British television examples to make my point, specifically comparing the U.S. and U.K. versions of The Office.
Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant notably ended the run of The Office after two series and a special, doing the same for Extras later on.
They all could have kept going but decided it was better for the integrity of the product to walk away while they were ahead, cementing the show legacies in the process. Compare that to America’s The Office, which ran for nine seasons. Most would agree that it ran for at least two seasons too long and, while it’s fondly remembered, the dropoff in quality affected the overall way the show was perceived.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that Gervais was already in the midst of returning to that comedy well to see if he could scoop a few more buckets of funny out. Oops.
As a quick refresher/primer, Gervais’s big comedy break was portraying David Brent, the oblivious and offensive boss in the original version of The Office. Steve Carell’s Michael Scott was based on Brent but while Scott became more of a sympathetic character over the run of the American show, Gervais kept Brent encased in a bubble of cringe-worthy antics and ideas. You could find pathos underneath his exterior but he never becomes a wholly likable person. It’s a bold choice and one at the heart of what made the U.K. version of the show so distinct.
The trailer for David Brent: Life on the Road, was officially released Friday and we get our first chance to find out whether or not it was a good reason to dust off this classic character.
The spin-off movie picks up where we left off. Brent has traded in the life of an office drone to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. He’s on tour with his band, Foregone Conclusion, but he’s also working on the side as a “rep,” which seems to be code for door-to-door salesman. Along the way, he’s still the same cringe-inducing fool he always was.
It’s only the trailer so you don’t want to assign too much value but it’s hard not to come away from it unimpressed. Many of the signature David Brent moments are visible but our expectation of what he’s going to do undercuts their impact. As feared, much of it feels like a retread.
And then there’s Gervais himself. His characters have always felt like an extension of him and the more we’ve come to know him as a comedian the harder it is to separate how you feel about him and how you feel about his characters. His rep has taken a bit of a hit recently as many are tired of his roast schtick at award ceremonies that borders on mean and often flies right past that border. Couple that with more professional misses than hits (Life’s Too Short, Derek, Special Correspondents) and this hardly feels like the rootable guy from the early 2000’s anymore.
Still, we can hope that there’s some cringes worth considering beyond the trailer for Life on the Road. If not, it’s one more example of a pop culture creation that came back one time too many.