Ricky Gervais once said in an interview that he would never bring David Brent back to our screens when The Office ended. With two series and two Christmas specials it was, in a similar vein to Fawlty Towers, a short but almost perfect sitcom. A classic, no doubt. But it seems that twelve years after the documentary cameras left Wernham Hogg, the temptation to bring back the boss from hell is just too hard to resist.
David Brent has popped up sporadically since then. He’s appeared in the American version of the show, albeit a small cameo. Then there was a series of guitar tutorials on YouTube, a Comic Relief skit with musical partner Dom Johnson, and his band, Foregone Conclusion, performed a string of live shows. In a way it feels like Ricky Gervais’s most famous creation has never totally gone away.
There is just one problem I can foresee with the upcoming David Brent movie, ‘Life on the road.’ A key missing ingredient, and that is the absence of one half of the writing/directing team, Stephen Merchant. Now, I’m a huge fan of The Office, and I’m excited to see Brent back, let’s get that straight. It just doesn’t feel quite right without Merchant involved. David Brent was Gervais’s character, and while he played it brilliantly, after watching Derek and his other solo projects, I think Merchant serves as a kind of balance, reigning him in somewhat, and adding the subtle touches which make their trademark awkward comedy something more, something that at its very best feels important. Without him, Gervais tends to make broader brush-strokes, the laughs are a bit more in your face, and the drama, at times, becomes somewhat mawkish.
However, there is hope. A new series of The Office, without Stephen Merchant, may have proven disastrous. Almost a tarnish on the brand. But a film is different. And David Brent is certainly a strong enough character to carry one. Steve Coogan achieved this when he brought back Alan Partridge in the brilliant Alpha Papa. So it can be done. By keeping enough of those nuances which made him so watchable, yet with enough scope for a feature length film, then I think we could be in for a real treat.
After all, in his own words, David Brent wants to be remembered, ‘simply as a man who put a smile on the face of all who he met.’ And I have no doubt he will. But please, go out like the best should, with a flourish of sorts. Let this be Brent’s swansong, and though we’ll miss him, better that than the alternative. Because, after all, the law of diminishing returns applies to even the very best of comic creations.
By Christian Wolfenden