Ricky Gervais: The Office, analysing the narcissist David Brent, reviewed and understood
The best bits
The Office UK
Today Ricky Gervais is famous for the Ricky Gervais Show, maybe more than David Brent. Lets not forget that The Office DVD in 2003 (according to the BBC) sold more than 142,000 in the first week of release.
There have been a lot of column inches dedicated to Rickey Gervais even before that infamous night at the Globes. The doubters dubbed him over rated and vulgar, whilst the fans have used superlatives like genius and legend. So what exactly is the big deal with Ricky Gervais? Is there any substance to the claims of genius? Let us examine his first significant offering: The Office
After flirtations as a chat show host and appearances on Channel 4’s 11 o’clock show, The Office burst onto our television screens. Burst is perhaps generous but The Office lit a modest light which grew into a blinding glare.
The Office features Ricky Gervais as office manager David Brent. This was set in the English town of Slough which was a reference to Sir John Betjemen’s “come friendly bombs fall on Slough” poem. The same inspiration for the Morrissey song "Everyday is like Sundy" for what its worth. The Office was written and directed by Gervais and his co writer Stephen Merchant. The sitcom was filmed in the style of what we call “mockumentary” which is probably the best comic use of the mockumentary since Spinal Tap.
The camera crew film David Brent who sees himself as an undiscovered entertainer. The character is finely observed and comments on those who lack self awareness. Brent simply cannot ignore the camera and every action he undertakes, as a manager of a paper business, is loaded with the full knowledge that the cameras are rolling. Those sly glimpses to the cameras are still very amusing. The role was acted with such aplomb that many people still struggle to differentiate between Gervais and David Brent. He played this complex character in what was his acting debut, we must remember. He even makes humour out of Brent’s struggle to articulate non racism. This is clever as it represented an unspoken white guilt; a society trying so hard to rid itself of discrimination that we endeavour to overcompensate. Also majestically expressed was Brent’s inability to take criticism so far removed was he from self awareness. Or maybe it was full blown denial. What is particularly interesting about Brent is that he represented that part of all of us that has illusions of grandeur. You can almost suggests that this was a parody of a reality TV show that had yet to be aired. At times Gervais’s delivery is so accurate one will cringe at his actions. Cringe because it is completely believable. His acting, at risk of repeating myself, in his debut role, was perfect.
Not only does Gervais take credit in his role as an actor, he, along with Merchant, had significant influence over the casting. Gareth, played my Mackenzie Crook, was originally intended to be a burley ex army character. The wise selection of Crook, gave Gervais and Merchant a license to irony. Particularly amusing as Gareth was in the Territorial Army which proved hilarious as his lanky frame craved for more discipline in the office. Also amusing as they made him “assistant to the manager”, which Gareth infers as “assistant manager”. A role he clings to in order to snatch authority. The creation of the Dawn (Lucia Davis) and Tim (Martin Freeman) was smart. Not only did it show that tender side to British sitcoms it commented on relationships lasting maturity. Dawn and her “asshole” boyfriend Lee had sprung from their teens. Tim was laid back, respectful, self deprecating and saw Dawn as a companion. The boyfriend was unromantic, uninspiring and unwarm. This posed an interesting question in real life. It seems an obvious choice to support Tim in this duel and the situation must manifest in real life. It says a lot about the romance in Gervais and Merchant that they finally get Tim and Dawn together in the Christmas specials.
The casting of one of the secondary cast would also prove to be astute. Chris Finch, played by Ralph Ineson, provided us with a great opportunity to analyse Brent. Finch is a narcissist: He is brash and nasty who uses bullying and putdown tactics to keep people at bay. Gervais constantly refers to him as a “bloody good rep” and refuses to acknowledge anything negative about Finch. Brent latches on like a small child trying to befriend a bully hoping that some respect would rub off. Brent fails to see the lack of respect all others has for Finch. Brent can’t even acknowledge Finches humiliating putdowns such is his need for respect. Jennifer Taylor Clark (Sterling Gallacher) , Brent’s line manager, is another exquisite cast. Her demeanour as a serious and professional manager is in stark contrast to Brent’s comic management style. She serves to draw attention to Brent’s ridiculousness.
In terms of the writing and plot, Tim and Dawn’s relationship is the will they or won’t they hook. Gervais and Merchant wrote Tim to be fed up with the mundane and Dawn is the relief to his under achievement. David Brent must content with the merger of branches and this gives rise to insecurity which manifests itself in idiot philosophy. Although I implied that Tim and Dawn getting together was the focal point of the office story line, my personal climax was Brent telling Finch to ***k off. Brent had been humiliated by Finch’s general meanness for long periods. That moment was a victory for Brent, maybe an awakening. This shows the skill of Gervais and Merchant as writers as the adrenaline I felt when Brent stood up to Finch was evidence of how emotionally involved I had become with The Office.
In answer to my own question regarding the hype around Gervais, I would side with the genius camp. In his debut season as a sitcom actor, director and writer he has produced a piece of art of notable quality. What started as a modest BBC 2 comedy has become a world wide multi award winning franchise. That said, I don’t think everyone gets it. But who can argue with The Office DVD sales. But just maybe the oberservation of Brent has us all wondering about our own self awareness.
Pehaps he is look upon more favourably now for the Ricky Gervais Show. The Gervais Show after all introduced us to Karl Pilkington.
Click here for more British comedy.