If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain. We know who said that – it was Dolly Parton, but in the case of The Office it’s more than just a solid closing line.
The lives of David Brent and his distant employees are marked by a malaise from the second he hires a new forklift driver to when he grovels for his job to Jennifer and Neil.
It’s one of the very few, if not only comedy series to have such an inconclusive and sour ending, it’s somehow still satisfying.
The Office‘s strength was, it served as an alternative to what comedy could be.
Think of its contemporaries at the time across the pond – Friends, Sex and the City – all very middle-class tales of people either moving or living in the big city making it by in largely unconflicted passages.
However, the brainchild of Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais was about bleak people, doing bleak work, in a bleak forgotten town – it precursed a lot of the humour, (which no doubt existed in 2001), that is scripture nowadays.
But amid all the dejection and failure were burgeoning success stories and unavoidable questions.
We have Tim unwillingly playing the long game with Dawn, only to be turned down within seconds, is something a lot of sad lads in Britain have experienced, as has being dismissed from a job you’re not good at but deeply enjoy.
If the Christmas special hadn’t have happened, The Office would’ve suffered the same fate Friends has: a never-ending call for expansion.
People had to see how Dawn was getting on because surely, no-one would hang about with a wasteman like her fiance Lee? Similarly, nobody as blindly ambitious as David Brent would fail to entertain on a different platform.
When we catch up with him in the first episode of the Christmas special, Brent is still preppy but hurt by how the documentary on Wernham Hogg ‘stitched’ him up, making him come across as pathetic and needy.
While he managed to pass all this off as plain old anti-social skills in the original series, post-Hogg, Brent is tragically more aware of his blunders thanks to those conniving producers.
We see him jobbing as a salesman, selling cleaning goods to scattered offices along the road, but on the side, more excitingly, he tours dead bars, appearing as himself thanks to the awkward ‘fame’ the documentary has brought him.
Naturally, they all go terribly. In one DIY Blind Date style game, Brent exposes himself as snappy when a girl fails to recognise who he is – ‘Who are you?’ he shouts back, ‘What have you been on before? Nothing.’
He also spends a depressing amount of time back at the Werham Hogg Office, still attempting to win over the affections of Neil, Jennifer, Tim, Gareth, (who’s replaced him) and a host of other extras, only this time, more inappropriately.
None of it is particularly ‘Christmassy’ nor does it evoke the feelings we’re supposed to have around this time of year: joy, happiness etc – yet this is where The Office gets it so right.
Christmas, for a lot of people, is not so jolly, like the adverts portray – it’s tense, financially-demanding and if you’re someone like Tim who’s terrified of his own company, rather depressing.
Then, the first sense of idealism: an off-camera producer covers expenses for Dawn and Lee to travel back to Slough to attend Hogg’s Christmas party – at last, the special becomes distinct from just another Office episode.
This wouldn’t happen in real life – someone convincing their partner to ditch the sun of Florida to trek all the way back to a flat-roof office in a failing industrial town just to listen to Wham, but it’s Christmas – anything can happen at Christmas!
Even in our cold cynical British hearts, it’s the reason people make stupid embarrassing life choices at festive office parties because January simply doesn’t exist.
In the meantime, Brent auditions dates for the do after boyishly promising lads Neil and Finchy he’s seeing someone. Amazingly, he manages to find someone – she actually turns up, (following a nervous wait outside) which allows viewers to discover they have a deep-seated desire to see Brent do well, despite him being an ass.
Dawn makes a premature visit to the office, before the party, much to Tim’s awkward delight – they know they have to talk but their awfully-sorry-dear personalities forbid it and nothing gets solved.
Instead, they revert into their old ways by ridiculing Gareth with loaded questions pertaining to homosexuality.
Much to the annoyance of the audience, (and the producers who forked out money to capture a miracle on camera), Lee makes Dawn leave early, yet just before she does, Tim gives her a present to take with her to America.
Talking to the camera moments later, Tim says:
The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. You don’t know them. You had no choice and yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends and your family. Probably, all you’ve got in common, is that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day, so obviously, when someone comes in who you have a connection with…yeah.
Dawn was a ray of sunshine in my life and it meant a lot but if I’m really being honest I never thought it would have a happy ending.
I don’t know what a happy ending is? Life isn’t about endings is it? It’s a series of moments. You turn the camera off, it’s not an ending, is it? I’m still here. My life’s not over. Come back in ten years and see how I’m doing then. I could be married with kids. You never know? Life just goes on.
Brent and his date Carol share yuks on the couch – a stage previously scarred by many failed attempts on his part to talk to women.
Shortly after, Carol is escorted out and into her cab home. ‘Call me?’ she mouths from inside. Ultimately, judging by the subsequent Comic Relief sketch and Life On The Road, we know it was only a short victory for Brent, but at least he got one.
When he returns to the party, he learns Neil and Finchy are still clinging on to their demeaning jibes.
Comfortably at the end of his tether, Brent asks, ‘Chris, why don’t you f*ck off?’ in what must be one of the most deliciously satisfying insults ever to grace our TV screens.
In the taxi back, Dawn opens her present and sees Tim has bought her a set of oil paints – tools to enable her dream job, (which Lee constantly undermines) and she finally comes to her senses, hopping out off-screen and turning up to the office once again, this time, to kiss Tim.
‘Careful she’s got a fiance,’ Gareth chimes in, bringing us back down to Earth and reminding everyone, while Christmas can mostly be disappointing and forced, those little miracles we strive for, can come up trumps.