This review was updated on Jan. 28, 2004.
Little by little the cringingly hilarious U.K. fly-on-the-wall mocu “The Office” has developed from a minor cult hit into a water cooler classic. After two seasons on the BBC — and with creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant adamant there would be no third (though regular season episodes of the show are just now making the rounds Friday nights on BBC America) — the skein bowed out with a festive two-parter that offered the perfect combination the of belly laughs and astute pathos, and allowed Gervais and Merchant to complete storylines, including a capper for insufferable boss David Brent (played by Gervais).
The end of series two saw a humiliated Brent made redundant at his job running the Slough branch of paper supply company Wernham Hogg; his lackey Gareth (Mackenzie Crook) promoted to take over, and lovelorn Tim (Martin Freeman) rejected by receptionist Dawn (Lucy Davis) after finally mustering the courage to ask her to leave her boyfriend.
Dawn and her boyfriend are staying at his sister’s house in Miami, with Dawn talking to the camera about the Tim Incident while baby-sitting the sister’s child. Meanwhile back in Blighty, Brent has a new “executive” job as a traveling salesman of cleaning supplies. He has spent all his money after leaving Wernham Hogg recording a single and making a staggeringly cringe-worthy pop video, and now spends his evenings at tawdry nightclubs as a minor celebrity from “that documentary, ‘The Office.’ ”
He also spends as much time as possible wandering back into Wernham Hogg, hunched over the computer screen with Gareth filling in forms for an Internet dating company, completely unaware — as only the ignorant Brent can be — that no one wants him hanging ’round the office. The climax of the two-parter is the office Christmas party, which sees Dawn brought back to Slough by the TV company making the documentary, and Brent desperately trying to find a woman via the internet to go with him to the bash so he can look impressive to former boss Neil (Patrick Baladi).
As usual, Gervais is the star of the show, still managing to make Brent veer from appalling to engaging to, ultimately, quite sad. Tim and Dawn talk with humor and honesty about their feelings for each other, and oddball military-obsessed Gareth is just as dreadful a boss as Brent.
Writer-directors Gervais and Merchant retain the strong production values of the staggeringly ordinary and depressing office, filmed by this wobbly fly-on-the-wall camera crew — which this time ’round finally becomes part of the story — and it is to their lasting credit that even the most minor characters seem to stand out, often by doing very little.
Performances are uniformly excellent, though special praise should go to Ewen Macintosh, who plays the overweight, monosyllabic, Keith, who has developed into a cult icon.
Gervais and Merchant keep audiences guessing right up till the final scene in the will-they/won’t-they Tim and Dawn storyline, and eventually show their softer side regarding not only the couple but also the romantic fortunes of Brent, for whom audiences will almost be cheering at the end.