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Posts Tagged ‘The Office’

David Brent and Foregone Conclusion image credit BBC Films and Entertainment One

David Brent and Foregone Conclusion              image credit BBC Films and Entertainment One

As soon as I saw that the David Brent movie was coming to Netflix, I knew we had to review it. My son and I have been fans of The Office for years so the prospect of discussing this film was never in question despite the concerns a spin-off brought up. How would David Brent fare as a protagonist without his familiar and counter balancing Wernham Hogg co-workers? And beyond missing old characters, would an all-Brent-all-the-time project be a bit much to bear?  So it was with a mix of anticipation and trepidation that we set about watching and contemplating all the various aspects David Brent: Life on the Road. 

When we meet up with David, twelve years have passed since the Christmas specials. Now working as a rep selling cleaning and feminine hygiene products, Brent is no longer in charge but rather a worker bee mocked and scorned by a significant percentage of his colleagues. Perhaps this is why David has held so tightly to his dream of becoming a rock star.

Brent enlists a group of opportunistic session musicians and a skeptical sound engineer for the resurrection of his old band, Forgone Conclusion.  So with the old Office documentary crew in tow, they embark upon a foolishly expensive and pointless regional tour of pubs, colleges and battle of the band contests that everyone but David can see is an unmitigated disaster.

Here are some the of the thoughts Ross and I had about Gervais’ newest David Brent adventure.

Favorite new character

Mum: I was looking for the person who would be stepping into the shoes of my favorite character from The Office, Tim Canterbury. At first I thought David’s talented but underutilized rapper friend Dom Johnson (Ben Bailey Smith) was going to take on that role of the normal guy who is the voice of reason when Brent starts spiraling out of control.

But in the end it was sound engineer Dan Harvey played by Tom Basden who took David aside and set him straight on his foolhardy spending and the insecurity behind it. He also did a kind thing for Brent, against his better judgement, which is what Tim would have done for sure.

 

 

Ross: My fave new character was Karen, the receptionist (Mandeep Dhillon), who says David brightens her day and that, though many others in the office don’t, she finds him funny. I especially liked when she stood up for David’s friend Nigel (Tom Bennett) against the office bully. Nigel provided for Brent what Mackenzie Crook as Gareth Keenan never could. He was a co-worker (on equal footing) that saw Brent as a friend of similar spirit, and not someone who, as the milk monitor, had to suck up to whoever would show him favor because of the negativity that came with being the boss’ dog. David Brent had to become what he was always good at (a salesman) in order to realize there are friends out there for everyone, and they will like you for who you are. (Props to Ben Bailey Smith as Dom for that as well).

karen-life-on-the-road

image credit BBC Films and Entertainment One

 

Most Cringe-Worthy Moment

Mum: One of the most awkward situations in the film is just the fact that a man my age is trying to impress and pal around people who are closer to my son’s age. That rarely works, unless you’re a pop icon. It’s embarrassing that his band mates blank him so often and, though it visibly affects him, he doesn’t get it. In fact, it’s frustrating that in all this time David still hasn’t learned that he should be himself and not try so hard to make people like him. It always backfires anyway.

That being said, the scene where David shoots a woman in the face with a t-shirt gun is pretty mortifying and therefore classic Brent.

Ross: Any sexual reference David makes, particularly at the beginning about his rock n roll sex song.

I can’t begin to imagine the amount of flak that David had to take over the 12 years between documentaries over his personality and behavior. In what he thought may be a portal to stardom or notoriety, office manager Brent took a beating to his ego and his overall being as a human. Like many TV series and movies that I enjoy, it’s the perceived despicable characters at their truest moments of vulnerability that make the entire journey worthwhile.

So, in that vein, David’s visit to his psychiatrist before his tour is such a telling scene in his personality that my heart reached out to him in a moment where he felt everything he did was wrong, but that’s the art of being human, living by trial and error. Sometimes, many errors at that.

 

Most Touching Moment

Mum: I used to be under the impression that in The Office and other Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant projects, Merchant must be the compassionate one, the writer who found humanity in the most flawed of characters. Then Gervais went solo and made Derek. It was then I discovered he was the softy of the pair.

Therefore, I knew to expect moments of human kindness from Life on the Road. Besides Dan paying for the snow which I referenced earlier, I think Pauline (Jo Hartley) from accounts embodies that spirit as well. When she talks about how reviving the documentary is bad for David, Pauline truly grasps the situation and worries for his well-being.

Gervais obviously wants to hit home the point that since the original Office documentary, the world is meaner, more selfish. We see this demonstrated in most of the people David encounters on tour from a taunting radio DJ to the mercenary PR representative David hires to the woman he picks up at the ATM looking for a free room and a mini-bar feast on him. Pauline’s concern is warranted and poignant considering David has hardly ever taken notice of her.

pauline-life-on-the-road

image credit BBC Films and Entertainment One

 

Ross: I’m going to have to echo everything my mom said in this part. A meaner world full of harsher, more anonymous social media is what has been created. Walls are built up by others before anyone can show how they truly are, leading to more mixed signals, brunt, up-front shutdowns, and overall distrust. Ricky Gervais puts a mirror up to a society that doesn’t even want to glance, and that shines through in every interaction David Brent has on camera with everyone in the documentary. Pauline and Nigel are the two shining examples in a world of negativity that everyone has a chance.

 

The Music 

Mum: I found the music and musicianship surprisingly good. Of course all the lyrics were written for comic effect to show us how seriously David takes his songwriting and how badly he misreads the tone of issues featured in his music. I found ‘Slough’ to be interesting because unlike most of the other songs which were Brent’s obvious attempt at hard-drinking rock and roll or socially conscious anthems, this one was just a love song, a declaration of loyalty to an oft maligned place as our hometowns so frequently are. It also nods to The Office as “Europe’s biggest trading estate.”

 

Ross: The music, as far as Foregone Conclusion originals, was like a parody comedy troupe with no boundaries. So overall I laughed the hardest at the ‘Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disableds’ song.

 

Does it stand up to The Office?

Mum: No, because it lacks the strong ensemble from the TV series and I doubt that was Ricky Gervais’ ambition in the first place.

However, I do think it’s worth watching if you are interested in encountering an older, more fragile but foolishly optimistic Brent. One can only hope he gives up on fame as a life goal and listens instead to those who genuinely care about him.

Ross: Life on the Road is a poetic ending to a character that has become a dying star heading towards a black hole. But, despite it all, every time I see Ricky Gervais on camera, I leave feeling happy and hopeful that whatever comes next will be okay. 4/5 for movie fans, The Office fans may find it more of a down the middle 2.5/5. Worth showing to friends and family who love cringe-worthy humor with a pointedly deserved message.

 

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BBC New Broadcasting House image credit Luk MacGregor

BBC New Broadcasting House
image credit Luke MacGregor

In case you haven’t heard, the BBC’s Royal Charter is up for renewal next year. What is this charter, you may ask. According to the BBC’s own website, it ” is the document that allows the BBC to exist. It provides a framework for what the BBC does and how it is organised – it is the constitutional basis for the BBC. It is the document that spells out what the BBC needs to do to serve the public (its ‘public purposes’), guarantees the BBC’s independence, and outlines the duties of the people that run it – the Trust and the Executive Board.”

The charter renewal process appears to be a multi-step affair that consists of a public feedback phase, Government inquires and reports, responses to the inquires by the BBC with their own documentation and then, finally, a negotiation between the BBC and the sitting Government agreeing to a new charter.

Apparently in some circles there is a question if the UK even needs the BBC any longer. The always unpopular license fee assessed on any home with a television  whether they actually watch BBC channels or not is a perennial bone of contention of course. The perception that the Beeb is left leaning is also a problem for those with other political viewpoints. Add to the those already existing issues the new challenge posed by the huge shift in viewing habits thanks to growing satellite and streaming options and you can see why proponents of the BBC are worried about its survival.

And just in case you think all this fretting is alarmist, look what has happened to Sesame Street. The premium cable channel, HBO, will have exclusive rights to new episodes of the preeminent children’s educational program for nine months before PBS TV viewers have access to them. Ironic for a show that was created to prepare children in undeserved communities for school and was funded by public donations and ever decreasing government funds. My point here being, if the BBC is weakened financially or administratively to the point of not being able to fulfill their remit, it may create a situation where arguments to axe the institution altogether may become valid.

As an American, some may ask why I care what happens to the BBC. All I can say is I would not be the person, or the Anglophile, I am today without the Beeb. Therefore, I thought for this week’s Five for Friday, I’d share five BBC series that were influential in the development of my fascination with the British people and their culture. I’m not saying they are the best of all time or even my favorites though they surely were at one time. It’s a walk down memory lane of sorts to witness the path that formed my obsession.

1. Monty Python

Most Americans with a love of all things British will say that Monty Python’s Flying Circus had a huge impact upon them. I remember watching the sketch show on the black and white set in my bedroom when I was about twelve years old, in awe of what I was beholding.  Men dressed like ladies, speaking with squeaky voices; references to famous artists, playwrights and philosophers and historical events like the Spanish Inquisition; silly walks, fish slapping dances and bizarre animated sequences. I didn’t understand it all, but I knew it was funny. Mostly I remember thinking I wanted to go to England because they must have the best sense of humor in the world if shows like this were made there.

2. The Young Ones

The 1980’s represented my high school and college years. I was more into music than television at that point in my life, but my interests were British all the same. MTV was just getting started and many of the new bands they promoted were from the UK (Duran Duran, The Police, Culture Club, Madness). Besides music videos, the channel also broadcast a British sitcom about a mismatched group of roommates.

The Young Ones lived in student-y squalor, constantly arguing and engaging in violent slapstick. The musical performances (which I understand were required by the BBC in order for the show to be considered a variety program and thus receive a bigger budget) were novel as well. I was intrigued and thought it cool for its time since I was in a college student myself.

 3.  The Office

The Office came along when my children were a bit older and I had time to watch something that wasn’t The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. I saw Ricky Gervais accept the Golden Globe for the show and when he said “I’m not from these parts. I’m from a little place called England. We used to rule the world before you, ” I knew I had to get my hands on this series. I reserved a copy from my library and my life has never been the same again. The Office reawakened my interest in UK comedy and television in general. I rooted for Tim and Dawn, I treasured every Gareth and Tim skirmish and, in the end,  I came to like David Brent despite his many, many faults.

4. Life on Mars

This sci-fi, cop drama infused with comedy is my all time favorite British show, BBC produced or otherwise. I can’t recall where I heard about it, but once again I borrowed a copy through my library and found what, in my opinion, is TV perfection in story, character and tone. I know it doesn’t make sense, but one thing that attracts me to this series is the nostalgic element of 1970’s England despite the fact I’m not from England nor did I live there in the ’70’s.

I don’t take time out to re-watch anything much these days, but every time I hear Sam Tyler’s mini-soliloquy about his predicament, I’m ready to pull my box set from the shelf and return to 1973 Manchester again.

5. Call the Midwife

My final pick is a period drama about midwives and nuns in the impoverished London neighborhood of Poplar. I chose it mainly for its heart, but don’t assume that means that Call the Midwife is sentimental drivel. Rather it’s a beautiful study in compassion and tolerance. While cast comings and goings have tampered with the original chemistry a bit, there are still few episodes that leave me dry eyed.

I’m a fan of gritty crime series, but there aren’t many quality dramas out there that can make you feel hopeful about humanity. The BBC has room for those types of programs too.

If you were to make a list of your own, which BBC series would make the cut? In your opinion, is the BBC worth saving or is it an out of date institution? I’m looking forward to your comments!

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Any Gary and Miranda kiss is heartwarming. image credit BBC

image credit BBC

The internet tells me it’s National Kissing Day. This senselessly manufactured day of swapping spit prompted me to devise a list of cheer worthy TV smooches. You know, the kind that take forever to actually happen and warm your heart when you finally witness them. For example, any kiss that ever transpired between the constantly on again off again Miranda and Gary.

 

So without further ado, here are a few more telly kisses you might remember fondly…

Caroline and Mac proposal kiss – Green Wing

 

 

2.  Mark and Sophie first kiss at a wake – Peep Show

 

 

3. Tim and Dawn Christmas party soulmate kiss – The Office

 

 

4. The Doctor and River Song first and last kiss – Doctor Who

 

Which kiss will you try out on your loved one today?

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Anglophiles United at our "local" pub quiz Image Credit Laurie Frashure

Anglophiles United at our “local” pub quiz
Image Credit Laurie Frashure

As you may know I occasionally report on the activities of my Anglophile group, cleverly named Anglophiles United. This week a large contingent of our membership hit the road in hopes of experiencing an authentic British pub quiz. This outing was educational in scope and the fact that alcohol was freely available had nothing to do with our healthy turnout…

We gathered at an establishment with a name designed to avoid any confusion about its purpose or mission, The Pub. This American franchise concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast is to the the public house what mock Tudor housing developments are to historical stately homes. The serving staff wear kilt-ish uniforms, in addition to ales and whiskey they serve American cocktails like martinis and Manhattans, and they are located in an upscale shopping mall complex. To be fair they don’t claim that they’re the genuine article. Their slogan is “British-inspired, American-crafted” after all.

After keeping our tartan-clad wait staff (yes, we had three) busy with orders of shepherd’s pie, scotch eggs and lots of beer and wine, the quiz began. We broke into three teams -ours chose the name Jiggle Me Timbers because my son thought it would be amusing if the quiz mistress had to announce it over the PA system. There was no vetting process or pre-quiz selection though I can’t blame Inspector Fowler for trying to weed out the dimmest of the dim on his team.

 

 

The quiz itself consisted of twenty general knowledge questions, a speed round which required participants to order an actors’ films from oldest to newest, and the final round which tested our musical knowledge. Apparently technical difficulties are common as we had a similar experience to the members of the Phoenix Club – just without the record player.

 

 

None of our trio of teams won the big prize; however, luck was with us as each participant was given a ticket for door prizes and our entourage won all three drawings!  Each team left with bar glasses and gift certificates and no animosity towards the Hot Moms who apparently beat us by two lousy points. Nor was there any shoe throwing out in the parking lot after…

 

 

And as far as I know, there were no diva pub quiz champions in the crowd that night. At least no one threw a hissy fit like the Oracle did in Benidorm. It’s all just a bit of fun, mate!

 

 

All in all, I’d have to say our pub experience was a fun night out.  However if British TV shows accurately depict the UK pub quiz experience, ours did not approach the same level of competitiveness or nor was anyone’s ego or reputation at risk if they lost. Well, perhaps my son had higher aspirations for our side. That being said, he did win the speed round for us and the indeed the Jiggle Me Timbers team had their name announced throughout The Pub for all to hear.

 

 

 

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Being critical of reality television in general,  I’ve spent little of my precious viewing time watching what the British have produced in that genre.  Okay, I’ll admit I couldn’t turn away from that fascinating ball of contradiction known as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, but can you really blame me?

A Irish Traveller girl’s dream come true.

…And I felt it necessary to watch one episode of The Only Way is Essex if only to learn more about cutting edge beauty trends.

For anyone not familiar with this program, it reminds me of the endless hook-ups and artificially generated drama of The Hills (my daughter used to watch it, all right).  The fake tans and male obsession to be ridiculously muscular smacks of that groundbreaking American series, The Jersey Shore.  While I couldn’t ignore the barrage of  media attention,  I can proudly say I’ve never seen a single episode of TJS.

My main complaints about such programs are the self-involved, superficial reality “stars”, their petty little theatrics and the heavy- handed editing that manufactures arguments and other uncomfortable moments.  Therefore, you might find it a contradictory fact that I quite enjoy mockumentaries, that clever form of satire which “mocks” the documentary/reality hybrid. As a rule these series are full of immature and/or incompetent adults engaged in painfully awkward situations.  But through a sense of collusion with the “film crew/documentarian”,  the viewer feels more inclined to root for the characters, no matter how flawed they might be.  And as real as it might seem, you know the characters are just that – exaggerated characterizations of dysfunctional people.

I believe what makes the British so good at this type of comedy is a tendency towards subtle, dry humor and the ability to affect a believable and authoritative tone – in many cases, it’s the accent I’m sure.

 

For my money, the quintessential example of this genre is The Office with David Brent as the outwardly confident but professionally inadequate and socially deficient boss.  Apparently many people who watched The Office when it first went out on television believed they were watching a real BBC documentary.  But I’ve talked about this classic plenty of times so let me introduce you to some lesser known mockumentaries.

People Like Us:  Hosted by fictional, bumbling  tv journalist Ray Mallard, this series pokes fun at the mundane lives of everyday people and how they try to  inflate the importance of  their lives to the rest of the world.

 

Come Fly With Me:  Simulating the style and format of British reality series Airport, David Walliams and Matt Lucas portray dozens of airport employees and customers, from pilots to baggage handlers.  In my opinion, it’s not on par with  Little Britain, but I still marvel at the actors’ ability to transform so completely that they almost disappear. My husband thought that Precious, the work shy coffee kiosk attendant was an actress who had been hired for just that role.

Matt Lucas in a very unusual role as “Matt Lucas”

Matt Lucas as Precious


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty Twelve – Just in time for the London Olympics, this show examines, in a humorous and sadly accurate way, how inefficient committees are. Everything that can does go wrong and the tongue in cheek narration only underscores the incompetence of public servants in dealing with such a monumental project.  Series 2 is now on YouTube which I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet, but if it’s full of creative bombs like this one, I can’t wait.

What do you prefer, reality or the parody of reality?

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I was actually in the midst of writing about something quite mundane (the comedic contributions of mockumentaries and men dressing as women) when I realized that this next post would be my 100th.  Obviously, one hundred is a momentous and, well, very round number.  In just the past week, the 100th anniversary of the heartbreaking sinking of the Titanic was observed.  The broadcasting of the Downton Abbey-esque Titanic mini-series on ABC last weekend, not so impressive. (I’m disappointed in you, Julian Fellowes).

And today there’s this, of course:

100 days to the London 2012 Olympics depicted in soldiers?

So how could I let this occasion pass without doing something out-of-the-ordinary to commemorate this achievement?

When television shows reach 100 episodes they get a big cake or something…

Please note – this Office cake celebrated the century episode of the American version.  The original British show produced only twelve regular episodes and one two-part Christmas special, not all that unusual for a television series in the UK.  Let’s just say I don’t think  BBC producers would have much use for the services of The Ace of Cakes, Duff Goldman.

When tv shows reach this milestone, sometimes they turn it into a trip down memory lane, full of clips from episodes past.  The intent of such an episode used to be to reward loyal viewers by allowing them to reminisce and relive their favorite scenes.  Now in these days of syndication, dvd box sets and online services, no one really wants to see a new episode wasted on something they could just as easily call up on YouTube.  If anyone makes a clip episode anymore, they’re definitely attempting to save a few bucks – or quid, whatever the case may be.

But since my blog budget is non-existent, I’m afraid you’ll have to be content with a summing up of the highlights and exclusive, little known facts behind “Everything I Know about the UK…I Learned from the BBC”.

1.  I often forget the precise wording of the title of my blog and have to pull it up on-line to double-check.

2.  My first post hit the blogosphere on January 17, 2010 and pulled in one, count ’em, one view during the rest of that month.

3.  “Is Bloody Really a Swear Word?” still remains my most viewed post which tells me there are an awful lot of people out there who should probably be joining Ralphie in a little snack.

Lifebuoy, yum!

3. According to my tag stats, I was not surprised to find I have referenced The Office more times than any other series.  Doctor Who came in a respectable second. The fact that I seem to have mentioned Noel Fielding more than any other performer, however, gives me cause for concern:

4. Thursday, July 28, 2011 was the busiest day my blog has seen so far with a total of 123 views in one 24-hour period.  I can’t account for this relatively large number of hits as there were very few referrals from other sites and barely any search terms used that day. My best guess is that one person toggled back and forth between the home page and each individual post.  I guess that’s double dipping but, hey, I’ll take what I can get.

5. After various search engines, Facebook is my biggest source of referrals.  Good for upping the blog numbers, maybe not so good for privacy…

6.  A little known fact, except to those who live in my house: I spend an exorbitant amount of time putting these posts together.  For example, I started working on the bones of this post Monday morning, searched around on YouTube and Google images last night for the media for this piece and have been typing and editing for three hours today.  Oh, and I also must mention that I create all this on a really crap, out-of date computer.  Please someone!  Pay me to do this so I can  justify this hobby/obsession!

7.  I check my blog stats multiple times a day to see if my view count has budged.  I can’t help it…the internet has ruined my attention span and any time management skills I used to possess.

8. I probably average three  hours of British television viewing daily in order to generate material for this blog.  Who am I kidding?  I’d watch that much (or more) if I wasn’t writing this.

9.  All of the readers who officially follow my blog are either family, friends or fellow bloggers.  In fact, my first comment was from a friend and blogger, kymlucas.  She kindly got the ball rolling by elaborating on a post entitled “Croeso I Gymru (Welcome to Wales)”.   Truth be told, I would have hoped to broaden my readership a bit by now, but I greatly appreciate the support of those who take the time to peruse my ramblings!

It doesn’t seem right to end this list here.  It should have 10 items to feel complete, eh? I think it’s that insidious metric system, still chipping away at us.

10. My greatest joy about doing this is when people share their recommendations with me.  My catalog of knowledge grows, which I love, and I usually get a chance to laugh in the process.  Here’s a laugh recommended to me that I’d like to share with you – the classic British comedy of Morecambe and Wise:

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Before the day is officially over, I wanted to share a few practical jokes from the show that generated some of the best workplace pranks ever.  While The Office (UK) provided the inspiration starting with this classic office supply gag,  The Office (US) turned pranking obnoxious co-workers into an art form.

 

What’s your favorite prank from The Office or real life?

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