Are you in an office right now? Well then, close this tab and do some work. It’s people like you who are driving the economy into the ground. Are you somewhere else? Brilliant. Here’s the top 20 best moments of The Office, newly available through Virgin On Demand. See, that’s why I said the thing about an office at the start of the... oh, forget it.
Let’s get it out of the way early. Back in 2002, the internet was a mere toddler. Ironically, as it grew up it got sillier, as people discovered it was the ideal home for daft, ephemeral pictures and videos, and as time went on, the facility to share and consume them seemed to create the desire to. But the first time I can remember an online "buzz" about something was David Brent’s Comic Relief dance. The day after the episode aired, everyone’s inbox was full of emails sharing the clip as a moving gif or a dialup-stymying 7MB video attachment. Fortunately, embeddable video and social media have now created more streamlined ways for us to waste time at work.
David Brent works his way through his team’s 360° appraisals, seeming more keen on ensuring that they put him down as a "strong role model" than addressing any concerns they might have. Keith’s proves the most challenging. "Under 'strengths', you’ve just put 'accounts'," Brent tells him, reading from the form Keith’s filled in. "And under 'weaknesses', you’ve put 'eczema'."
Having accepted an offer of work from a firm of motivational speakers, Brent is characteristically incapable of separating it from his dreams of performing on stage. One too-tight T-shirt and one backwards baseball cap later, he’s in the conference room in a leisure centre, trying to get an audience of 15 bored civil servants to sing along with him to Tina Turner’s "The Best". The reps from the firm look on in horror, realising the scale of the mistake they’ve made.
After breaking the bad news that the branch will suffer redundancies, Brent cracks a smile. "On a more positive note, the good news is I’ve been promoted." To the resulting stunned silence, he says: "You’re still thinking about the bad news, aren’t you?" There are endless books and training courses available on management techniques. This approach very probably features in none of them.
In an open-plan office, there is no situation in which use of speakerphone is acceptable. In direct contravention of this rule, Gareth takes a call from his girlfriend, clearly relishing the fact that everyone can hear that she exists. But her enquiry as to whether he’s going to "bring the toys again" when he comes round raises questions. "Is it Buckaroo?" asks Tim. "If it’s Kerplunk, I’m coming round."
After revealing that his band Foregone Conclusion were "once supported by a little-known Scottish band called Texas", Brent reflects on his career path compared to theirs. "We’re both good in our own fields. I couldn’t do what … actually, I could do what they do, and I think they knew that, even then. Probably what spurred them on." Ironically, if you offered Texas the chance to run a paper merchants now, they’d probably bite your hand off.
How to torpedo a blind date within a minute of sitting down. Brent points at his date’s necklace, and digs what would’ve been an innocent misunderstanding about pointing at her breasts into an inescapable hole by talking about how her mother probably wore the necklace to draw attention to her cleavage. "Do you want a starter?" he asks. "No," she replies. "Let’s go straight to the main course."
Co-writer/director Stephen Merchant was never an actor until his regular role as Darren Lamb on Extras, but here he is in a cameo as one of Gareth’s "mad mates", the Oggmonster. His unusual height makes him the target of Brent’s jokes, which he takes in good spirit until he’s called a "goggle-eyed freak", whereupon he runs off crying. But it’s important to note that he really is stupidly tall.
Ah, the visit of the inevitably surly IT man. Knowing my way around a computer at least slightly more than the average office worker he has to deal with, I always make pathetic attempts to suggest to the IT guy that maybe enlarging the paging file or modifying the registry might be the solution, so he doesn’t think me an idiot. This means he probably dislikes me even more than the people who just say "computer broke, fix computer". IT geek Simon, played brilliantly by Matthew Holness of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace fame, hates Tim even more than this guy hates me.
Only David Brent could turn a day’s training into an impromptu gig. Having spent the whole day undermining trainer Rowan’s message by talking over with him and trying to turn role-play exercises into improvised comedy sketches, he’s unable to resist the temptation to go home, get his guitar and show the team some of the songs he’s written. "Freelove Freeway" is the kind of AOR strummer you would’ve heard sung by The Eagles in the mid-seventies, but Brent belts it out with passion, accompanied by Tim and Gareth on backing vocals. Somewhere in the UK, Johnnie Walker thinks to himself: "I don’t get the joke. This song’s brilliant."
The Christmas Special reveals that Brent spent his out-of-court settlement from Wernham Hogg on recording a version of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ "If You Don’t Know Me By Now" to release as a single, of which he sold 150 copies. The rest are still in his garage. We see the video, and in fairness it’s no worse than the Simply Red version.
The group are given a puzzle in the training session, in which a farmer has a chicken, a bag of grain and a fox to take across a river, but can only take one at a time. Tim and Gareth are paired up, but Gareth misses the point, questioning the logic of the exercise. "Get his wife to help," he suggests.
"He hasn’t got a wife," says an exasperated Tim.
"All farmers have wives."
"Not this one. He’s gay."
"Well, then he shouldn’t be allowed near animals, should he?"
Brent discovers that Ricky the temp once won two Gold Runs on Blockbusters, and recognises this for what it is: the greatest achievement of which a human being is capable. Attempting to outdo him for general knowledge in advance of that night’s quiz, he keeps slinking back to his office to look up facts about Dostoyevsky, then sidling up to Ricky to slip them artlessly into a conversation. I saw the guy who played Ricky in a pub once. He is less accommodating than you’d think of requests to re-enact this scene. Prima donnas, eh?
It is a fact of office life that, on hearing the fire alarm, no one thinks for a second that it’s an actual fire and treats it as an annoyance. So it is at Wernham Hogg, as Brent explains to camera while staff file out of the building that he likes to hold regular drills to monitor how they react under pressure. He and Gareth begin to carry wheelchair-bound Brenda down the stairs, but give up when they realise it’s too much like hard work. "Obviously in a real situation we’d take her all the way down," he pants, "but this is just a drill, so I think we can leave her here." A perfectly timed zoom-out shows her looking plaintively up at the camera, marooned on the stairs.
In the final episode of the second series, when everyone’s getting ready to make some kind of change in their lives, Tim and Dawn’s separate on-camera interviews reveal two people trying to justify to themselves why they’re not taking a chance. Tim likens life to a roll of the dice: "Sure, I could roll a six. I could just as easily roll a one." Dawn is pragmatic about her relationship with Lee: "If you think there’ll be electricity every time you hold hands for the next 40 years, you’re kidding yourself." When Tim springs from his chair to go and ask Dawn to stay in the UK with him, the conversation is done off-mic, but he lets us know afterwards: "She said no, by the way." His little self-deprecating smile tells us everything we need to know.
In her appraisal, Dawn reveals her ambition to be a children’s book illustrator and Brent as good as tells her it’ll never happen and she should concentrate on being a receptionist. When she’s asked to name a positive role model, he refuses every answer until she eventually lands on him, which he pretends to take with humility. I like this scene particularly because I once watched a training video at work in which the actor ripped off this scenario from start to finish, and even threw in a few Brentian vocal mannerisms and ticks, like the constant stroking of the tie. It highlighted just how good an actor Ricky Gervais is, and that if the best acting gigs you’re getting are workplace training videos, there’s probably a reason for that.
Being interviewed about his job for the trade publication Inside Paper, Brent tries to do the journalist’s job for her by trying to dictate the article. "Put: 'David Brent is refreshingly laid-back for a man with such responsibility.'" Notable for a pre-Peep Show appearance by Olivia Colman, who is as low-key brilliant as always.
In the training session, there’s a group exercise where everyone reveals what their ultimate fantasy is. Brent’s is a rambling desire for everlasting life. But it’s easily trumped by Gareth, who comes back in having not heard the introduction, and misinterprets the question. "Two lesbians, probably," he says. "Sisters. I’m just watching."
The first episode of The Office contained a scene that summed up perfectly David Brent’s efforts to ingratiate himself among his staff by being funny, whereas in doing so he failed to do his job properly or even make them laugh. Tim has played a prank on Gareth by putting his stapler in a jelly, and meets Gareth’s complaints with a series of dessert-based puns. "You should put him in custardy," chips in new guy Ricky. Brent fails to think of a good pudding joke or discipline Tim. We understand immediately who this man is, and moreover, we probably recognise him from our own working life. And so is born one of the all-time-great sitcom characters.
After the second series ended with loose ends untied, the Christmas specials needed in particular to resolve the whole will-they-won’t-they-ness of Tim and Dawn. When you remember that The Office is a faux reality show and look back on the last 10 years of "real" reality TV, it’s interesting that Tim and Dawn’s climactic kiss is engineered entirely by the producers, who pay for her to come back from Florida and attend the Christmas party, eager for a happy ending to a thwarted love story. What reality show thinks twice about manipulating the participants to fit its narrative these days? The Office predicted it all. But the scene where she opens her secret Santa gift to find a paintbox with Tim’s "never give up" message written on it brings me close to tears every time, and you can’t say that about Made in Chelsea.
Did we miss one? What's your favourite Office moment? Let us know in the comments below and don't forget that you can watch The Office now via Virgin TV Anywhere.