“I’ve got one song, it’s about rock and roll, but it’s a metaphor for sex.”
In April, we were treated to the teaser trailer for David Brent: Life on the Road, with Ricky Gervais triumphantly recreating the character that made him world famous back in “two thousand hmmff” (as Brent puts it). At that time, Gervais was openly shopping the film around for American theatrical distribution, but yesterday he announced that the film will now be released on Netflix in August. In another era, that may have seemed like a letdown, but in 2016, there’s no shame in going straight to Netflix: in fact, this will probably mean that more people will see the movie than if it had played in theatres.
The Office, which for the record ran from 2001-2003 on the BBC, followed in the footsteps of lesser-known but equally brilliant programs like It’s the Garry Shandling’s Show and the films of Christopher Guest to create one of the most entertaining “mockumentaries” ever made. Focused around the antics of David Brent, mid-level manager of a paper distribution company in Slough, the show featured many great characters and moments and had a great love story at its heart (featuring Martin Freeman, now best known for Sherlock and The Hobbit).
But what kept audiences fascinated for two seasons and a Christmas Special was Brent, played by Gervais (also the co-creator and executive producer), as a veritable case study in desperately insecure fame-chasing masculinity. Brent is utterly childish in his need for attention, wildly egotistical, sulky, deluded, lazy, inappropriate and singularly untalented, but somehow Gervais makes this character absolutely riveting. The Office worked by creating uncomfortable situations and letting the audience off the hook just at the moment when it was becoming unbearable. For example, in one episode, the office employees are involved in a training session. With everyone sitting in a circle and participating in some sort of awful “team building” activity, Brent grabs his guitar and proceeds to entertain the troops with terrible songs that, in the best satirical tradition, are just good enough to be plausible. Anyone who’s had to endure an open mic night has heard these songs. (Maybe some of us have played them.) Brent’s musical delusion extends right to the end of the series, featuring a horrifyingly self-involved cover of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”.
For David Brent: Life on the Road, we’re going to be treated to Brent trying to make it in the music industry, both as an artist and a manager, because, I suppose, it’s better to be deluded about two professions instead of just one. Swaggering about in the trailer with his air of unearned authority and complete lack of self-awareness, it’s clear that Gervais still knows how to write, and play, this fascinating character. We’ll all get a chance in August to catch up with David Brent on Netflix, and that can only be good news.