Can Ricky Gervais return to form with David Brent's revival?

 

Ten years after he left the office and a Christmas party as excruciating as we had come to expect from Britain’s most cringeworthy paper executive, David Brent is back - fact.

Ricky Gervais has re-trimmed his goatee and dusted off his cheap suit to revive his most famous persona for Comic Relief. He’s previously returned as Brent in brief cameos in the hit US adaptation of The Office.

A trailer for The Office Revisited, a one-off special, shows the former manager at Wernham Hogg in Slough, embarking on a new career as a would-be music mogul.

Selling cleaning products door-to-door to fund his enterprise, Brent and his star signing, a rapper called Dom Johnson, work on a “political reggae” song called "Equality Street".

The return comes after a decade that has seen Gervais’s stock fluctuate with sometimes controversial characters and a flirtation with Hollywood. 

Gervais used his status after The Office to tempt A-list celebrities to send themselves up in Extras. The series was generally well-received, but the comedian’s eye for the mean and the margins of society haven’t always gone down so well.

He shook up Hollywood gentility with edgy turns as host of the Golden Globes, perhaps paving a path for Seth MacFarlane’s divisive Oscars gig on Sunday.

Many critics decided he had crossed that fine line between satire and degradation with Life’s Too Short, starring “showbiz dwarf” Warwick Davis. “Even if you don't find its content degrading, it is simply shoddily derivative,” Robert Epstein wrote in The Independent on Sunday.

Gervais faced similar criticism even before his latest series had aired. In Derek, the comedian plays a care home worker identified by some - but not Gervais - as having learning disabilities. But the series have won praise for showing a sensitivity not always evident in the comedian’s work. 

As Brent, whose one-off return will be broadcast on Red Nose Day, on 15 March, Gervais returns to safer ground. But the salesman-turned-record boss’s capacity to offend with a foray into urban music looks set to remain high, whether or not he revives his trademark dance.

Meanwhile – Brent is ineligible, but what’s the greatest sitcom of the last 30 years?

It’s probably not a question that keeps many people (apart from Ricky Gervais) up at night but New York magazine, the revered home of Tom Wolfe et al is trying to find out who deserves the title.

For reasons not entirely explained, British shows were ineligible but the Sitcom Smackdown is pitting 16 of the greatest sitcoms since Cheers revived the genre (think South Park, The Simpsons, 30 Rock and Arrested Development) against each other to declare a winner, with some of the magazine’s finest writers penning lengthy pieces deciding on the relative merits of Louis CK’s Louie versus Jerry Seinfeld’s Seinfeld. Inexplicably Frasier and Curb Your Enthusiasm aren’t in the final 16.

Last year the magazine did the same with TV dramas since Twin Peaks – the point where American TV drama rose towards greatness - and The Wire (unjustly, if you ask this observer) beat The Sopranos in what New York called the “Drama Derby”.

The idea of arbitrarily facing these labours of televisual love against each other may create spinning in the vicinity of Dennis Potter’s grave. And yes, we all these shows are worth enjoying on their own terms. But where’s the fun in that? And if anything except Seinfeld wins, we’re cancelling our New York subscription…

See the whole Sitcom Smackdown bracket here: bit.ly/Y20kdh

Will Dean

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