David Brent is still making us cringe, but is the joke now on Ricky Gervais?

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The Independent Online

It's two years since the Brent redundancy, and the documentary cameras are back for a follow-up. Gareth is at the helm - ensuring the new boss is just as popular as the old. David is now a cleaning products salesman. Dawn is living with her sister-in-law in Florida, but is back for the Wernham Hogg Christmas party.

Let's face it. After all the hype, the return of The Office was more of a whimper than a bang. Still it did retain some of its sparkle.

An ordinary office, the paper merchants' Slough outpost was meant to be anywhere, peopled by nobodies. Quite why the makers of a fictional fly-on-the-wall series would opt for such an anodyne location for their series was never explained. We've all seen enough of this sort of stuff - Their Lordships' House, The Fishing Party - to know that, given enough rope, the David Brents of this world will show themselves up in all their grotesquerie.

But thatwas the true genius of The Office: taking the Spinal Tap method of pseudo-doc into the bowels of everyday drudgery and middle management.

Of course it was an exaggeration. Surely no workplace could survive under a David Brent/Gareth Keenan style leadership. Yet it was close enough to reality to make it painful, too.

Some of the cast have found life outside The Office. Tim (Martin Freeman) was a softcore body double in Love Actually. Dawn (Lucy Davis) can still be heard as Hayley in The Archers on Radio 4. But Gareth (MacKenzie Crook) and David Brent (Ricky Gervais) have found it harder to move on. Brent embarked on a flop pop career and took part in a lame Z-list celebrity circuit. Gervais's path is not so different: he has a weekend radio show with co-creator of The Office, Stephen Merchant, but has yet to find a decent Brent replacement.

The last gasps of the series were poignant: we wondered if the end of Brent signalled an end to Gervais's massive talent. The series always made fun of here-today-gone-tomorrow life, but was this a joke on Gervais too?

BBC wins Christmas ratings war, but the critics are unimpressed

The BBC claimed yesterday it had won the Christmas television ratings war - but its victory may be a pyrrhic one. Critics derided the Christmas programming on offer as the worst in recent history.

The first instalment of the Christmas special of The Office, the cult comedy series set in Slough and eagerly anticipated, was watched by 6.5 million BBC1 viewers on Boxing Day - a record for the series that is normally shown on BBC2. But it generally disappointed and even its 30 per cent audience share was less than staggering, although it beat opposition on ITV in the shape of Agatha Christie's Poirot and even a re-run of Morecambe and Wise shown on Channel 5. The second instalment of The Office was broadcast last night.

BBC 1's controller, Lorraine Heggessey, said: "Providing great entertainment for all the family at Christmas is an important public service. It's great to see the audience throw open its doors to BBC faces in a range of original, home-grown programmes."

Not everyone agreed. On Christmas Day, audiences across all channels peaked at 27.2 million, more than a million viewers down on last year.

Oliver Letwin, the Shadow Chancellor, said: "If these figures mean that people are spending more time at Christmas in conversation with their family or are reading the Bible, then they would be very welcome. However, I suspect it means they are choosing to watch DVDs or play video games."

The most watched programme was Only Fools and Horses, which drew 15.5 million viewers. Seven of the top-10 rated shows were screened on BBC1, according to figures from Broadcasters' Audience Research Bureau.