The Office (UK) Christmas Special
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Aired December 26th and 27th, 2003 on BBC One
Before Americans swooned over Jim and Pam, viewers in the UK fell in love with The Office’s Tim and Dawn, laughed at the decidedly odd Gareth, and cringed at the odious David Brent. Unlike the remake that ran a whopping 201 episodes, this product of the British television model aired only two six-episode seasons and a two-hour Christmas Special finale. While the American series gave fans far more hours of entertainment, and explored its colorful cast of characters to a much greater extent, there’s an economy of story in the British original that makes it a much more truthful series, for better and worse, as perhaps best exemplified by its touching and hilarious series finale.
The finale opens a couple years after the events of the series two finale and not long after the show-within-the-show has aired. David Brent has a new job selling office cleaning supplies, and perhaps tampons, Dawn is still in Florida with her fiancé Lee, having overstayed their travel visa rather significantly, Gareth has slid easily into his role as the new boss and Tim is still at the same desk, now without a friend in the office. By outward appearances, David’s the most changed, with a failed single, an agent, and regular meet-and-greets due to his “celebrity” status, but what the finale gets so wonderfully right is Tim, whose life may be the same but who’s perhaps changed the most of everyone. There’s an underlying anger and bitterness to his scenes with Gareth that weren’t present in the first two series. We may like Tim as we know him from the past episodes, but one gets the sense he’s rather miserable to work with now, regardless of the frequent ridiculousness of Gareth. With Dawn gone, he hasn’t smiled in a long time, and that weariness has ground him down.
Co-creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant shade each of the characters carefully so that no one is simply good or bad, right or wrong. (Well, Finchy…) Much of the finale is spent systematically tearing down David to the point where it’s almost impossible not to feel sympathy for him. Yes, he’s a git, but importantly his insensitivity and rudeness never comes from a place of malice, unlike some of the people who surround him. Neil may be right that David shouldn’t be in the office and is an unwanted distraction, but he takes joy in mocking David about his date for the Christmas party. Dawn and Tim are for the most part good-natured, fun people, but they consistently make a joke of Gareth and neither of them stands up for Tim’s pregnant coworker when she’s harassed and humiliated by Lee and his buddies. It may be ugly, but this fallibility is common in life and by embracing that, rather than avoiding it, Gervais, Merchant, and the cast keep these characters immediately recognizable and relatable.
While the end of series two could have functioned as a finale for the show, this episode allows the characters and the audience the one thing everyone wants from a finale- closure. Yes, Tim and Dawn get together, but the one thing that could only happen in the final installment is the shot of maturity we get from David. When he stands up to Finchy to defend his date, he wins over the audience in one fell swoop (it doesn’t hurt that we’ve seen him take his lumps for the past 90 minutes). It’s great to see him succeed for once and it’s not a coincidence that the final shot of the series is David surrounded by his former employees, now peers, at a party, all laughing at one of his jokes. It’s the moment the character’s wanted throughout the run and the show finally gives it to him, and us, at the very end.
The other, aforementioned piece of closure is Tim and Dawn’s coming together, after two years and then two hours of buildup. The finale does a great job showing how great these characters are together by first showing how miserable they are apart. It’s fitting and beautiful that what brings them together is not some grand gesture or profession of love, but a quiet message of friendship and support. We want to see their connection, we want to hear their post-kiss conversation, but once again, Gervais and Merchant go for authenticity, keeping that private moment offscreen, where it belongs. Martin Freeman and Lucy Davis are fantastic throughout, but the counterpoint of Freeman’s lovely monologue about happy endings against Davis’ tear-stained face is particularly moving, and one of the highlights of the entire series.
Though Gareth is relegated to the fringes, emotionally if not comedically, Mackenzie Crook makes sure there’s plenty going on with him as well. His Brentisms at the office are notable and every time the camera finds him at the party, he’s doing something interesting. This isn’t Gareth’s story, but if it were, one gets the sense there’d be plenty to fill a very different finale. There are also the indicators of a full romantic drama playing out behind the scenes in the finance department, told only through glances shown in between our leads’ stories. It’s great to see Gervais and Merchant make time for this and it’s another reminder of their focus on realism. The rest of the world doesn’t stop because David, Tim, and Dawn are having moments.
There are plenty of laughs in The Office Christmas Special, but what makes this finale a great one is its balance of that humor with the culminating character growth of its leads. That Gervais and Merchant are able to do this without sacrificing tone, realism, or their particular brand of comedy is particularly impressive, bringing all of these elements together into a hugely satisfying, utterly memorable finale.
– Kate Kulzick