'Life on the Road': 5 Things We’ve Learned From Ricky Gervais' 'The Office' Spinoff
Boasting painfully awkward dialog and cringe-inducing song lyrics, Gervais' tragic middle manager David Brent returns in his first big-screen outing, heading to Netflix.
Ricky Gervais is not hosting this year's Golden Globes. But don't go thinking his refined brand of politically incorrect, close-to-the-bone humor is taking 12 months off.
In David Brent: Life on the Road, which had its world premiere in London on Wednesday, the British funnyman resurrects his most famous creation: The Office's socially awkward middle manager with ideas above his station, a tragic figure who set the blueprint for Steve Carell's Michael Scott in the hugely successful U.S. adaptation and numerous comedy TV characters since.
A spinoff coming 13 years after The Office drew to a triumphant close in the U.K., Life on the Road sees Brent, now a traveling sales rep for a company making cleaning products, attempt to realize his greatest ambition: to become a rock god (although in his head, he pretty much already is one). To achieve this goal he assembles a group of unimpressed and underemployed session musicians and, with a clutch of catchy yet cringe-inducingly earnest songs, sets off on a tour of the U.K.'s pubs and clubs (mostly ones close to his home) in hope of being spotted by a talent scout. Naturally, with this being Brent, things don't quite go to plan.
Here are five things we've learned from watching Life on the Road, which eOne is launching in the U.K. on Aug 19. and will be landing on Netflix in the U.S.
Gervais isn't going to be winning a Grammy anytime soon
Despite music being front and center of Life on the Road (to the extent that Gervais is even releasing an album and has several major U.K. gigs planned), the lyrics might be a little too edgy for awards credibility. In "Please Don’t Make Fun of the Disabled" he rhymes about those who are “mental in the head or mental in the legs,” while "Lady Gypsy" describes a sexual encounter with a women in a forest (and a conversation about whether he should pay for it). "Native American" seems harmless enough, but its somewhat crude stereotypes (“soar like an eagle, sit like a pelican”) and a brief pre-amble about gambling and prostitution are unlikely to go down too well. And the less said about a song concerning Princess Diana (“you hugged a man with full-blown AIDS”), the better.
Gervais has roped in some celebrity chums to help with the music
Among the A-list cameos in Gervais’ first post-The Office series Extras was Chris Martin (appearing in a particularly excruciating scene in which he tries to promote Coldplay’s latest album while recording a charity video). Clearly the experience didn’t tarnish the musician, who returns with a small — vocal — role towards the end of Life on the Road. More prominent is Andy Burrows, the former drummer of British indie rockers Razorlight (a band that briefly troubled U.S. airwaves in the late 2000s), who appears as the session drummer for Brent's band Foregone Conclusion and co-produced the soundtrack with Gervais.
Some of the jokes might be lost on Americans
Although the original The Office was well received in the U.S., it took NBC’s adaptation to fully bring home the extent of one lonely man’s awkwardness to American audiences. Similarly, many of the gags in Life on the Road might fall flat across the Atlantic, particularly the title song in which Brent references a multitude of small British towns (Widnes, Sidcup, Ipswich, Gloucester, take a bow) and a central joke that lies in the fact David Brent’s self-funded music tour seems to take place solely around a 20-kilometer radius encompassing some of the U.K.’s less glamorous locales.
Nothing much has changed in 13 years
David Brent became one of British TV’s most iconic characters for his delusional charm; an unshakeable self-belief that his position as a failed middle-manager was simple a stepping stone for better things, coupled with the cringe-worthy tendency to say the wrong thing all of the time in his quest for appreciation. More than a decade since his last TV outing, he’s exactly the same. Brent may now be now a traveling sales rep, but the same yearning for rock stardom is there (despite advancing years), plus the same eye-watering discomfort he creates around topics of race, gender or anything likely to cause offense. The world may have changed a lot since 2003, but Brent appears not to have noticed.
Steven Merchant is nowhere to be seen
Ricky Gervais co-created and co-directed the original version of The Office with Stephen Merchant, who was an exec producer on the U.S. edition and a regular at Gervais' side in front of and behind the camera on TV follow-ups Extras, Life’s Too Short and An Idiot Abroad. But Life on the Road is Merchant-less. In a TV interview last year, he dismissed the suggestion that he had been dropped by his former collaborator, underlining the fact that the film wasn’t an Office title, but a David Brent/Ricky Gervais project. “We got out of sync in terms of our schedules, really,” he said. In other news, neither follow each other on Twitter.