Ricky Gervais was the missing key to fixing the much-maligned eighth season of Office. The series had previously established that Gervais’ character from the British series, David Brent, in fact existed in the world of the American sitcom. Additionally, Gervais was still involved with the show, as he and co-creator Stephen Merchant were both executive producers. Office had some sort of identity crisis when its lead star Steve Carell left at the end of his seventh season. Much of the final episodes of this season have been devoted to finding a replacement for Dunder Mufflin’s irreplaceable Carell regional manager Michael Scott.
The series teased several replacements, which included characters played by famous comedians like Ray Romano, Will Arnett, and Jim Carrey. However, the search for Michael’s replacement ultimately saw Will Ferrell’s Deangelo Vickers take on the role and take charge of the office. Deangelo was not greeted warmly by either the cast or the audience, and he was particularly rude to fan favorites Jim and Pam. However, the character was ultimately revealed to be a “plug”, and he was quickly replaced by Robert California (James Spader). California bizarrely decided to become CEO of the company at the start of season eight, and the office was eventually given a cohesive director in the form of Andy Bernard (Ed Helms). Despite Helms’ acting talent, Andy just wasn’t Michael Scott, and season eight and the following season nine suffered without the constant presence of the world’s best boss.
In the show’s search for a new boss, she overlooked the perfect candidate, who was right under the team’s noses: Ricky Gervais’ David Brent. Brent was the boss of the original British series of Office, which was much darker and more depressing: something the first season of the American show failed to replicate. With Brent back as boss, the show could have reinvented itself and returned to its sardonic roots as a series about the day-to-day struggles of a lackluster, drab work environment. Additionally, Brent had great comedic potential to draw comparisons between the characters in Dunder Mufflin and their British counterparts in Wernham Hogg, such as Tim and Jim, and Dawn and Pam.
David Brent actually played a cameo role in season seven, both in a brief interaction with Michael Scott and as a throwaway gag when Gabe Lewis, Jim Halpert, and Toby Flenderson search for a new boss. It was the perfect time to officially introduce Brent to the series. Even if the showrunners didn’t want to permanently feature him as area manager and redefine the show as dark satire, he could have filled Deangelo’s role as the hapless silly boss much more successfully. Brent has never been as popular with his colleagues as Michael Scott, and it stands to reason that he would have immediately pissed off Jim, Pam, Dwight and the rest of the office.
Still, if the showrunners had made a commitment to Brent at the end of season seven, it was possible that Office could even have lived the last season nine. Brent was, after all, the role model for Michael Scott’s character. So it was safe to assume that he would have made a much more suitable successor to Carell’s character than Andy Bernard ever could. His brief appearance alongside Michael Scott showed that Gervais had lost none of his goofy charm and that Brent could easily relate to his American counterparts. The cultural differences between British and American bosses were played for laughs in this scene, and it could have been built up throughout seasons eight, nine and beyond had Brent stayed.
David Brent was the secret solution to the boss problem in Office season seven that the showrunners never seemed to take seriously. Michael Scott’s precursor was there and available, but instead the audience received the disappointing Deangelo Vickers and the affable, but misplaced Andy Bernard. While seasons eight and nine certainly weren’t without highlights, David Brent’s return could have transformed Office in what it was originally conceived: a dark comedy and satire of the socialite, as opposed to the goofy sitcom it became in subsequent seasons.
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