Festive Funnies: THE OFFICE CHRISTMAS SPECIALS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Dan Luisi presses play on his Yazoo CD and gets ready for The Office Christmas Party.

There's a trend for sitcoms to either end on, or return from the supposed dead in the form of, a Christmas special. Most of the time these episodes could be interpreted as cynical cash-ins, drawing huge audiences solely on the good name of a well loved series and delivering very little in essential entertainment. The Office Christmas Specials from Christmas 2003 are the absolute polar opposite of that statement. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant somehow managed to deliver the best episodes of the series, and wrapped the whole thing up in a way that had the nation punching the air with delight.

It's been three years since the BBC camera crew visited the Wernham Hogg office in Slough and the subsequent documentary series aired on TV, and what we have here is a follow-up visit, to find out 'where they are today', and what better time to return than for the annual office Christmas party.

So what's changed? Well, Gareth (MacKenzie Crook) is now the regional manager, working under Neil Godwin's strict supervision and running the building with his typical military insanity. Nonetheless, Tim (Martin Freeman) keeps pulling pranks on him, although it's not the same since Dawn (Lucy Davis) moved to Florida with Lee. In some drop-in shots we see she's really unhappy there, babysitting for Lee's sister is hardly the life she wanted. Knowing it would make great ratings for the (fictional) documentary, the BBC arrange for her and Lee to come back to Slough for the party. Imagine Tim's reaction to hearing that? Christmas has most certainly come early.

But what David Brent (Gervais)? It could be said that the end of series 2 wrapped up his storyline and anything we see here is a mere afterthought. This is where the show could've fallen into the cash-in territory, but it's cleverly avoided by delivering a completely believable 3 year story for David Brent. We last saw him begging Neil to let him keep his job? He then went on to file a successful lawsuit for his unfair firing. When the (fictional) series aired on the BBC he got his 5 minutes of fame, became a minor celebrity and unwisely funded the recording of his own record and video, a truly awful - but very true to character - rendition of If You Don't Know Me By Now...

Of course, he still finds time to visit his old workplace, and most of the first episode focuses on David Brent and his z-list celebrity status. In the second half he needs a date for the Christmas Party, with typically hilarious results coming out of his search.

But really The Office Christmas Specials are the story of Tim and Dawn, and it's one of the most emotional stories you could ever dream up. This is why the Christmas setting is so essential to this story. what often happens at Office Christmas parties up and down the country? People hook up.

After reconnecting, Tim loses Dawn again as she is taken away from the party by Lee, and so it's a sad and lonely Tim who we see chatting with David and Gareth. But then, in what is surely one of the greatest moments seen on British television, as Yazoo's Only You is playing in the background, Dawn appears in the distance, walks up to Tim, who is totally unaware she is there. He turns round and they kiss. It's a moment the whole country was waiting for, and became the perfect fitting ending for one of the finest sitcoms of all time.

The secret to writing a great sitcom that will live long in people's affections is knowing when to end it and not be tempted to come back for one last hurrah. I'll upset a lot of people by saying so but Only Fools And Horses was tarnished for me by the early 2000s specials, it should've ended Christmas 1996 with the excellent Time On Our Hands. John Cleese had the right idea with Fawlty Towers, and like him Gervais & Merchant wisely chose to stop at the top. They shut the doors on The Office after just 14 episodes, finishing with a sublime installment, which is made extra heartwarming when viewed again at Christmas.

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