TV UK, 30 December

Amidst the furniture sale ads, thank God for The Office.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

When exactly did it become a Christmas tradition to buy furniture? Sweets, yes. Books and CDs, clothes, yes. Novelty items, absolutely. TVs, DVDs and other consumer electronics I can get along with, but sofas and fitted kitchens? I don’t think so.

You don’t have to be an anti-consumer miserablist to have been irritated by the incessant adverts for furniture sales over the holiday. The DFS ad has to have been the worst offender, with that godawful ‘Follow the leader’ song somehow conjuring the image of a holiday camp DJ hosting the Christmas Special of Changing Rooms. Just horrible.

I’ve been all the more annoyed by furniture sales adverts as there’s been some not bad stuff on ITV1 over Christmas, including, unexpectedly, The Mayor of Casterbridge (Sunday and Monday), an adaptation of the novel by Thomas Hardy. You know how it is – you have one too many drinks one evening and sell your wife and child to a sailor. We’ve all done it.

Actually the deed itself is not that important. What is dramatically impressive is how the whole story flows inevitably from that one mistake; and some awkward plot developments were handled well in this production. Bizarrely, The Mayor of Casterbridge was made years ago, and has been waiting since then for a slot (what with all the great stuff on ITV…). If for nothing else, it was worth watching just for the brilliant Jodhi May, who has emerged in the time since this was made as a genuinely talented star of costume drama. (I was going to make a joke here about seeing her out of costume, but I’ve decided against it.)

Actually, there hasn’t been much else on in the way of costume drama. The great dramatic event of the holiday was of course The Office (BBC1). Despite everyone’s fears that they would be a disappointment, the final two episodes of the series were rather brilliant.

What’s interesting about The Office in general is that while the basic conceit that the programme is a docusoap hasn’t always been technically convincing (too many unlikely comedy set-pieces), it has always been true to the spirit of that genre, drawing much of its humour from cringe-making faux pases (all right – you tell me the plural of faux pas) and awkward stand-offs (stands-off?).

Cringe comedy transcended itself to become searing drama in the whole Tim and Dawn storyline, and I still haven’t decided what to make of the happy ending. The moment when Dawn first arrived back in the office, and Tim stood awkwardly not knowing how the hell to act, was just excruciating – and never has the uncomfortable casualness of a kiss hello been so packed with meaning.

Anyway, at a time of year when people are prone to suffer from indigestion, The Office did not help. But it did at least lift us from the horrible seasonal jollity of 100 Greatest programmes (Channel 4, hang your head in shame) and goddamn furniture sales adverts, and remind us of the awful but wonderful reality of the world we actually live in. What better way to spend the holidays?

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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Topics Culture


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