Looking back at 'Training', the greatest ever episode of The Office

The Office’s opening titles.(BBC)

Ricky Gervais’ new stand-up special Humanity has landed on Netflix this week, and the fanfare surrounding its arrival has led me to yet again revisit his peerless masterwork, The Office .

During this latest revisit to Wernham Hogg, I started to think about which of the 14 outings was my all time favourite. Charity has the amazing dance, The Quiz has Finchy in fine form and the second Christmas special has the perfect ending. However, after careful consideration, I decided that the funniest episode overall is the sheer cringe-inducing brilliance of series one’s Training.

Peak Brent

Ricky Gervais as the irrepressible boss of The Office, David Brent. (BBC)

Training sees David Brent reaching peak Brentmeister. You just know that this was his best work day, the one he looked forward to above all others. The boss who deep down just wants to be loved and still harbours dreams of a career on the stage could never pass up on such a chance to perform. The self-proclaimed “chilled-out entertainer” sees a training course on customer care as a prime opportunity to take on hosting duties, and he seizes it with both hands.

Anyone who has worked in an office environment can relate to the drudgery and repetitive nature of the daily routine and while these training days do offer a break from that in part, they still carry their own reasons for apprehension. Team building exercises, industry buzzwords and a healthy dose of stating of the obvious tend to feature fairly prominently. Throw Brent into the mix though and suddenly it reaches whole new levels of exasperation.

Brent absolutely railroads the entire day, much to the growing irritation of the poor training facilitator, Rowan. He interrupts at every opportunity to put his own unique stamp on proceedings, and that’s before he dusts off the old guitar.

Tim

Martin Freeman as the frustrated everyman of The Office, Tim Canterbury. (BBC)

Martin Freeman’s Tim comes into his own in this episode. He’s always positioned as the everyman of the show, the eye-rolling voice of reason who we relate to in amongst the madness. Here more than ever we feel his frustration at every turn, be it at Gareth’s inability to grasp simple problems or Brent’s continual interjections. Training also marks the straw breaking the camel’s back in some regards as Tim finally decides he needs to make a change.

This episode also marks a significant development in the greatest sitcom love story of all time. After misreading an argument between Dawn and Lee, Tim finally takes the bold step of asking her out for a drink, only to be rejected in front of everyone. It’s an especially  cringe-inducing moment and the rejection only elicits further sympathy for Tim. By the end of the episode he’s frustrated with work, unlucky in love and to cap it all, he has to work with Gareth.

The Office – Classic Moments

Mackenzie Crook as Gareth and Ricky Gervais as David. (BBC)

More than anything else, Training stands out for the sheer strength of its comedic moments. There are so many brilliant examples it’s almost hard to narrow them down. There’s Gareth and Tim disagreeing over the sack of corn conundrum (“errr, bloodbath”), Gareth’s ultimate fantasy (“I’m just watching”) and Brent’s unforgettable role-play with Rowan (“get….their….attention”).

However this is also the episode where David reveals his rock and roll past which included being opened for by a little known Scottish band called Texas.

“We’re both good in our own fields. I’m sure Texas couldn’t run and manage a successful paper merchants. I couldn’t do what-, well, I could do what they do, and I think they knew that, even back then. Probably what spurred them on.”

This revelation leads to Brent going home to get his guitar and a slew of wonderfully awful but undeniably catchy songs duly follow. From the legendary “Freelove Freeway” to the haunting insight of “Spaceman”.  What makes it all so much funnier is the fact that David is totally oblivious to their naffness. In his head he’s a musical visionary trapped unjustly in a menial office job.

My favourite moment however comes when Brent decides to offer Dawn a spot of advice with a well-timed musical interlude, only for her to point out that the song actually quite clearly refers to the fate of Princess Diana. Cue a timely pause and a quick glance to camera before Brent simply changes tack completely and launches into an old favorite instead. ”Eeeeeevery breath you take…..”.

Workplace frustration

The cast of The Office assemble for training. (BBC)

Training is wonderfully written and utterly hilarious throughout, but it also captures that other essence of The Office, the frustration that can be found in the workplace. We see this not only on the face of Tim and Rowan, but everyone else sat around the room who isn’t David or Gareth.

As David commandeers the proceedings for yet another needless diversion, you can see by the looks on their faces that they really don’t want to be there. It emphasizes that while Brent isn’t the worst boss you could have and he certainly means well deep down, over time the mere act of humouring him day in and day out must be utterly exhausting.

Now……go get the guitar.  

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