‘Office’ trailblazer goes soft in sentimental Christmas movie

‘Office’ trailblazer goes soft in sentimental Christmas movie

You’d think that Emmy winner Stephen Merchant, who co-created “The Office” and “Extras” with Ricky Gervais, would be the cynical sort.

Think again.

“A lot of stuff I’ve done in the past has been quite edgy and adult, if you like, and … I like to do something I can watch with my mom and dad and niece and nephew and this came along,” Merchant says of his co-starring role in “Click & Collect,” a sentimental Christmas movie (think “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” or “Jingle All the Way”) premiering Dec. 24.

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“I’m not cynical,” he says, “although a lot of what I’ve done, either ‘The Office’ or ‘Extras,’ on the surface there seems like there’s a lot of cynicism. But if you look at those shows, they ultimately ended with, I hope, an upbeat sort of message. Even though both Ricky and I have a healthy, satirical black-comedy edge to what we do, there’s sentiment to us as well.

“I’m sort of a sucker for it, really,” Merchant says. “I love any kind of grinchy guy who learns a lesson at Christmas.”

The “grinchy guy” in “Collect” — streaming on British TV hub BritBox — is Andrew Bennett (Merchant), who’s forced to take a road trip with his divorced, obnoxious (read: lonely) neighbor Dev (Asim Chaudhry, Chabuddy G. from “People Just Do Nothing”). It’s Christmas Eve, and Andrew’s daughter pines for her “must-have” Christmas gift: Sparklehoof the Unicorn Princess. The only problem? There seems to be only one Sparklehoof left “in all of the UK” (according to Dev) and it’s sitting on a toy-store shelf in Carlisle, 300 miles away. The eager-to-please Dev (his ex-wife and kids are spending Christmas at Disney World) puts Sparklehoof on hold with his credit card — ensuring that he’ll need to take the snowy, four-hour drive with Andrew to retrieve his daughter’s dream toy. What could possibly go wrong?

The Merchant-Chaudhry pairing isn’t entirely coincidental: “People Just Do Nothing” has drawn wide (sometimes pointed) comparisons to the British version of “The Office”; its creators (including Chaudhry) often cite the Merchant-Gervais docu-comedy series as a main inspiration.

“I don’t know whether this is true in America, but in the UK Christmas is a big [TV] moment,” Merchant says. “A lot of people eat, drink and sit and watch TV and there are lots of Christmas specials — ‘Downton Abbey,’ ‘Doctor Who’ … we did it with ‘The Office’ and ‘Extras.’ Very often they do these one-off things where they bring a couple of people together who haven’t together before and there’s kind of a novelty to it.

“I knew, having seen Asim’s work on TV, that we would hit it off and we did. We had a really good time,” Merchant says.

“As soon as I met Asim, the first thing I said to him was, ‘I love “People Just Do Nothing.” Of all “The Office” ripoffs, it’s one of the best.’ ”

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