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Wernham-Hogg, meet Dunder-Mifflin

The Office.

I was one of those people who saw NBC's attempt to create an American version of The Office as sacrilige. I had watched (and worshipped) the original British version for years. I owned the DVDs, the scripts, and downloaded Ricky Gervais' hilarious podcast weekly. Hell, I had tearsheets of David Brent postering my workspace (along with Arrested Development, but that's a story for another time). And when I heard last year that NBC was going to remake the show for an American audience, I bitched and moaned to anyone that would listen. After the train wreck that was Coupling, I doubted that they could pull it out of the bag.

When I got an advance copy of the show's pilot, which stuck to the same exact script as the British version's pilot (with diastrous results), my fears were realized. Nearly every line of dialogue and every pained reaction shot was copied from the original so that the end result felt rather akin to seeing a beloved play performed by a dinner theatre troupe, far far away from anything resembling an actual theatre.

And then a funny thing happened. I actually began to love the damn show.

The humor in Gervais' and Merchant's Office was derived from the depressing reality of the mundanities and mindlessness of office life, while the American version deftly mines the absurdity and hubris of the same situation (and in particular, Carell's Michael Scott) to imbue the show with added dimensions. The show instantly took a turn for the altogether better when it stopped cribbing from the original British scripts by Gervais and Stephen Merchant after the pilot.

And instead of just recycling the plots of the original, the American Office came up with their own situations and peopled their paper company with some of the most fantastic supporting characters around: Nazi-like head of accounting Angela, boozy Meredith, dour Stanley, not-altogether-there Creed, socially awkward Kevin, likeable Oscar, ever-loquatious Kelly, timid Phyllis. Jim and Pam, while they certainly can't totally replace Tim and Dawn in my heart, certainly get closer and closer with each passing episode.

I can say with complete honesty (and utmost humility) that the second season of the American Office places it firmly in the pantheon of great television comedies. While the U.S. show began to hit its stride by episode 3, where Michael leaves Dwight to pick out a health care plan for Dunder Mifflin's employees, this season has been--dare I say it?--brilliant. Particular stand-outs were the Michael Scott/Jan Levinson-Gould romance, the office olympics, the doomed booze cruise, with the particular highlight so far being "The Injury," where Michael burns his foot on a George Foreman Grill and wreaks havoc with all of the employees. No matter how many times I watch that episode, I can't help but crack up from start to finish.

And somehow, I think that's okay. I think I can find it in my heart to love the employees of two regional branch offices of paper manufacturers. David Brent would understand.

The Office currently airs Thursday evenings at 9:30 pm PST on NBC.


Anonymous said…
American Office has to be the absolute worst show in history. I'm not sure how much Gervais made off the deal, but I'm guessing he would gladly give it all back, ten fold, if he could. Most americans simply swallow that tripe without ever experiencing or even knowing that real art is an ocean away from NBC.
Jace Lacob said…
Gee, thanks for your opinion, "Anonymous," but I heartily disagree with your assessment.

Having been a huge fan of the original Office and a huge supporter of British comedy (and television) as a whole, I can say that the two are completely different beasts and that the American Office has become its own series.

How it could be called "the absolute worst show in history" is beyond me, considering that it has been universally praised by critics and audiences alike.

And Gervais & Merchant couldn't have been too digusted by the series or the money they made off of it to write a script for the show this season.

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