The British The Office, The American The Office

Prior to seeing it, I heard mixed reviews of the BBC show The Office. Most of these reviews came from friends who were working, or had worked, in offices. They didn't like it, not one little bit. Someone told me to stick it out, that it would get funny after a few episodes.

I don't remember who it was, but they were right. Episode one was painful to watch. I quickly learned to cringe every time Ricky Gervais' David Brent entered a scene. Episode two was excruciating. It was clear why anyone with real office experience would find the show repugnant, at least initially. By episode three, I loved it. I still cringed, and squirmed, winced, and probably moaned. I watched both regular seasons, and the Christmas special hadn't come out on DVD yet. You may or may not know that the second season ends on a very low note. I had gotten so involved in the emotional lives of the characters, that it was, well, crushing. Thankfully, the Christmas special wraps it all up very nicely without cheapening anything. Before too long, I watched it all again. The (British The) Office is brilliant, in every respect.

Now, this was well after The Office had aired for the first time in Britain. In fact, it was just before the American version began its first season. I was wary of a new version, but Steve Carrell is funny as hell, so I gave it a chance, and I watched the first episode.

I felt like it followed the first episode of the original series too closely. It was funny, but not as funny as the original. I liked the casting in the original version quite a lot, and felt like some of the differences in the new one were no good.

I didn't watch any more episodes until tonight, when I re-watched the first episode. I still felt like it followed the first British episode closely, but not so closely that it felt unoriginal. I noticed nice variations on jokes from the original (the particulars of an early exchange between boss and receptionist) and new American jokes I had missed the first time through. I found it plenty funny enough to watch the second episode.

The second episode is brutal. It reminded me of what I liked so much about the other version. It evoked out-loud laughter and uncomfortable shifting in my (office) chair, as The Office should. Steve Carell is, indeed, funny as hell. With the benefit of decaying memory and a couple of years distance, I see clearly now that the American The Office is well worth watching. I will continue to do so.

However, I am still a bit wary. One of the best, and most interesting, properties of the British version is its length. Two series of six episodes each, two 45 minute specials. It left me simultaneously wanting more and feeling very satisfied that there was no more to be had. I know that the American version lasts longer. This could be detrimental to the overall package, or it could point to a worthwhile divergence from the original. I'm sure I'll enjoy putting myself through the discomfort of finding out.

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