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The Office’: An American Perspective

Tae Andrews | Monday, January 30, 2006

Britain and America may share a common language, but they have very different senses of humor. NBC’s decision to remake the BBC’s show “The Office” for American audiences has caused a great debate about which type of humor is better and, ultimately, which version of the show is funnier.

For those interested in some quirky British humor (think exceedingly dry wit, usually followed by vigorous golf clapping, a round of tea sipping, and hearty cries of, “Cheerio!”), the DVD box set of the first two seasons of the British version is clearly the way to go. However, for people whose preferred adjective for their comedy is “hilarious,” the American version of the show is the better option.

The basic premise here is much akin to the relationship between the Magna Carta and the United States Constitution: the Americans have taken a good idea and made it their own. Airing on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC, “The Office” is an uproarious take on the exceedingly banal minutiae of cubicle life in the corporate sector.

Front man Steve Carell, the star of last year’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” plays egomaniacal boss Michael Scott. Employing both over-the-top narcissism and self-delusions of grandeur, Carell manages to convey just how pathetic Scott’s life is and how he leans so heavily on his surrogate “family.” Carell won a 2006 Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Television Comedy for his performance in “The Office.”

Surrounding Michael Scott is a cast of tremendously funny characters, including Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), the resident office brainiac with aspirations of corporate domination. Especially amusing are Dwight’s various schemes at corporate collusion aimed at bettering his own position within the ranks of Dunder-Mifflin.

Jenna Fischer plays Pam Beesly, the deadpan secretary who spends much of her time humoring her boss’ various ridiculous antics. In between receiving calls, Pam often conspires with sales rep Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) to come up with new and entertaining ways to torture Dwight.

One of the show’s consistent themes is Pam and Jim’s forbidden romance. This match is prevented by Pam’s engagement to the markedly insensitive Roy, an archetypal man’s man who works in the company warehouse. Rounding out the crew is Ryan Howard (B.J. Novak), the office “temp” who, despite the transitive nature of his profession, has somehow managed to stick around well into the show’s second season.

Some highlights from the first season include:

-“Diversity Day,” an episode in which a diversity educator is brought in after Michael does an ill-advised rendition of a Chris Rock standup routine. However, after displaying extreme ignorance, Michael decides to hold his own version of “diversity day” and educate his coworkers.

-Unwilling to make cuts in benefits himself, Michael delegates responsibility for downgrading health care packages for Dunder-Mifflin employees to Dwight, in the episode “Health Care.” Dwight, relishing his newfound power, proceeds to makes slashes beyond what is necessary “for the good of the company.”

-In “Hot Girl,” a corporate saleswoman stops by the office peddling pocketbooks, and Michael (in addition to the entire male staff) is instantly smitten with her. After noticing her resemblance to Pam, Michael proceeds to remark, “You’re like the new and improved Pam. Pam 6.0.”

The show’s brilliance lies in the often-absurd interaction between Michael and his employees. Filmed as a documentary, Steve Carell is perfectly ridiculous as the regional manager of Dunder-Mifflin’s Scranton branch. Well-written and smart – after its first season, the show was nominated for three Writer’s Guild of America Awards – Steve Carell makes it well worth the time to head in to “The Office.”