So I’d never been interested in this show before, but there it was one day on TV. I left it on because there was nothing else.
And you know what?
“The Office” is HILARIOUS.
I’m talking, currently, of the American version. I’ve made it now via Netflix to the second episode of season 2 (not watched yet). So far there have already been two borderline classics, “Diversity Day” and the brilliant episode “The Dundies”. I’m also currently watching the first episode of the British version.
Here is my after-ten-minutes-of-episode-1-plus-Wikipedia take on the British version vs. the American version: The British version is unbelievably, insanely depressing. Very funny, but HOLY CRAP. I know how both series end, and that alone says it all. The British version just ends with the boss being fired after begging to keep his job. The American version makes a point to give a happy ending to everybody.
Michael in the American version is clueless and selfish, but he means well and this is enough, along with him simply being completely pathetic, to make him innately likeable. David Brent is a complete and utter asshat, completely pathetic as well but with no likability whatsoever. This isn’t, in itself, a bad thing, because Ricky Gervais nails the role. It’s just a fundamental difference in attitude.
The moment that truly defines the difference between the British and American versions of “The Office” is when Pam stands up in “The Dundies” after Michael is heckled and asks for her Dundie award. Michael has a great moment of redemption as well when he gives Pam the award for whitest shoes instead of the award for longest engagement. This is the moment where, instead of loathing Michael, you start rooting for him instead. This moment basically never arrives in the British version (I know this not from watching it but from reading about it, but you can really just tell that the British version is far more cynical, and David far more of a dickhead than Michael is).
Another defining difference, which I know from reading about as opposed to watching it (yet), is how the shows deal with their downsizing storylines: David accepts a promotion (later denied to him due to a failed physical), and throws his employees to the wolves: Michael travels down to corporate personally to stand up for his employees. Michael fails, and the Scranton branch is only saved because the boss of the other branch got a promotion, but Michael tries. It’s a Pixar rule of storytelling executed to perfection: You admire a character for trying more than for succeeding.
You can probably tell that I prefer the American version. I’m cynical, but I define my cynicism in a particular way. The British version is just bleak and hopeless. The American version gets dark, sometimes horribly dark, but the characters are much more likeable. As much as I love Martin Freeman, I like the American version of his character more. He’s more charming.
Both are definitely worth watching, though. No question. Highly recommended.
Standout episodes so far: “Diversity Day” (very, very funny), “The Dundies”, “The Deposition”, and “Dinner Party”. Whatever the name of the episode with the gift baskets and GPS as well (anybody know the name of that one?).
Watch it. Love it. It’s hilarious.
And, just as importantly, both versions are very, very funny. Steve Carrell is the man.