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The American Office: Better Than the Original

You heard me. The creators of the American version of The Office have done what’s almost impossible in business: They’ve developed a copycat product that’s better than the original. This usually doesn’t happen because copycats tend to be lazy and only out for a quick buck. They’re not interested in quantum improvement.

You heard me. The creators of the American version of The Office have done what’s almost impossible in business: They’ve developed a copycat product that’s better than the original. This usually doesn’t happen because copycats tend to be lazy and only out for a quick buck. They’re not interested in quantum improvement. But if last night’s episode on NBC, the single funniest comedy I’ve seen on television since Seinfeld circa 1993, is any indication, The Office is not only a critical home run but it’s viewer-friendly enough to be a hit eventually.

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There are only two reasons why anyone’s made such a fuss about Ricky Gervais’ The Office here in America:

1) Anglophiles who are always going to think British stuff is better. To which I say, I think there’s a Red Dwarf marathon going on. Why don’t you go watch it?

2) Americans have been so starved for a good comedy about the workplace that even a British show that has all the comic timing of a dry martini is sought out and cherished because According to Jim isn’t speaking to them to make them feel better about their miserable jobs.

I watched last night’s show on NBC twice and then I watched the BBC pilot. Want to why the American Office is so great and better than the British version? Keep reading.

The first American original of The Office blossoms now that it’s been freed from the constraints of the British show. A diversity trainer comes to the office to do a workshop. Hilarity ensues. On paper, you can’t fully appreciate it (don’t worry, this being NBC, The Office is being reaired on most of its other channels–Bravo, CNBC, USA, etal–so check your cable listings). What makes the show great is that it wrings stunning comedy out of subtle eye rolls, askance glances, and under-your-breath comments. Perhaps the Gervais version does so as well, but it’s the difference between an extremely dry martini and one perfectly balanced with a little vermouth. The U.S. version is just wet enough–call it American subtlety as opposed to British subtlety. The U.S. version does just enough to let the viewer know it’s a joke. The British version is completely inaccessible that way.

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I also think the writing and the pacing of the American show are superior not only to anything else on TV but to the original. Carell upbraiding an employee for making an insensitive comment (the kind of comment he’d make routinely) and capping it off with a comment that this is an open and welcoming place and so get the hell out of here is perfect. Carell begging for emotion from his employees and then telling them that he’d have everyone in tears. I could go on. What’s amazing is that the show does what American sitcoms have to do–two jokes a minute minimum, an A plot and a B plot–but it does it in a subversive way. So it works within what Americans understand but it does it brilliantly.

Even Carell was more in control this episode and the critique that some of the blog posters noted–that Carell is the archetype for the boss who thinks he’s funny and so his performance is better understood that way–feels like it’s very true.

I’ll get off this Office soapbox unless news or exceptional episodes warrant, but just watch this show. Pretend the original never existed (no one here in the U.S. ever gave a thought to how classics like All in the Family or Sanford and Son were inspired by British shows). And know that every Tuesday night there’s a place that will make you feel better about your idiot boss, idiot coworkers, or idiot employees for at least half an hour a week.

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