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The Office Vs. The Office

Tired of the politics as usual Kevin Drum asks what readers thought of the NBC version of The Office last week, compared to the UK version.

One often repeated comment about Americanized versions of Britcoms is why they bother remaking the shows instead of airing the original. There are three problems with that logic. 1) Half hour British sitcoms are actually 30 minutes long compared to their 22 minute US cousins, so there would have to be some serious editing of each episode. 2) Due to the availability of BBC America many of the shows have already attracted a small, but loyal, US fan base who generally aren't too keen on the American remakes. 3) A "season" in Britcom terms is (to the best of my knowledge) as low as 6 and up to 12 episodes. That's not even enough material to program a mid-season replacement order of 13 episodes. Since I don't live in the UK I deffer to the comment section to set me straight on my numbers, but I do recall getting them from a Britcom producer many years ago...

Having learned my lesson from the Coupling fiasco I might as well just go ahead and pronounce the NBC version of The Office as the second coming of My Mother The Car, but as some commenters at Political Animal point out the series will begin with fresh scripts (as opposed to remakes of UK episodes) in week 3. Steve Carrell as the boss is probably reason enough to tough it out for a few weeks before giving up all hope, but so far the overwhelming consensus is that it's another poor retread.


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Comments (27)

I watched and tried to give... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:

I watched and tried to give it a fair shake, trying to judge it as if I had never seen the British version. Had I been watching that scene w/ the boss firing the deskgirl for the first time, I might have thougth it a little jewel of comedy genius, might be looking forward to the next episode, saying it was kinda OK.
'Sort of an 'Office Space' mockumentary. Good writing, got potential...'

The problem is, the British version was so damn good, it's impossible to forget while your watching. Always comparing. And thus, the flaws are just so prominent. So what'r the flaws. I think it's basically the actors, they're just not as good.

I think Carrell may be the next big funny, but Gervais' was so much better in this role. His idiot corporate unctiosness made every 'slow burn' joke burn on forever. Gervais as boss so obviously thought he was the hippest, funniest guy in the room, while Carrell's playing it at nothing much more than 'clueless boss' level. Big difference.

And speaking of slow burn, that Stan Laurel looking english lead was a master (He's got the lead in the Hitchhiker movie coming out this summer). His reactions to Gareth, topped by a look straight into the camera were killer.

Finally Gareth. The UK one was good, the U.S. one is sub-awful. An over the top, break any sense of reality, comedy killer. Just a hack caricature.

I don't think a single joke is going to be underplayed and that'll kill this version, and the 'awkward silences' that made the UK great will end up having no burn impact cause they're all cartoon characters.

I know the snobs were already lined up to say it sucked before it aired, so as to say something about American taste's, and I wanted them to be wrong. I still think they are (Curb Your Enthusiasm is made here, afterall). Funny is funny everywhere. But this ain't gonna prove it.

Sorry for going so long, but I thought the UK 'The Office' was the funniest thing in... I don't know. The US was the slightly-better-than-average, semi-dumb sitcom letdown I hoped it wouldn't be.

I second Ray's comment. Wit... (Below threshold)

I second Ray's comment. With one addendum - the UK uses "Handbags and Gladrags" as the theme music (as I recall) which is kind of haunted and sad. The US theme music ... I'm sorry? Was there theme music?

I dunno, I must be missing ... (Below threshold)
SATerp:

I dunno, I must be missing the whole comedy concept here. Why would I want to watch an unfunny, idiotic boss on TV when I get to see one live, every day?

And I'll bet I'm not alone.

The US version of The Offic... (Below threshold)
Boyd:

The US version of The Office is going to have a rough time because

1) It doesn't have Ricky Gervais, both as an actor and as a writer.

2) The whole concept doesn't translate well due to employment rates, as well as how offices operate differently between the two countries.

In the UK, no matter how obnoxious David Brent became, nobody wanted to say much about it because, if they left Wernham-Hogg, they'd be unemployed for who knows how long. In the US, employees generally wouldn't put up with all of Michael Scott's bullshit. Lawsuits and EEO complaints would abound.

While it may translate to the US better than Coupling or AbFab (did they ever get around to doing that one here?), it still won't do well, I predict.

The remake was abysmal. I t... (Below threshold)

The remake was abysmal. I tried to explain why to a friend earlier and did a poor job. I think I'll take another stab at it.

David Brent (the boss character from the original UK version) was just over the line. He was entirely believable — we all know somebody like him — but just a little bit more. Imagine the biggest dork you know. He'll stop HERE, but David Brent will go just a little further. Not much, but just a little. David Brent was a caricature, but just barely so.

The new character, Michael Scott, goes too far. If normal is a 3 and a real dipshit is a 5 and David Brent is a 6, Michael Scott is an 8. It's not a subtle caricature any more. It's just dumb.

(Now that I re-read, it seems like Ray really said most of what I was trying to say more eloquently. Sigh. Again I fail to express myself. That's twice in one day. I'm concerned.)

As great as "The Office" was — it's gone off the air now, right? — I still say the greatest single work of British comedy ever produced is the real-estate episode of the show "People Like Us." Practically nobody has ever seen this show; my TiVo caught an episode for me one night on my local PBS channel. It took me a good ten minutes to figure out that it was meant to be funny. It's dry, dry, and falling-down hilarious. Mind-bogglingly hilarious.

Other episodes, which my TiVo dutifully recorded for me after I put the show on my "record this or die" list, weren't as funny, I didn't think. But the real-estate one is just astounding.

I tried to watch it and it ... (Below threshold)
Dave:

I tried to watch it and it totally sucked. No redeeming value at all.

I've seen the real-estate e... (Below threshold)
SPG:

I've seen the real-estate episode of "People Like Us." (BBC America aired the series once or twice before dumping it to make room for a 15th daily rerun of "Changing Rooms.") I'm not sure I'd call it the greatest single work of British comedy ever produced - that honor would have to go to either "The Germans" episode of "Fawlty Towers" or else "Bambi" and/or "Sick" from "The Young Ones" - but I will concur that it was hilarious. It was the only episode of "PLU" I watched twice.

(I also have a soft spot for the "Father Ted" Christmas Special.)

I like Carell, but there is... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

I like Carell, but there is no comparison.


It's like comparing Bass Ale to Budweiser.

While both are acceptable; one is certainly much better. Had I not seen the BBC version I would have enjoyed Carell trying to play up his character.

I did like the "he keeps putting my stuff in Jello" thing. Oh, happy memories.

There was a 'Father Ted' Christmas special? How did I miss that. Please tell me it is on tape somewhere.

Another great series from the other side: Chef.


Never having seen the UK ve... (Below threshold)
Greg:

Never having seen the UK version, I must be the only person who liked the show. Does that make me an ugly American?

No, Greg. Being a cat lover... (Below threshold)
Boyd:

No, Greg. Being a cat lover makes you an ugly American. :)

I have never seen the BBC v... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

I have never seen the BBC version, but I can say that the NBC version is hideous. I didn't find anything funny about it.

Being a Brit, I always crin... (Below threshold)

Being a Brit, I always cringe when I hear the US is remaking our sitcoms. It. Just. Doesn't. Work. There is a basic, irreconcilable difference between the British and American sense of humour. You guys have made many, many fantastic sitcoms that I regularly have to change my pants after watching, among them Scrubs, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond (but not so much any more) and even Joey (I don't know how popular that is in the US, but I love it).

What we need are petitions, people. Petitions and protests. You have to stop the networks butchering our classics. Please.

Seen bits of both versions.... (Below threshold)
Rob Hackney:

Seen bits of both versions.

NBC version is laaaaame.

It has zero 'documentary' feel to it which made the Limey version interesting. You don't put pretty people in documentarys. You put odd, ugly everyday people in. The Limey version was packed full of ordinary people. The NBC version looks like typical 'slick' crap. And don't get me started on the actual acting/comedy.

If I want an American show in this style, I'lll just watch Arrested Development thanks.

Brit humor is an aquired taste. Socialists like them don't find normal things funny, so they have a particular form of deviant comedy. It's different to ours and takes getting used to. Trying to transplant it is just stupid.

I have never seen the Briti... (Below threshold)

I have never seen the British version, but the American version was not that impressive. The documentary style did not add much and the only reason my wife and I enjoyed it was because the "friend first, boss second" boss who can't answer a straight question was scarily similar to her real boss (except he is a nice guy).

I've never seen the origina... (Below threshold)
Tongueboy:

I've never seen the original series. A few years ago, NBC tried to bring Faulty Towers to America through the vehicle of Royal Payne, starring John Larouqette as the Basil Fawlty role. John Larouqette was actually well cast in the role but no one, I REPEAT, no one but Prunell Scales could ever be Sybil. The producers tried to sweeten it up for American audiences by nixing the ongoing irreconcilable differences between Basil and Sybil and having them "kiss and make up" after each episode. That was bad enough, but the underlying premise, Basil Fawlty's blind obsession with English class structure, could not be translated into the American version for obvious reasons.

Also, viewing The Office... (Below threshold)
Tongueboy:

Also, viewing The Office as an "original" series, I didn't think it was half-bad. Steve Carrell is well-cast, as are most of the other characters. Additionally, it took guts to retain the firing scene for American audiences; we like our one-line putdowns and comebacks but we are usually uncomfortable with black comedy, at least in our prime time comedies.

I thought it was okay, the ... (Below threshold)

I thought it was okay, the first American-version episode I watched, but lacking something.

I guess I'm the only one wh... (Below threshold)
Jon:

I guess I'm the only one who liked it. Well, if it gets poor ratings, most people won't miss it anyways.

i tried, but i kept thinkin... (Below threshold)
sue:

i tried, but i kept thinking "this isn't the least bit funny" and then, thinking that maybe i was missing something, i realized, "this isn't the least bit funny!" it's also another example of people lacking imagination and writing talent prove that to be the case when they hijack something else and try re-do it. british humor is dry and witty. the office was desolate and its producers and writers insulting by thinking they could pawn it off on me. i thought it was dumb.

Jeff Harrell's analysis is ... (Below threshold)
wannabe:

Jeff Harrell's analysis is right on:

David Brent (the boss character from the original UK version) was just over the line. He was entirely believable — we all know somebody like him — but just a little bit more. Imagine the biggest dork you know. He'll stop HERE, but David Brent will go just a little further. Not much, but just a little. David Brent was a caricature, but just barely so.

And aye there's the rub. Of course maybe for us non Brits, the accent alone and British slang is just as much part of the humour as the excellent writing.

But I find that British comedy writers are better at being more subtle than American comedy writers with Larry David perhaps being an exception, making the mundane funny.

Oh and while you might not find a David Brent in the private sector in the US, and frankly I doubt it, there are David Brents everywhere, you will certainly find him in the Canadian private sector and the public sector in both countries, trust me. I had a friend who worked in at a multinational computer software company based in Canada and she had a boss that was like David Brent only without any charm. She would regal me with stories and I would shake my head that the top brass hadn't figured out what a useless twit he was. However nothing like a hostile takeover to clear out the deadwood.

But I find that British... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:

But I find that British comedy writers are better at being more subtle than American comedy writers with Larry David perhaps being an exception, making the mundane funny.

Here's my problems with any of that TV show differences proving any sort of difference between Uk and USA comedy taste or ability of writers or style.

American networks entire economic structure is predicated on getting into the homes of 10 upon tens of millions of people. Careers turn on this sole point. BBC is a state subsidized broadcaster, able to narrowcast to particular niche audiences. The comparison of best comedy shows between them is impossible. Better is HBO v. BBC. Each can sustain niche shows. American TV product fares much better if that, the proper comparison, is used. I'll stack Larry Sanders up against anything the UK does. Drama? Please. The Sopranos and the first season of The Wire redifine what TV is capable of.

Another difference. Those heralded BBC shows consist of about 3 episodes apiece (a mild exageration) Fawlty Towers? Absolute Genius. Granted. But there are only 12 episodes in total. And those were spaced out over two seasons, 6 per (and spaced apart by 4 years: 75 and 79) Seinfeld had to turn out double the entire run of Fawlty twice a year Even HBO does 13 or so episodes a year. Hell, you give the MadTV writers 5 years to churn out 12 episodes and blood would run in the streets from all the busted guts.

And what about the rest of English Comedy? Sohisticated? Subtle? I've seen some of it. Bullshit! Makes 'Andy Capp' look like Oscar fuckin Wilde. Two words: Benny Hill.

Just saying, funny is funny and TV show comparisons prove nothing about the respective countrys' sense of humor or quality thereof.

Why is it that the States i... (Below threshold)
CanadianAng:

Why is it that the States is always remaking British classics? It doesn't happen in the reverse. Is it that the Americans think they can do it better (read arrogance)? Or is it that an American version is necessary because the Brit original isn't easily accepted (read understood) by the American masses?

An analogy....Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone everywhere except the States where it is called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Why was it necessary? Maybe the answer will illustrate why it is necessary that Britcoms are remade in the States...
?????

Gee, I dunno, Ang. Maybe it... (Below threshold)

Gee, I dunno, Ang. Maybe it's because Americans all too often find people from other English-speaking countries to be smug and snide, and we just don't want to put up with that shit? Is that a possibility?

Oh, sorry, let me phrase that for you in a way that's a little more familiar to you: Is that a possibility…?????

Why is it that the State... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:

Why is it that the States is always remaking British classics?

My guess is it's largely a matter of feeding the maw. There's more networks, more channels in the US, more TV hours to fill and the U.S. producers need to find somehting, anything to fill it. The UK's big shows come with a patina of success so on the air they (come and) go.

If your question is why do we prefer our Comedy without foreign accents, what country doesn't? I think other countries would do it if the economics of their TV industies were big enough for a native reworking rather than just playing tapes of U.S. shows.

People just want to watch people who speak, have customs like themselves. Cept Canadians, of course. You guys love American TV so much you have to pass actual 'Canadian content legislation' to get Canadians to watch Canadian shows. Sorry that sounds harsh, eh.

Haha, I want to watch the b... (Below threshold)
Carly:

Haha, I want to watch the british version, but I’m scared it will spoil the American version for me. I enjoy the NBC version- but I’m afraid that if I see the original- since it’s so funny- I won’t like the American anymore. So.. maybe after the US one is cancelled, I’ll see it.. I’m so paranoid.

Anyone suggesting that ther... (Below threshold)
Simon:

Anyone suggesting that there is a profound difference between the sense of humour of Brits and Americans - at least as regards The Office - is off the mark. Just look at any interviews that Ricky Gervais has given and you'll find that he often cites American influences on his work; from Phil Silvers to Cristopher Guest's films (which are probably a direct inspiration) and, of course Curb your enthusiasm. Good is good, regardless of it's source. There will always be lowest common denominator material coming out of the American networks - they are, after all, in the business of making money. This doesn't prove any inherent inferiority in Americans, it just proves what a huge business it is.

Hey guysI was wonder... (Below threshold)
Beth:

Hey guys
I was wondering if anyone could help me out. Can anyone list differences between British and American humour that they have noticed while watching The Office? We talked about it in a class and I just dont get it.




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