Friday, October 06, 2006

THE OFFICE ARRIVES

While it's admittedly a very good show, certainly compared to other network crap, I've had some issues with the U.S. version of The Office. American spinoffs of British shows have a sketchy history, you're more likely to end up with Coupling than you are with All in the Family, but there was even more reason to be concerned about The Office, the original version of which ranks among a small handful of the the greatest television shows ever. Indeed, much like David Ruffin's lead vocal on Ain't Too Proud to Beg, it slips the surly bonds of its genre to achieve a place among the Great Works of Art.

My two biggest problems with the U.S. version are the documentary aspect, and the show's treatment of Michael Scott. In the BBC series, there's not a moment when you are unconvinced that the show is a documentary, that things are happening off camera and out of mic range that will eventually prove important, and that the crew is just lucky to catch certain moments when and how they do. In the American version it's obviously a set-up, multiple cameras and shot/reverse shots are used a lot during conversations, and the camera shows up to catch scenes that seem very unlikely. Also, and maybe this is just a personal thing, Jim acknowledges the camera way too much. In the BBC series, you get the sense that everyone is trying hard to work with the documentarians and ignore the camera, but Tim (the BBC character on whom Jim is based) occasionally just can't bloody help it. He needs some acknowledgment from someone of the sheer, stunning ridiculousness of this office life. He's not conspiring with the audience, as Jim is, he's looking to the actual camera crew for affirmation that he is not insane.

Michael Scott. In the BBC series, David Brent spends two seasons as a pathetic, insecure, resentful clown. It's only in the final Christmas special, indeed in its last ten minutes, within the space of a few beautifully written scenes, that you are finally allowed to like him, and then you love him. I think Steve Carell's portrayal of Scott is very good (and impressively different from Ricky Gervais's David Brent), but I haven't enjoyed the way the character is offered redemption about every other episode, as if the writers simply didn't trust U.S. audiences to return every week for a main character who is an insensitive jerk. I'm sure those who've only seen the U.S. version are saying "Uh, Michael Scott is an insensitive jerk..." Yeah. Get thee to a video store.

Anyway, I wrote all that to write this: Last night's episode was fantastic. It was the first one I've seen which really took the show's idea in a new direction, and opened up even more possibilities for future episodes. I pretty much lost it when Dwight told Angela that she could "be in charge of the women," and I was on the floor at about the same time Dwight was, begging Michael's forgiveness.

Bravo.

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