Few shows capture the humor in the mundane better than “The Office.” From the completely clueless and obnoxious boss to the doe-eyed secretary longing for an escape, the comedy resonates with viewers because it feels real. “The Office” is funny and original, a rarity on television. So, why then, do I detest “The Office?”
I guess I should clarify that a little. I hate NBC’s “The Office” — the insipid, carbon-copy version of the BBC original.
Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant created the series in 2001. Through Gervais’s squirm-inducing humor, David Brent became the insipid boss that everyone loved to hate. He would tell crude jokes, mock his coworkers and think everyone was his best friend. Regardless of his behavior, something about this loser was endearing. Gervais’ portrayal of Brent is the type of iconic performance equivalent of Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker.
The show reached a level of success well beyond the standard scope of British television in the United States. Gervais won a Golden Globe for the role in 2003. The Emmys gerrymandered its rules to exclude the series, knowing full well it would win over its inferior American competition, on the basis that a series needs to produce more than six hours of programming to be considered eligible.
The series ran its course — two seasons and a two-hour special — finishing the story of the workers at Wernhom Hogg.
In lieu of the heaps of critical acclaim and cultural awareness, NBC decided it would be a good idea to Americanize the British sensation last summer. It’s not shocking that the Peacock has turned to the Brits for inspiration — it attempted it before with “Men Behaving Badly” and “Coupling,” both failures. Gervais and Merchant gave their permission and sold the rights, and soon casting began. “The Daily Show’s” Steve Carrel was chosen to play the Brent role. His casting was a boon, but he had big shoes to fill.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect when the series finally debuted during what was once considered NBC premier “Must See TV” Thursday night. Times have changed and the time slot is a shell of its former glory, nevertheless, NBC seems to be showing a lot of faith in the remake by airing it on Thursdays.
Hoping for the best, I tuned in. Much to my dismay, I knew every joke and every situation that was coming — down to the Tim character placing Gareth’s stapler in Jell-O — even though this was supposed to be a “new” show with “new” characters. They may have changed the names, but literally every punch line is lifted from the British pilot.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but this was downright theft. Taking character constructions and thematic ideas is one thing, however, NBC’s “The Office” wanted to mimic every nuance of BBC’s “The Office” without half the talent or charm. The sad thing is that NBC is expecting this to be the answer to its scheduling woes and make the network seem original again.
It doesn’t even matter how the final product turned out. If NBC wanted to air “The Office,” then it should have aired the BBC episodes. But NBC would never do that because even though the series was a success among television critics, it’s British. That means that an American audience would ignore it because the actors sound different.
I’m not saying we’re all ignorant American snobs, but the television networks program their schedules as though we are. This season proved that a smart series can work, but NBC clearly didn’t get the memo. Instead, it opted to play it safe and hope its audience was willing to sit through a listless retread.
Remakes are inherently problematic under any criteria. Films are frequently remade in spite of constant complaints of how unnecessary they are. All you need to do is look at the top of the box office charts to realize that remakes are all the rage — from “Guess Who” to “The Ring Two” — and because of their profitability, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But TV remakes don’t have the same track record. And hopefully, the new “The Office” will fade into oblivion with the rest, while the original stakes its claim as a television classic. TV viewers need to find that one truly inspired series on the air, even if that means tuning into BBC America. Great comedy — great entertainment — can come from anywhere.
Adam is waiting for the day when a British college journalist does a remake of this column. He can be reached at email@example.com.