Curiosity got the better of me, and I have now had the chance to watch the American version of The Office (courtesy of BBC3 who are broadcasting it as The Office – An American Workplace) and I actually thought it was quite good. It would be easy to pick holes in it, and it goes without saying that I didn’t think it was a good as the original, but it is only fair to bear in mind that a) the US version was designed for a US audience, and so I would always expect to find it more difficult to relate to, and b) the original version of The Office, across the 12 episodes and 2 Christmas specials, was a near perfect sit-com, and to top it would be almost impossible.
A few observations; first that the actor who plays Jim (Tim in the British version) appears to have studied Martin Freeman down to every slight tic and mannerism, and so that looks a bit laboured. The NBC version also seems to be making the whole Tim-Dawn relationship a bit more obvious, but perhaps it is only obvious to those who have seen the original. After watching the opening episode I got out my Office DVD and I was surprised at how much busier the script seemed in the British version. Although the basic plot of both episodes was the same, it was interesting to see what had been changed (a reference to Camilla Parker Bowles becomes Hilary Rodham Clinton; wanker becomes jerk; trifle is flan) and what had just been dropped altogether. The result is that the US version generally seemed slower and more sparse, but I still liked it; perhaps because of what they could have changed, but thankfully didn’t.
It will be interesting to see where the American writers take it from here; future episodes look as if they won’t be such straight copies of the British version. I am particularly interested to see how the Pub Quiz episode works when it is transformed into a game of Basketball.
If nothing else, I think the US version of The Office, if not as good as the British version, is certainly not as bad as many people seemed to expect, with their tired arguments that “Americans don’t do irony”. You would think that the existence of The Simpsons, Cheers and Larry Sanders would have put to bed such lazy thinking, but no. As for the other argument, that the American networks are bound to sap the originality out of any imported idea, just remember the sort of rubbish our own homegrown broadcasters come up with sometimes. Can you imagine what ITV would turn out if they decided to do a British remake of Seinfeld? They’d probably cast Bradley Walsh as Jerry and Joe Pasquale as George. God knows who would play Kramer and Elaine; probably the golden handcuff pair, Ross Kemp and Sarah Lancashire.
No, don’t laugh.