I prefer the American version of The Office

The Office: An American Workplace is just as clever, but more enjoyable, than the British version.

Steve Carell as Michael Scott in The Office: An American Workplace. Photograph: NBC/BBC

I know to many this will be lunacy or heresy, or both, but here goes - I prefer the American version of The Office to ours. Just as clever but more enjoyable, The Office: An American Workplace has grown to be something far greater than a competent facsimile.

Before the brickbats fly, a few buts.

Our Office remains a masterpiece. And if you're nitpicking, some of the darker nuance of characterisation has been lost in translation. In American hands, terrifying sociopath Finchy is simply sexist buffoon Todd Packer. And however funny, the redneck counterpart to Gareth Keenan - Dwight Schrute - doesn't have what the Observer's Euan Ferguson identified as Gareth's "quiet desperation".

Steve Carell's bumptious Michael Scott is a different kind of fool to the peerlessly shifty David Brent. And the depths of grinding embarrassment the British Office achieved are never quite equalled, but whether you think this is a flaw depends on how well you coped with the cringe factor in the first place.

As Time magazine pointed out, it's not a copy, it's an interpretation - and the losses soon pale compared to the gains. Its genius is to keep the core dynamic of stupid boss, his sycophant, and the romantic stalemate of the receptionist and the nice guy, and add a supporting cast who equally earn their screen time. Such as sour stickler Angela, with her posters of saxophone-playing babies, sinister con-artist and mung-bean enthusiast Creed, or much-maligned HR rep Toby, wearing his permanently etched expression of disappointment. (As Michael observes: "He's really not part of our family, also, he's divorced, so he's really not a part of his family.")

Their tedium isn't quite as claustrophobic, but reflects the national preoccupations with healthcare packages, diversity training, and an endless stream of "management parables". It has real pathos, too. Jim and Pam's stalled courtship can rival any of the silent suffering of Tim and Dawn, and Michael's infantile dependence is tragicomic. He's a hopeless manager but unlike Brent, a good salesman, who can sometimes score with the ladies - contradictions that make him more intriguing rather than less pitiable.

Produced by The Simpsons' Greg Daniels, there's no laughter track or celebrity cameos and most of the cast are (or rather were) unknowns. It's just concluding its third season - for which co-producers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant penned an episode - and NBC is expected to order a full run of 24 episodes for a fourth season, including four hour-long specials. After the disastrous fate of transatlantic remakes of Coupling and Men Behaving Badly, The Office is a rare triumph in the face of huge scepticism.

The series has used greater length to add depth and breadth. Despite the unshakeable belief here in the Fawlty Towers principle, less is more, it hasn't had to self-destruct or decay after a dozen episodes. Given it remains remarkably fresh and consistent at 50-plus instalments and counting, it's an expectation-confounding case of more is more.


Mhairi McFarlane

The GuardianTramp

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