Friday, July 14, 2006

American "Office" versus British "Office"

I rented both seasons of the British version of “The Office,” to see what all the fuss was about and what the difference between the two would be. It’s an interesting thing to do. Here’s the background: the American version was modeled after the wildly successful British version, which went for two short seasons of six episodes apiece, then ended their run. The American version just finished their second season, and their first full, 24-episode season, with promise of more.

A friend of mine was loathe to start watching the new version since it was only going to be a “cheap knock-off” on the American version, and just steal all their best ideas. And in some respects this is so. The pilot of the British version was essentially exactly duplicated for the American version, and, ironically, both are the worst episodes ever produced by each show. Shortly following, the American version began following their own path, with fairly solid success. While TV ratings are still mediocre, it’s in all likelihood the best comedy on television, now that "Arrested Development" has finished their ratings-troubled run. But is it better than the original? Here’s my crack at a breakdown between the two:

The Boss: Ricky Gervais’ David Brent versus Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott.
“The Office” is essentially Gervais’ creation, and his sneering, racist, egotistical British pop culture-referencing buffoon of a boss was expanded into a sneering, racist, egotistical American pop culture-referencing buffoon of a boss by Carrell, who knows a good thing when he sees one. Both are technically the main characters of their respective shows, and while the viewer’s hearts will always belong to the love stories hidden in the office politics, it’s these characters that carry the weight of each episode – and provide most of the laughs. Gervais’ character is snider, more insulting, more egotistical, self-centered, and less loveable. Carrell is marginally more inviting, with the viewer getting the profound sense that beneath all that façade is an incredibly lonely character who truly realizes he’s an incredibly lonely character. For much of the show’s run, Gervais only has a vague concept of this fact.
It’s a tough choice between the two: Carrell is funnier, Gervais more comfortable in his role, and therefore much more profoundly uncomfortable to watch. I’m gonna go gutless and split the difference. Two-way tie.

The Romance: Tim-Dawn versus Jim-Pam
I thought for certain I’d be more partial to Jim-Pam, since I’ve been following their plight for more than a year now, and each episode held them away from each other as long as they possibly could. But there’s a dynamic of Tim and Dawn that’s completely missing from the American version – there’s a longing for more than each other in their every action. They’re both so completely trapped in their lives, all they want is a chance to start over. Tim wants to go back to college, Dawn wants more than a receptionist job, she wants to be valued. And when they don’t end up together – and it’s a hard, heartbreaking moment when they don’t – you sense that life is really over for both of them. They’ll never, really find what they want now. They’ll never get out.
It almost pains me to go this way, but the advantage is clearly Tim-Dawn.

The Competition: Jim-Dwight versus Tim-Gareth
This one’s much easier. Jim-Dwight is just funnier, and a lot less mean-spirited. At the end of season 2, when Jim starts to feel bad about how awful he is to Dwight, he precedes the audience in that. We still love it. But by the time Tim starts seeing the error of his ways, we’ve already started to feel bad for Gareth.
Put it this way: Tim glues Gareth’s phone down so he can’t answer it. Jim manages to get Dwight to hit himself in the head with it. Advantage: Jim-Dwight.

The Supporting Staff: British office workers versus American Office workers.
Easy. The American office has the quietly appalled Ryan, the humorless Angela, the bizarre Creed, the patiently unhappy Stanley, the utterly fed-up Toby, and the slack-jawed Kevin. The British version has the slack-jawed Keith.
Case closed. Advantage: Americans.

The Storylines: American docu-sitcom versus British docu-farce.
The British version is much less topic oriented, trying to feel more like a real office, with little happening to separate the episodes. The creators announced their intention to avoid all sitcom styling, and that effort clearly shows. It’s brilliant, but it gives the show little momentum for much of a stretch run.
The American version is more closely oriented with modern tastes, giving each episode a specific point on which it dwells: a diversity training day, an office versus warehouse basketball game, drug-testing day, etc. It’s what’s let the American version go on nearly three times as long as the British version, with plans for more. You could never push the British version much further. Advantage: Americans.

Final Verdict: The British version is perfect, in its own way: 12 brilliant, groundbreaking episodes that build on each other until you can’t help but have a vested interest in the characters. But the American version has depth and a more lasting hold on the viewer, and… it’s just funnier. The American version wins by a nose.

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At September 07, 2006 2:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hehe, you must be joking, and you must be american...

PS. stop killing ppl pls.

At September 10, 2006 2:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree on one thing: The British version is perfect. But no, the American version isn't funnier.

In fact, in my eyes the American version is a rubbish soap opera, with weak characters and poor humor.

This review angers me and makes me think it must have been written by a stereotypical shallow American.

At September 26, 2006 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen every episode thus far of both. The British version is funny, but a bit darker, more dry, and a lot narrower (hence the miniscule 12 episode run...they ran out of ideas). The American version is equally as funny, but the characters are a lot more dynamic and amusing.

Yes, I'm an American. Guess I'm shallow. Funny seeing a Brit get all offended over an opinion about a TV show. Seems like something a "stereotypical shallow American" would do.

PS Neither show would have existed without the film "Office Space".

At October 07, 2006 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous #3. Though I'm a yank, I was studying abroad at Imperial College in London for the whole duration of the original 'Office'. It is brilliant and brief.

I don't know why brits would want to rag on the American version since they're not claiming they invented the concept of the show... it's clear that the American producers loved the British version and wanted to bring the same vision to the states. They've done a wonderful job and I love the new version just as much. The American version trades the subtle humor of misery for dynamic and lovable characters.

Obviously if they were creating a version for America, it would have to be different; not only to fit an American office, but to provide equally intelligent humor with characters you end you caring about.

but I know how you brits love to love british things, and love to put down American things. I just hope the Office keeps going and catches on to more of the public.

At March 09, 2007 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I'm Canadian & my vote is for the British Office's superiority . . . Catrell is over-the-top, Gervais is apt & inspired . . . Tim & Dawn are compelling, Tim having some serious comic chops, & Gareth is so much more true to his intended personality . . . the American Gareth is indeed funny but like Catrell over-the-top. The mundaness (?) of the Brit version is completely inspired & I think lost on a lot of it's viewers, American & british. I think the shows are essentially different in their intentions with the British original really pushing the envelope & presenting something new to the sitcom format while the American is pillowed by major network concerns & tastes &, perhaps, North American sensibilities . . . which are just plain more populist (said the north american) . . . I do like the American Office tho' but compared to the Brit original . . . sorry, them's just inferior apples . . .

At March 09, 2007 1:02 PM, Blogger Wyman said...

Now that I've finally seen those last two episodes that Gervais and Merchant put together to tie up the show... I'm willing to re-open the argument.

I referenced these episodes and re-opened the question in this post.

At August 12, 2007 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brit version all the way. The mockumentary thing is cool, but sitcoms just make me barf. There's no way to escape how canned and scripted they feel, it makes me cringe (even more than Ricky Gervais' performance). I see a sitcom and I just think, Cripes, do adults really watch this crap? Thank god for a television show that only goes twelve episodes! Case in point: The Simpsons. Yeah, yeah, we all loved it, back in the day, but it's an embarassment now. But they do send up American tv execs, scanning the airwaves for anything they can recycle for the LCD. Marginalize the hell out of it boys! Anyway, not to mock all US comic output, Robot Chicken ain't bad, it's odd that some of their stuff is so hilarious while the majority of it just sucks. No wonder they keep mining from Canada!

At September 22, 2007 3:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not american (well, I live in America, the continent...) and YES, I agree, the US version is better (MUCH BETTER, in my opinion).

Jim and Dwight are the real soul of the show.

At October 20, 2007 8:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no bias because I'm neither american nor british. THEREFORE the american one wins because it's better.

At November 22, 2007 7:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm also not american or british
As an Aussie i appreciate alot of great shows from both brittish and american backgrounds. However i was amazed to see how many ppl actually think that the american version is even in the same league. The britts creation is simply far more funny and most importantly the laughs are more frequent. I particularly cannot understand how anyone can think that the americans feeble attempt of the comedic relationship between tim and gareth (jim and dwight) is better.
I guess everyone will have there own opinion in the end.....

At March 20, 2008 3:59 PM, Blogger Great Uncle Jonathan said...

Well, firstly, a "season" in English TV is 6 episodes (see Blackadder, Fawlty Towers, etc.) They have a greater attention to crafting the tone of the episodes they produce. They also get out before the writing becomes watered down or "sit-com". The Americans set out to create a different product; that lasts and evolves. The sensibilities are very different, so it is impossible to compare them as directly as you do. There is a very different arc to writing the "love story" or the "competition" in the two formats. One could not hold up in the other's format. The one thing that both versions have going for them is they both have great comedic actors.
And secondly, the English version is funnier.

At May 20, 2008 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The American version is just plain funnier, The British one is to dark and dry

At September 20, 2008 1:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love reading the comments of offended Brits trying desperately to prove that they best the Yanks in a single aspect. The best part- their wrong. Although, the British version is indeed funny, it can't hold a candle to the American version, which happens to be the best comedy on tv. Just watching Dwight talk for a few minutes easily best an entire season of the British version for pure entertainment. Sorry, Limeys. Guess the them darn Yanks won again.

At September 29, 2008 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

im american, and ive watched both versions. i personally think the british version is far superior. having said that, i think a lot of you brits are assholes.

At October 04, 2008 12:27 AM, Blogger Mr X said...

I'm a Kiwi so I could go both ways

I've watched the entire British series and the first two seasons of the American.

Both series have their advantages.

The British is definitely a more drier sense of humor and is made for people who are more onto it. David Brent is amazing, I especially love those awkward moments.

The American Office is definitely dumbed down, but this is not in a bad sense. Its different, but generally great humor. It is simply more Americanized. Carroll is a legend and is much more likable.

Overall I probably like the American one better because its longer and generally a lot more funny.

with out a doubt they are both the best comedies in the world!!!!

If anyone wants to contact me my email is

Wouldn't a New zealand Series be awesome!!!!!


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