Friday, March 25, 2005

A Completely Impartial Review of the American Remake of The Office

I'm sure that somewhere out there, there's a long, erudite explanation of why Americans suck at British comedy. Maybe it's that I can only understand eighty percent of what they're saying across the pond, maybe it's that Americans don't have the discipline to pull off the ultra-subtle, often long-winded humor of the original Office. I don't know. All I can say is that as awesome as I think Steve Carell is, I just miss David Brent. And as funny as the stapler-in-the-Jello bit was in the American show, I missed the longer, prolix joke where Tim chucks Gareth's stapler out the window.

Here's what I think kills the remake: the characters are actually funny. Michael's misplaced jokes are funny — like the "World's Greatest Boss" mug that he found at Spencer Gifts — but then, on top of that, they're pathetic in that they reflect something totally pitiable about Michael. In the British version, the jokes are just plain pathetic. David Brent is never funny in himself. What's funny is how desperate he is to be the world's coolest boss, how hard he tries, and, because of that, how it's obvious to everybody but him that he's going to fail miserably.

The genius of the original series wasn't merely in how alienating the anti-hero boss was but in how the boss was almost a mechanical piece of this alienating system. He could never be cool or friendly or worthwhile because the system isn't cool, friendly, or worthwhile, yet the system is the only thing he has to give any meaning to his life. Steve Carell doesn't exude that, at least not yet. I'd almost rather see him not try to recreate Ricky Gervais' performance and instead make his character more blatantly the dunderheaded self-important middleman persona he played (plays?) on The Daily Show. Because right now, he's just doing that anonymous guy from those Fed-Ex ads, and that's not working for anyone.