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April 4, 2005

Stay out of "The Office"

by Alex Mazerov, Page Editor
With all the trite American-made sitcoms currently broadcast over the airways (think "According to Jim" and "Yes, Dear"), the major networks are being forced to look overseas for some new ideas and creative inspiration. In 2003, NBC tried out an Americanized version of the BBC hit "Coupling"; it failed miserably and was canceled after just a few episodes. This year, NBC tried it again with yet another British comedy, "The Office." The resulting clone isn't the disaster that "Coupling" was, but the show does fail to strike any real comedic chord.
The cast of "The Office."
The cast of "The Office."

"The Office" is an HBO-esque, single-camera comedy sans a laugh-track that is filmed in a style mocking traditional documentaries. Besides chronicling the goings-on at the Dunder Mifflin Paper Supply Co., "The Office" features mock interviews with the characters, where they explain their emotions and motivations and sometimes relate juicy office gossip.

Sometimes, employees sneakily shoot glances or sly smiles into the camera during bits of dialogue, unbeknownst to the other people involved in the conversation. These instances, where the "sneaky glancers" appear to be sharing a joke with viewers but not with the coworkers they are talking to, constitute just one of the many tiresome examples of mean-spirited, backhanded behavior in "The Office." The oft-used practical joke is yet another incarnation of the nasty, humorless conduct that abounds at Dunder Mifflin. One employee, for instance, makes a blob of Jello with a colleague's stapler inside. "You have to eat it out of there because there are people starving in the world," the joker says distastefully, staring into the camera while chuckling.

The pilot episode of "The Office" is a replica of the first episode of the British series, repeating the dialogue and the punch lines almost word-for-word. The premiere finds the boss (Steve Carell, best known from "The Daily Show") announcing a looming series of job cuts, spreading panic and suspicion in the otherwise banal atmosphere of the company office.

Carell is completely miscast as the clueless boss, Michael Scott, a childish slob who is painfully unfunny and insensitive. His version of a practical joke is to falsely accuse the company's receptionist, Pam (Jenna Fischer), of stealing Post-it notes and then immediately firing her. Once Pam starts to cry, completely bewildered and perturbed, Michael tells her that the whole thing's a ruse. He then hoots and yells obnoxiously into Pam's face, "You've been X-punked," a la "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment." Carell as Michael believes that this cruel joke perfectly matches his mantra of being "a friend first, a boss second and probably an entertainer third." But it doesn't. Michael is just a shrill, incompetent supervisor who thinks he's funny but really isn't. Ricky Gervais, who played the boss in the British version, brought an element of subtle pathos to the role of the boss, but Carell comes off as an over-the-top scalawag likely to scare viewers away.

Rainn Wilson ("Six Feet Under") and John Krasinski round out the primary cast. They play the office oddball Dwight and the facetious Jim, respectively. The two competing salesmen frequently engage in juvenile bickering over things as miniscule as a few square inches of desk space. Their squabbles quickly become irritating. The dull flirting between Pam and Jim also eats up a bit of screen time.

Despite its many comedic shortcomings, "The Office" is still a breath of fresh air when compared to the many bland comedies now on TV. The mockumentary is certainly NBC's most sophisticated sitcom since "Scrubs" came on the air. Unfortunately, the show isn't laugh-out-loud funny.

"The Office" airs Tuesday nights at 9:30 on NBC.

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  • steve carell on April 14, 2005 at 7:34 AM
    steve carell is the funniest man on TV
  • dave (View Email) on May 3, 2005 at 9:33 AM
    It's funny that you would go so far as to comment that Carrell's character, Michael, is "just a shrill, incompetent supervisor who thinks he's funny but really isn't." If you had watched the British version of The Office you'd know that that's exactly what the boss character is- a total butt, pardon my use of language. He's an awkward character who's sense of humor is just simply painful, similar to Larry David's comedic approach. To criticize Carrell's perfect portrayal of an American version of Gervais' character is ridiculous.
  • Alvz (View Email) on August 20, 2005 at 9:46 PM
    "Carell is completely miscast as the clueless boss, Michael Scott, a childish slob who is painfully unfunny and insensitive. His version of a practical joke is to falsely accuse the company's receptionist..."

    It's just a comedy show. It's a make believe TV and does not necessarily happen in real life. When the three stooges hit each other with a hammer, that's not real.

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