Gervais’s Office comes to America and a new cast shines
For the former Daily Show “correspondent” and talented star, Steve Carell (who’s acting abilities, incidentally, shine the most when he takes on more subdued roles, as in the case when he played a gay, Proust scholar in Little Miss Sunshine), the opportunity to star in the American Office, assuming the same role that Gervais had perfected even before the show’s inception on BBC, must have been, I can only presume, a bit daunting.
Indeed, those are big shoes to fill, as my previous piece, which introduces the mastermind(s) behind the Office indicates. (Despite my focus on Gervais, he shouldn’t be given all the credit, as Stephen Merchant was also the co-creator of the Office and their hit series on HBO, Extras).
THE VERDICT: FIRST IMPRESSIONS AREN’T ALWAYS CORRECT
I’ll be the first to admit, when I watched the first few episodes of the American Office, my leeriness was confirmed. Jim (played by the now famous John Krasiniski, a native – like the writer/actor of the show B.J. Novak – of Newton, MA) just parroted Tim (Martin Freeman), and as a mere mimicker of the British actor, I wasn’t impressed. It was worse for Carell, however, as he was taking on Gervais’s role. All eyes were on him. While Gervais received gushing praise (one critic, as I mentioned previously, lauded, “the show is perfect.”), American TV critics, not surprisingly, reviewed Carell’s initial performance with either tepid (ahem) approval or outright despair, the latter bemoaning the fact that he was channeling Gervais and in a decidedly not-so-subtle manner.
One EW reviewer, expressed similar misgivings as I had, stating, “the first episode’s script was a near-verbatim copy of the British pilot. While character names were changed, the archetypes remained the same: Carell’s boorish Michael futilely tries to prove he’s the funniest man — and coolest boss — alive.”
In slightly more flattering terms, a critic of the NY Times observed, while the show “pales in comparison [to the BBC version], [it] is still funnier than any other new network sitcom.” But that’s not saying much, as most American sitcoms have lowered their bar of standards so close to the ground, people these days think lukewarm, G-rated, cutesy humor is good, if not fabulous.
That’s perhaps a bit harsh, as the British – historically speaking – have been the dominant King of sharp wit, fantastic satire, and biting parody. One sees these developments, for instance, in their love of caricatures (connected to sex, of course), a “low-brow” art from that has flourished for centuries on the that quirky island. (And we should not forget what the UK offered us, good fare for those who hunger for a good laugh, in more recent times, i.e. the domineering geniuses behind Monty Python, notwithstanding the sole American in that bunch, Terry Gilliam).
Regardless of this baggage, handed to Carell from across “the pond,” he stepped into the mix, quite boldly. Playing Michael Scott, the American manager of Dunder Mufflin, a paper supply company located in Scranton, PA, and along with a remarkable cast of new, fresh humorists, the Office has grown remarkably since its first show. Although I stated that there are similarities, thanks to this cast of highly talented actors and writers, it has meandered into a different realm of satire, equally as jarring, funny, and uncomfortable. In so doing, it stands apart from the original version.
Let’s turn now to the first season of the American version.
To be continued…