Remaking a Golden Globe-winning comedy like The Office was never going to be an easy task. Of course, in its earliest days many Brits sneered at the US programme (despite in many cases having not seen it) for being a crass rip-off of one of our comedy greats – it lacked edge, it was dumbed down, its characters were unbelievable…
Of course, what very few of these critics had allowed themselves to do, is see beyond Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s British original and let the show stand on its own two feet.
Without a doubt, the first series was at times difficult to watch for a Briton, because its six episodes were closely aligned with the original series – indeed, the pilot was even written by Gervais and Merchant. But even then, in the first run, the care with which veteran SNL/Simpsons writer Greg Daniels had adapted the stories for an American audience showed a clever spark that many US sitcoms struggle to find when their franchise hits double figures in the season count.
My love for all things Dunder Mifflin was born under the stewardship of regional manager Michael Scott (the fantastic Steve Carell) and his familiar team of workers. Most of the key cast have a British equivalent. Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) is Gareth, Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) is Tim and Pam Beesley (Jenna Fischer) is Dawn.
But where The Office US got it right was to riff around the characters, stay true to certain story arcs – but then let the show go on its own journey. This of course was a necessity as the British version only had twelve episodes and a Christmas special while the Stateside romp had 24 episodes in its second season alone.
By the end of series two it was almost impossible to compare Dunder Mifflin to Wernham Hogg. The show had become a comic soap opera that made you want to keep watching – not to see how it differed from the UK version, but because the plots were smart, the characters were rounded… and you cared. Far beyond the hairbrained schemes of Michael and Dwight, the will-they-won’t-they love story of Jim and Pam and the parodies of mundane in-fighting that any office hierarchy produces – this was a show with heart, humour and a very real identity of its own.
When Steve Carell announced he was to leave the show in season 7, it seemed inevitable that this day would come. The writers bravely soldiered on with guest stars like Will Ferrell and later Catherine Tate. But despite Kathy Bates’s excellent turns as Tallahassee-bred CEO of Sabre Industries, Jo Bennett, the show lacked a true focal point – and it comes as no surprise that it will soon be put to bed.
But that is not to say it failed – quite the opposite, it achieved something quite special in its eight series (and there’s a ninth still to come). It took a brilliant but short idea, and made it into a long-running well-loved network television show which worked on many levels. This was no mean feat and, for this, all involved should be very proud.