two faces, bruce and james
hasil adkins

season finale: the office

I've been reminded that I haven't posted anything recently about the American version of The Office, which finished its first (and probably last) season recently. I can be forgiven for not remembering the show had run its course, since the premiere was only a month ago. The initial season was only six episodes, and by the end, ratings were very poor, so six is probably all we'll get.

The Office suffered from several problems, many of which simultaneously made the show better and probably made the ratings worse. It emulated the British original in filming not as a traditional sitcom but as a faux-documentary look at office life, with no laugh track and lots of embarrassing pauses. This was a smart move artistically, but it's entirely possible it threw off viewers, who quit watching pretty much right after the pilot episode was shown.

This was also a show that begged comparison to that British original, which generally doesn't help. The Office was the first show where I had actually seen the original ... never saw the original Queer As Folk or Cracker, to name two recent examples off the top of my head ... in the case of those latter shows, I was able to enjoy them without making unflattering comparisons. Since the British Office was one of my favorite shows, though, I had pretty low expectations for the American ripoff.

Surprisingly, I liked the new one quite a bit. Not sure how long I would have stuck with it ... my living room is littered with the corpses of perfectly fine sitcoms which caught my attention for a few episodes, even an entire season, only to be forgotten because they don't have much staying power for me (see Malcolm in the Middle or The Bernie Mac Show for recent examples). The American characters were pretty good, particularly Rainn Wilson as the "American Gareth". Steve Carell had an impossible task, matching up against Ricky Gervais' "David Brent," one of the great creations in teevee history. Carell didn't really try to imitate Gervais ... he had his own take, it wasn't a classic, but neither did it stink, and it was interesting in its own right.

In the end, I laughed some at every episode, and that's not to be sneezed at. This version never reached the uncomfortable pathos of the British model ... an interesting pathos it was, too, not the kind that Chaplin would pull out of his ass to make his audience cry and identify with his little tramp, but the kind where David Brent was such a sorry, worthless mofo yet you felt sorry for him because he was a CLUELESS sorry, worthless mofo. I never felt sorry for Carell's character ... you got the feeling if he actually realized what impact he had on people, he'd keep doing it anyway because he was an asshole, whereas David Brent would have promised to change (and then gone on doing it anyway).

This is a show that will soon be forgotten, which is probably appropriate, but when it comes to mind sometime in the future, it shouldn't be remembered as an artistic failure ... it was good enough.

Grade for season/series: B+
Grade for original: A+

Our season total so far:

The Office: B+
Joan of Arcadia: B-/C+

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