Warning: Some spoilers
Of all the half-hour comedy shows that I've ever seen, THE OFFICE is the one that I would have thought the least likely to be brilliant. The BBC original version of the show was a thing of genius. Trying to do an American version of it seemed to me to be akin to Andy Warhol doing a remake of Picasso's "Guernica." Watching the show in Season One I was astonished that it was not only not bad, but that it was in fact very good. Amazingly, in Season Two it became something utterly brilliant. Although I was a huge fan of the original show, I have to confess that the American show is every bit as good as the British original. It is the finest American adaptation of a British show since ALL IN THE FAMILY remade TIL DEATH DO US PART.
Two things make this a great show: the writing, which is persistently brilliant (though obviously aided by a great deal of improvisation on the set), and the cast, which is both talented and very deep. Steve Carrell at first was not completely at home in the role, failing to strike the right balance between an utter absurdity and being likable nonetheless. Ricky Gervais managed to get this perfect from the beginning and he was always someone viewers would find to be the world's biggest idiot while nonetheless inwardly rooting for things to work out for him. At first, Carrell was incredibly funny in the role, but he was not someone to feel much sympathy for. But as Season Two went on and some of his own insecurities were revealed, we came to understand that he was more aware of his own basic unlikability than his persistent bluster made clear. By the end of the season he was near perfect in the role and he fully deserved the Golden Globe he won. Nearly as many laughs were generated by his brown-nosing sycophant Dwight, played brilliantly by Rainn Wilson. But the heart of the show in Season Two was the obvious and endearing attraction between Pam (sweetly played by Jenna Fischer), who is engaged to marry a guy who works in the warehouse, and Jim Halpert (winningly played by Jon Krasinski). If the antics of Michael Scott dominated each individual episode, the non-romance between Jim and Pam dominated the season as a whole. The climax of the entire season comes in the final episode, when Jim confesses his love for Pam and they kiss, just before he transfers to the Stamford, Connecticut branch of the company. I have rarely seen so much anticipation over a summer for the start of a new season for a half-hour show as I did this one, with an army of fans of the show wondering how Pam and Jim would pick up in Season Three.
Although THE OFFICE started off fine in its first season, it got better and better throughout Season Two. Because it has already run for more episodes than the British original, it is beginning to exploit one advantage it has over it: the ability to develop more fully minor characters. In the second half of the season especially a number of characters who initially just took up space became known entities, such as Kelly, the Indian girl who is fixated on getting married and immediately having babies on the one hand and doing this with her coworker Ryan on the other. Or Creed, about whom we learn more and more odd details as the season goes along, culminating in the season finale where he informs us that he likes to steal things. (Creed, by the way, is played by Creed Bratton, who was a rock star in the sixties as lead guitarist for the famous group the Grassroots, which had a string of huge hits including "Midnight Confession" and "Let's Live for Today.") As we get to know the various members of the office and pick up on the intricate interplay between the various personalities, the show becomes more and more irresistible.
THE OFFICE follows a trend in the best American television comedy to move away from the situation comedies that has long dominated our comedy. Most shows have been shot in front of a live studio audience, filmed with three or more cameras, performing each scene more than once in order to have alternate takes for the final version. But wonderfully innovative shows like MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, and SCRUBS has abandoned the situation comedy format and opted for a more realistic format. Like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, THE OFFICE takes on a documentary style, shooting the film on hand held video, which not only gives the show a more spontaneous feel, but avoids the expensive camera and lighting set ups that adds a lot of time to shooting. I think this is a great trend and I personally would love to see the live audience situation comedy disappear entirely.
With the unfortunate demise of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (I still haven't recovered from that shock of its disappearance), THE OFFICE becomes the finest and most innovative comedy on American television (its only rival for the title being SCRUBS). There are still a few diehard fans of the BBC series that won't give this one a try. They should. It not only does great honor to the British show, it has become an absolutely wonderful show in its own right.