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Photo/Video: ‘The Office’ UK vs ‘The Office’ USA/Hollywood Insider YouTube Channel/Illustration by Jessica Glassberg
Okay, we’ve got to be mature about this. It’s time to do some serious analysis of both versions of the classic The Office. I need to really get into it. That’s what she said. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Both versions of The Office are considered classics in their own right. The UK version premiered in 2001 and had a modest following at first, but later gained viewership in re-runs and became one of the most successful shows in UK television history. The US version lasted from 2005 to 2013. During the first season, it had a low viewership but after Steve Carell starred in The 40-Year-Old Virgin in the hiatus after the first season, the show gained massive popularity. Though many use the tried and true argument of “the original is always better” to arrive at the conclusion that the UK version of The Office will always reign supreme, today I’ll be doing a deeper analysis.
I’ll compare the characteristics and merits of both versions of the show to argue that The Office US is the best. And I promise, my American bias isn’t getting in the way here. I’ll put the American flag that I always have on hand should I need it (the occasion arises more than you’d think) and my emergency “we’re number one!” red, white, and blue t-shirt and matching socks away for the time being. I genuinely like the US version of the show better. And I have my reasons other than the fact that in the US, it’s not legally required but heavily encouraged to have a borderline psychotic level of patriotism. I admit my biases – my sense of humor has American sensibilities and I’m used to the American format of TV. But I believe that the US show is better. Don’t get me wrong, The Office US and UK are both shows that dared to go beyond what we’re all used to seeing on TV. I’ll get into that a bit later, but both shows are genuinely amazing and groundbreaking and both of them changed the landscape of sitcoms in their respective countries for years to come. I just think the US version is better and I have my reasons.
The Tone – Wernham Hogg vs. Dunder Mifflin
The Office UK takes place in a very drab and dreary office that gave off the sense of being trapped. This resembles why some of the workers in the office feel that they are trapped in a dead-end job. The Office UK was filmed on a shoestring budget so the style of the show adhered very strictly to the documentary-style the show is known for. In the US version, the first season adheres very closely to the tone and style of its predecessor giving it that same low-budget and dreary feeling.
However, as the show gained more popularity in season 2, it drifted away from The Office UK by putting more color into the setting and adopting a more cheery tone. The atmospheres of both shows were created to appeal to their primary audiences. The British, in general, are more cynical people while Americans are more hopeful. The preferred tone between the two shows is of course a matter of preference, but the US version gained a big following much sooner than the UK version and tone probably had something to do with it.
The US version of the show also had far more supporting players than the UK version. While both offices are said to have a staff of almost twenty workers within the show, the US Office featured its supporting cast and each character had a moment to shine. Also, the supporting cast at Dunder Mifflin was far more diverse. While almost everyone in the office of Wernham Hogg looks like they burn at the mere suggestion that it’s going to be a sunny day, the staff of Dunder Mifflin represented a bunch of different races and cultures. This allowed for the US Office to occasionally focus on subjects such as discrimination and racism, subjects that were at the time not talked about often enough on TV, especially in comedies. Of course, Michael Scott, the boss of the US Office, often would make off-color, racist, and sexist jokes, but he was always made to look like an idiot when he did so.
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Michael also made these jokes out of ignorance, not hatred. The US Office is able to stay just as popular, if not more popular, today as when it first aired without being accused of being insensitive towards cultural issues because Michael clearly is made to look like an idiot when he makes these jokes. David Brent also was made to look like a fool when he made off-color comments but since there were no people of color or gay people in his office, they were played up for cringe factor and shock value because, unlike the American Office, the camera couldn’t cut to the people of color in the office to reinforce the fact that the person making the joke is supposed to be the butt of the joke.
“That’s what she said!” – The Boss That Influenced a Tidal Wave of Sitcoms To Come
Think of the main characters of sitcoms before The Office – Ross Geller, Jerry Seinfeld, Sam Malone. All of these characters are funny, but the characters surrounding them were all crazier and more dysfunctional. This allowed the main character to function as the straight character, the most normal character in their respective show who would produce comedy from their reactions to the actions of the more wildcard characters. Both The Office UK and US were so unique because for the first time in a long time (since the days of I Love Lucy and Gilligan’s Island), the main character functions as the craziest in the cast and was the main source of comedy in their respective shows.
David Brent and Michael Scott both function as the office clown. Admittedly, without David Brent, there would have been no Michael Scott to break ground on American TV. Ricky Gervais set the stage for the boss who was crazy, dysfunctional, and desperate for attention. It’s best summed up by one of Michael’s most famous quotes on the US show, “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, I want people to fear how much they love me.” That line, in its essence, captures the spirit of both characters.
Ricky Gervais played a huge role in the success of the original show, acting as showrunner, producer, and of course, starring as David Brent. Gervais began his career in music, eventually transitioning into stand-up and later writing and acting. Unfortunately, with roots as a singer and a comedian, Gervais grew accustomed to having the spotlight squarely on him. This is probably why David Brent is such an attention-stealing character. He likely wrote the show in a way that the audience could only focus on him. Who could pay attention to the antics of Gareth or the love growing between Dawn and Tim when David starts singing original songs, playing the guitar he brought all the way from home? In all fairness, UK TV shows have shorter seasons and Gervais needed his leading man to make the biggest impression he could to keep viewers tuned in for season two.
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The Office USA vs The Office UK
In comparison, Steve Carell began his acting career in sketch comedy at Second City. As an improv and sketch comedian, one must feed off of their fellow actors. He later was employed on The Daily Show as a correspondent next to rising mega-star Jon Stewart where he learned what it meant to be a supporting, given outlandish, character in each segment he took part in. Finally, his big break occurred when he landed the role of Michael Scott in The Office. Michael is a very attention-grabbing character, naturally, given his personality. But he still leaves room for other characters to shine in the contained 21 minutes per episode. This way, the audience is left wondering what Michael is going to do next but they’re also thinking about the romantic tension building between Jim and Pam or the general neurosis of Dwight.
Also, Michael Scott is in general a far more lovable character than David Brent. In David, we just get a silly clown who likes pulling pranks just for the hell of it but in Michael, we have something more. Michael, on numerous occasions, expresses that he feels like his workers are his family. While David’s pranks come off as cold-hearted and at times even cruel, the audience knows that with every potentially mean prank, at the end of the day, Michael is pranking and joking out of genuine love and friendship. Another obvious character trait of David Brent is that he is more arrogant in his character. While his constant rants to the camera about how the world works are no doubt amusing, they make for an arrogant and not necessarily lovable character. Michael on the other hand can be arrogant at times but is more like a puppy trying to figure out how to successfully get a treat than anything. Michael is an idiot constantly trying everything he can to get the love and appreciation of everyone around him. He may be annoying, unintentionally bigoted, and undoubtedly stupid at times but the audience is willing to forgive it all because, above everything else, Michael Scott just wants love.
Battle of Love: Jim and Pam AKA Jam vs. Dawn and Tim (AKA Tawn, I Guess)
Already, you can see why Jim and Pam’s relationship has an advantage being that the US version of the show wasn’t only centered around the antics of the boss. Thus, the US Office was more able to make the love interest a focal point of the show. So, while Dawn and Tim mostly served as a source for David to base jokes off of, Jim and Pam felt more real and more emotional. The US Office also has the advantage of having lasted nine seasons while the UK version only lasted two and a couple of Christmas episodes. Therefore, Jim and Pam and their relationship had more time to grow and develop throughout the series while Tim and Dawn only had 14 episodes to wrap up their story. So, adding on to the lack of focus on their relationship, it’s hard for Tim and Dawn to compare to the sitcom relationship that took America by storm in the early part of the twentieth century. So it’s really not a fair match up, but I have to give this one to Jam.
War of the Weirdos: Dwight vs. Gareth
“There are 3 things you never turn your back on – bears, men you have wronged, and a dominant male turkey during mating season.” Dwight Schrute
Dwight and Gareth are two hilarious characters with their hilarity only compounded by their undying loyalty to their boss and their animosity against the closest person to normal in either of their respective offices (namely Jim and Tim). They both are unflinchingly faithful to the companies they work for and have a rigid and unquestionably weird moral code. But there are a few key differences between the characters. Dwight was played by Rainn Wilson and Gareth was played by Mackenzie Crook.
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The actors’ styles of acting changes their characters a lot. Wilson played Dwight as a very domineering and self-confident character while Crook played Gareth to be more awkward. I suppose it depends on taste, but Wilson’s performance allowed for it to seem like the character leaned into his own weirdness, while Gareth almost seemed ashamed of his zany ways, Dwight was raised on an Amish farm and occasionally, his hands are stained with beet juice in a way that makes him look like he committed murder, and he’s not afraid to show it.
Which brings us to my next point, Dwight has a backstory. Schrute Farms is the most insane and irrational backstory a writer could give a character but it still did the trick and humanized Dwight. We always sympathize more with weird people if we know how they got that way, and Dwight definitely has an excuse to be weird given how insane his upbringing was. He was raised by time-traveling Amish farmers for crying out loud! Dwight was also more humanized by the fact that the US Office lasted long enough to flesh him out as a character, Schrute Farms and all. Throughout the course of the US version of the show, Dwight found love, financial prosperity, and a home, and fans were cheering him on every step of the way because they had been following the arc of his character for nine seasons. If Gareth had a wife and owned a successful business by the finale of the UK Office, audiences wouldn’t care as much because Gareth wasn’t on TV for long enough for us to get to know his character.
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Carrie Fishbane is obsessed with all things comedy and loves to reflect on the impact of comedy on the world. Having spent thousands of hours studying literature, she also writes about the political impact of entertainment and the power movies and TV have to create social change. Hollywood Insider promotes ethics and substance in entertainment, which is exactly in line with Carrie’s perspective. Carrie’s favorite movies include Jojo Rabbit, Deadpool, and Inception and her favorite shows are Rick and Morty, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and The Office.