The Office


People can be pretty passionate about whether they believe the U.S. or U.K. version of the mockumentary The Office to be the superior sitcom. The British original version is too dry. The American version isn’t witty enough. American receptionist Pam is cuter than British receptionist Dawn. British boss David Brent is more offensive than American boss Michael Scott. It’s not a debate one would want to get stuck in the middle of, but here are some things to consider when taking a side.

Both versions operate around the premise of a fictional documentary team filming the depressing day-to-day goingson of a dysfunctional paper supply company office run by the worst boss in history. Both versions present and make fun of certain office archetypes: the bad boss, the zealous suck-up, the overqualified slacker, the would-be-artist-turned-receptionist. Though the plots diverge after the pilots, at least the main characters of each version parallel one another in the archetype they represent.

First, the two bosses compete to be more hilariously awful. Superficial and inept, Dunder Mifflin Scranton Regional Manager Michael Scott of the U.S. version lives in a world where he is prouder of things like his Chrysler Sebring or new HD television than of his hard-to-pinpoint professional accomplishments. His U.K. counterpart David Brent heads the Slough branch of Wernham Hogg, and though likewise an ineffective leader, is less of a doof, and more of a self-centered and downright mean attention hog than would-be people pleaser (if only he knew how) Michael. In deciding which is more comical, one must also return to the age-old comparison of the darker British sense of humor versus the lighter, sillier American one. And this argument can go back and forth forever.

Next, we have Dwight Schrute and Gareth Keenan as the bosses’ weasily aspiring cronies. American Dwight’s comic appeal is epitomized by the way in which he insists on being referred to as Assitant Regional Manager, though his title, like British Gareth’s is actually Assistant to the Regional Manager. His blind and militant ambition and total immunity to the opinions of others are the cause of many of his laugh-drawing antics. Not to mention, everything he does he does with what can be considered very American gusto. Gareth fights back with homo-erotic tendencies and a similar disregard for reality.

American Jim Halpert and British Tim Canterbury are too good for the antics of their coworkers and provide some sane perspective on their situations. Both have strong potential for the bigger and better, but both stay in their dead-end jobs to harbor crushes on the receptionist (with whom they endlessly knock the rest of the employees) and cast knowing glances at the cameramen.

Pam Beesly and Dawn Tinsley are the said receptionist objects of Jim and Tim’s respective affections, but both at least begin the show spoken for by other men who are not good enough for them. Both have a talent and passion for art, but just as they settle (at least at first) for unsatisfying men despite their intra-office attractions, they also put aside their artistic ambitions and settle for their mundane nine-to-five lives answering phones and providing deadpan reactions to their outrageous bosses.

As far as secondary characters go, the Americans tend to be more fleshed-out (with last names and weight problems to boot) than the Brits. Awkward moments and embarrassing situations ensue when fat people are asked to sit on tables and participate in sports. There are also several yuppie characters who might hold a mirror to the U.S. show’s 18-35 target demographic that stay loyally tuned to their own high-definition TVs to see the ways their fictional counterparts refuse to grow up or get a life. Usually, though, these viewers will find themselves more entertained than warned by the bleak outlooks for these characters. The secondary characters on the British version, on the other hand, remain more caricatures than actual characters. Little background information is provided about them, and they serve more as targets for David’s abuses than sources of tension and drama themselves. This may be in part due to the fact that the U.K. version lasted fewer seasons than the U.S. version has, with each season consisting of about a quarter of the amount of episodes.

The jury may still be out in determining which version depicts the funnier SNAFU, but luckily, with satellite TV or a high-speed internet connection you can catch both versions and decide for yourself.

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