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Athens, Ohio, United States
"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dunder Hogg

(Author's note: This post contains heavy spoilers regarding the newest episode of The Office so if you have not seen it: tough luck.)

Fall is finally here!

I do not say this because the leave are falling off the trees here in Athens (although it is a gorgeous sight) or even because the season known as Autumn literally began about a week ago. No, friends, I can safely say that Fall is here solely because the TV season has officially begun! Heroes debuted Monday and I was mildly impressed. Last season was an unmitigated disaster and I have made peace with the fact that Heroes is never going to reach its near-limitless potential but nontheless, I was engaged by the episode. If Tim Kring or any of his homees EVER use a voiceover of the best poem ever written at the end of their mediocre TV show again, however, I will be forced to burn NBC studios to the ground. You can only crank out the "Yeats" when you are sure you have a masterpiece on your hands.

Dead Irish poets aside, the premiere I was really looking forward to this week came last. Astute readers will know by the headline of this post will know that I am referring to The Office, of course. Now, I am not the biggest Office fan. As a matter of fact, when 30 Rock returns in about a month, The Office won't even be the best show on NBC within the 9:00 hour on Thursdays. But I must admit, the show makes me laugh fairly regularly and I have rarely missed an episode. As I watched last night, I was particularly impressed. Not simply because it was good, but because it was just as good, if not better than when it began more than four seasons and sixty episodes later. It is very rare for any comedy to remain fresh and funny for an extended period of time (R.I.P Scrubs) and I would like to give all involved on The Office a big ol' metaphorical pat on the back.

But that is not all I intend to say today (otherwise, this would have been the most boring blog entry in the history of blogs). While I found last night's episode very funny, it did continue an interesting trend that I have been noticing since the second season of the American version of the show. Last night, the insufferable blowhard of a boss Michael Scott convinced Kelly Kapour that she was beautiful despite any perceived flaws, Laconic office drone Stanley realized his dream of losing seven pounds, Long-suffering saleswoman Phyllis finally got to bitch out Dwight for finally going over the line and of course, Jim and Pam did something pretty special and heartwarming. In short...good things happened.

For those of you confused as to why this shocks me, I will kindly direct your attention to the British version of the Office or the American version's series premiere which was essentially a shot for shot recreation of the British version's pilot. To anyone who endured the brutally awkward, hopeless and uncomfortable twelve episodes of Ricky Gervais's British series, did you ever think there would be a single moment where these poor pencil pushers would ever experience even the slightest glimmer of hope? I will spare you the thought of it: the answer is "no".

 In the dark BBC series, there was never a single moment where there was even faintest flicker of hope that these men and women's lives were anything more than meaningless tragedies. The lovelorn pathetic salesman never got to be with the cute receptionist. No one ever mustered the courage to stand up to the bizarre, out-of-touch assistant to the regional manager. And more than anything: the sexist, egotistical, wildly inappropriate, attention-seeking bastard of a boss never met any other human being who was remotely fond of him in any way.

This show was so brutally awkward that I could never watch more than one episode in a row. I needed to take a mental break and let my soul quietly weep for these poor office workers being slowly tortured to death by their idiotic boss. And, yes, this show was funny. And yes, the American version is too. I am not going to declare that one version is better than the other but I am going to raise a question that I have no answer for and I can't imagine anyone else does either. What is the fundamental difference in American and British societies that led them to produce two versions of the exact same show: one soul-crushingly hopeless and one infinitely more optimistic and bright. 

I am not saying that the American version is without its dark or awkward moments but there are always breaths of fresh air in-between them. Characters in the American Office change, grow professionally and personally and frequently conquer their various tormentors and fears. Characters in the British Office, however, are small, weak and insignificant creatures. They do not stand up for themselves or demand anything better. They quietly give into the bureaucracy and live their lives in quiet insignificance. 

Is there something in America's history that has made us infinitely more optimistic than our English brethren? Do we really view ourselves as the strong, enlightened individuals in The Office or are they who we wish we were? And what in the hell made those Brits so damn grumpy???  I would theorize that America's age has something to do with our current cheery outlook. Maybe when we acquire thousands of years more history of Dark Ages, pain, War and evil like the British Isles we can finally learn how to do dark humor like they do but for now they have the market cornered. But ultimately, I have no definite answer for this phenomenon.

Oh well, at least my television viewing won't require me to think this hard again for another two or three months. That is when Lost is King.



3 comments:

Mitchell Kinnen said...

Interesting. I think the American version had the fundemantal message watered-down. The British version echoes much stronger that sense of futility and redundancy that can crop up in middle-management offices of the corporate world. The utter lack of hope is what lets the actual office workers comiserate with the characters, while still having a good laugh. The Americanized version sort of tip-toes around the same sentiments, but refuses to step on them. Most likely because American viewers have so many options, and if a show makes them sad, then they'll change the channel. However, this doesn't bother me. Even if the message is being dilluted, I still think the American version is better.

Woozie said...

Pfft, Lost.

A.G.B said...

Now what exactly does "Pff, Lost" mean?