Vintage Trashwire – ‘Office’ romance
As a big fan of the original UK version of The Office, I was understandably apprehensive when I learned that the show was coming to America. Ricky Gervais was brilliant both as a star and a writer on the show and I doubted anyone would be able to match his talent. When the first season of the American version of The Office kicked off, I was pleasantly surprised at the way they adapted the characters to make the show fit for American audiences. Sure a few scenes played like a weird impersonation of the original, but others shined in originality. Steve Carell, in particular, was impressive because he was able to accomplish the most difficult task by expertly playing the slacker boss made famous by Gervais himself.
I was so excited for the new season, that is, until I saw a recent trailer for the upcoming premiere episode. Instead of the quirky and humorous plot lines that usually occurred in the series, the commercial flashed slow-motion shots of Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Jim (John Krasinski) during their stolen kiss at the end of last season’s final episode. Why were they focusing on the little office romance when the real comedy was in the larger office society? The funniest parts of the show are the awkward pauses when jokes aren’t funny or the way that plot lines don’t always carry the audience somewhere. That’s the part that makes the show real. Where the first and second seasons didn’t seem like a contrived “set-up, pay-off” sitcom, this new episode abandoned the subtleties that made the show so great in the first place.
The episode began by explaining that Jim and Pam had since parted ways after their kiss and that Jim had been promoted to another branch of the company. Throughout the rest of the episode, we were bombarded with scenes showcasing how different the world in the office was now that the lovebirds were miles apart. Jim had no one to get his jokes and Pam had no one to find the humor in boss Michael’s foot-in-the-mouth comments. The other plot, the funny one, about Michael (Carell) accidentally outing a gay employee, was almost completely overshadowed by the melodramatic romance. Was I watching The Office or Laguna Beach? I’ve never seen a comedy take such a sharp turn away from humor and towards generic romance/drama. The entire episode seemed to dwell on one tiny sub-plot as dozens of other funny ideas slipped by.
This was exactly what I feared about NBC bringing this brilliant show to the USA. American audiences want action, they want romance, intrigue, and simpler jokes. Unfortunately, this makes a brilliant and different show like The Office become just like every other mediocre sitcom on TV. In the UK version, two full seasons passed without a hook up between Tim and Dawn, the UK equivalents of Pam and Jim. We didn’t jump right to their relationship all the time because that’s not authentic. People don’t start working with someone and then quickly decide to call off their wedding because of their feelings for the co-worker. By utilizing this accelerated plot, they rushed to please the lowest common denominator of network TV viewers and failed to keep the show interesting for those of us who don’t mind waiting for a big plot point to occur.
I’m optimistic that The Office will be able to recover from this little stumble and get back on track to give us some fresh new comedy. The very first episode of the series failed to impress me because it seemed like a karaoke version of the original, yet the show quickly picked up and became one of my favorites. I hope that they can pull off a similar turn around this time. They need to remember that what makes the show so great is that everyone can relate to it, not that it’s some drama-packed Hollywood version of the office life. I laughed out loud several times at the awkward tension when Michael’s jokes bombed or when Jim egged on Dwight (Rainn Wilson) in the past. That’s a winning formula and there’s no need to mess with it. Working in an office is a funny enough premise without throwing in random sub-plots and laying the romance on thick.