Ten years ago American audiences were introduced to the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company and the diverse group of workers managed by their more then eccentric boss. With a relatively unknown cast of actors adapting a wildly successful British show, the stakes for this show were relatively low and the pilot episode, a nearly shot for shot remake of the British pilot episode, is not stretching beyond the already conceived ideas of its predecessor. The jokes and characters between the two versions are essentially the same, with the character of Michael Scott being the most prominent change between the two versions. The US version took the pedigree and esteem of its British counterpart and used that to its advantage in establishing its narrative tone.
In isolation, the two episodes are nearly identical but when put into the larger context of the seasons of each show and the series as a whole it begins to become apparent that where the British version fed off of quintessentially British humor the American version took out all the cynicisms and replaced it with heart. Those differences can only really be seen over the course of the first season and in the evolution of the characters. Michael Scott started off the show as a David Brent copycat but in his evolution as a character the idea that Michael is just as misguided person with a big heart became one of the major differences in the two versions. The secondary characters in the first episode of the show are only slivers of who the characters are at the end of the show and it is a testament to the writers that they could take the sketches of the people from the British version and make them characters independent of their counterparts. It is in this first season and maybe even by the second episode that the tone and style of the show began to differ from the UK version. In theses changes the heart of the show really began to take shape and set itself up as a show that had the heart and humor to become a favorite for many people. However, where the two season long British version did not get the chance to grown and change, the nine seasons long sitcom allowed the characters in the first episode to grown and change as the season came and gone.
In addition to being a long running show, it also helped to launch the careers of many of the great actors that made the show what it was. Steve Carell was basically unknown when he took on this role, it was a daunting task to place a network show on the shoulders of a guy whose most famous work included shouting matches with Stephen Colbert. The first episode of the show may have relied heavily on its predecessor but it is a detriment to the heart and humor of the show to dismiss it as a copycat when it is so much more than that.
Whenever talks of the superiority of the two versions come up there is always an argument of quality over quantity. Some believe that Gervais’s version is a perfect show in the way it explored the characters of the show to their full extent and subsequently ended the show in its natural place. There are those who also say that over several seasons Steve Carell created a character so iconic and brilliant that only time and growth could create such a character. Whatever your stance on the show there is no denying that at the end of each show’s run the most the shared was the title of the show. There are too many differences big and small that made each version unique and it is a credit to all the writers on each series that they could shape and craft characters that occupied each of the worlds so brilliantly.
Whether you fall on the British or American side of the fence spend 20 minutes of your day watching the pilot episode of “The Office” just to see the very beginning of the journey that crafted some of our favorite characters and brought us a show with the perfect mixture of heart and humor.