DVDs in Review - #19 - The Office: An American Workplace. Seasons 1 to 3

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Steve Carell as Michael Scott
Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute
John Krasinski as Jim Halpert
Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesley
B.J. Novak as Ryan Howard
Leslie David Baker as Stanley Hudson
Brian Baumgartner as Kevin Malone
Angela Kinsey as Angela Martin
Phyllis Smith as Phyllis Lapin
Kate Flannery as Meredith Palmer
Mindy Kaling as Kelly Kapoor
Paul Lieberstein as Toby
Creed Bratton as Creed
Oscar Nuñez as Oscar Martinez
Melora Hardin as Jan Levinson
Ed Helms as Andy Bernard
David Denman as Roy Anderson
Rashida Jones as Karen Filippelli
and Craig Robinson as Daryl Philbin

The Show

Just about everyone who's watched any amount of television should be familiar with at least one of the two versions of "The Office", so I'll assume this is the case here and I'll try to be brief. The Office: An American Workplace - alternatively known as The Office (USA) - is the American remake of the two season BBC Comedy "The Office". For the duration of this I shall be referring to the American version as "The Office" and the UK one as "The Office (UK)".

"The Office" is a mockumentry style show that follows the members of the Scranton branch of 'Dunder Mifflin'. The team is headed by one Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and follows the action in and around the office, spiced up with talking head interviews placed around and sometimes in the middle of scenes. The members of the office are very aware of the cameras, often looking directly into them or acknowledging their presence, sometimes with annoyance. Jim in particular is prone to looking into the camera when someone else has done something he feels is rather 'interesting'.

The show mostly revolves around Michael Scott's attempts to relate with his staff members during various issues, problems and sometimes even crisis that occur and affect the branch. Michael is the American equivalent of David Brent, in that he's very poor at dealing with people and often makes a situation worse. He's awkward, socially unaware, often inappropriate and pretty much the worst boss you could ever hope for. But, there's a side to him that is caring. He genuinely thinks he's personable and likable. He wants to do what's right for his staff as he cares deeply about all of them (except for Toby, who he inexplicably hates). Steve Carrell chose to play Michael Scott without watching Ricky Gervais's performance as David Brent. And it shows in the character; as while David Brent comes across as a worthless wretch of a human being, Michael Scott is intensely sympathetic. Which makes it a lot easier to like him, he really cannot help the way he is - but he is always trying to do what's best for the people who work under him.

The other main links between the UK and American versions of the show are the Jim, Roy and Pam love triangle (Tim, Lee and Dawn in UK), the arrival of a new temp, Ryan (Ricky in UK), Jim and Pam's constant pranking of Dwight (Gareth in UK) and Michael's interactions with his direct boss Jan (the lovely Melora). But with 66 Episodes over 4 seasons so far the show develops story lines for most of its characters and gives us insight into the lives of everyone in the office.

While the show is scripted, the cast are often given opportunities to improvise; this is in part because the cast has many members who are known for their improv work and many of these moments make it into the final cut. Additionally the material that gets cut during editing is still considered to be 'cannon' and as such it can get referred to at a later date even if it hasn't been seen. This gives the show a feeling of realism and spontaneity to it that makes it a joy to watch.

Season One

Season one was picked up and ran in March 2004 to a somewhat lukewarm reception, it ran for only 6 episodes and wasn't well liked by most critics. Watching it you can see why, as the first few episodes directly life story lines and events from the UK episodes. Which makes it very easy to just say "Oh it's another bad American remake of something British", but if you look beyond this you find that the show has an unexpected depth to it. Even with similar scripts and situations it's very clear from the start that the characters are quite different to their UK counterparts (especially Michael Scott as I noted earlier).

During the first season the members of the Scranton branch deal with the arrival of the documentary crew, downsizing, the new temp, Jim's pranks on Dwight, racial diversity, new health plans, a game of basketball between the warehouse and office, an attractive purse saleswoman and a $1,000 top sales man competition.

Season one is a rocky start to the show, but it quickly finds it's footing. The main issues I have with the DVD set is it's really not worth the price. It's only 6 episodes plus deleted material and as such it should either be combined with the second season (as was done with Homicide Series 1) or dropped to about £5 in price. You want to get in with the show at this season, but it's not the best introduction you could have. As such it can make it hard for fans of the UK series to get past those recycled story lines and arrive at the gold that is season 2+.

Extras: Deleted material
Price: £10
Runtime: 2h 15mins (not including deleted material)
Price per minute: 7.5p

: 3.5

The Office Season 1 @ Rotten Tomatoes

Season Two

The second season started in September of 2005 and was the first full 22 episode season of the show. This is the season where "The Office" moves away from it's progenitor and begins to walk on two feet.

During this season several romantic relationships develop or continue. Michael sleeps with his boss Jan in a moment of (her) weakness, Dwight and Angela begin a secret relationship and Jim continues to see Katy (the hot purse sales woman). Meanwhile we discover that Oscar is gay when Dwight sees him with his partner - but Dwight himself does not realise what this means.

Speaking of Dwight, he continues to be tormented by Jim and in one episode is forced to resign his position of 'volunteer reserve deputy sheriff' and in another is given lines from speeches by Adolf and Mossolini to use in a conference - which surprisingly turns out quite well for Dwight. The entire team is given sexual harassment training, Ryan starts a fire, Michael burns his foot on a George Foreman grill, Michael also stars dating a woman named Carol instead of Jan and Jim reveals his feelings to Pam and once rejected he decides to transfer away from the branch.

The problem with the UK release of the second season is pretty simple. It's a horrifying monstrosity to look at, something I've talked about before here in some detail so I won't repeat myself. Needless to say it would not hurt the producers of the first two seasons if they went back, repackaged them together and released them in a new slimline foldout book form with entirely new box art.

Apart from this the season is sheer brilliance; filled with awkward moments, funny pauses, it's the reward you get for sitting through the not quite as good first season and it is well worth watching as the performances and scripting are a work of televisual art. The extras included on the complete season DVD are also worth watching, as I mentioned before they are considered cannon and also included is the entire run of "The Accounting" webisodes and fake PSAs. All of this material is worth watching and adds a couple of hours to your viewing pleasure easily.

Extras: Deleted material, Blooper Reel, Episode Commentaries, "The Accounting" Webisodes, Fake PSAs, Steve on Steve.
Price: £22.99
Runtime: 7h 59m
Price per minute: 3p

: 4

Season 2 @ Rotten Tomatos
Season Three

Having shook things up a little at the end of the second season the third season starts with Jim in the Stamford branch where he transferred after the events of the last season finale. The Stamford branch introduces us to a whole new range of characters including Josh (the manager), Andy and Karen. Meanwhile Pam has broken off her engagement with Roy and Ryan has been hired as a full time sales representative instead of just being 'the temp'.

As the season progresses Michael accidentally outs Oscar, Dwight attempts to take Michael's job after prompting from Angela, the team hold a funeral and cremation for a bird, Dwight hazes Ryan, the Stamford branch is set to absorb the Scranton one but the opposite happens, Michael goes on holiday with Jan then accidentally e-mails the entire company an incriminating photo because he fails to see the difference between "Packer" and "Packing", Jim and Karen start dating, Ryan takes Michael to lecture at his business school, Phyllis is flashed and towards the end of the season Michael, Karen and Jim all interview for Jan's job. Which results in an promotion for one member of the office.

Season three builds on the sheer brilliance of the previous season and excels beyond it, Steve Carell continues to be simultaneously; funny, awkward, offensive and sweet. The addition of new cast members just adds layers to the show, especially in the cases of Andy (Ed Helms) and Karen (Rashida). Joss Whedon provides the episode "Business School" and the other writers remain as on pitch as they did in the previous season. I also find Pam's (Jenna) performance at the end of this season to be heartwarming and touching, but you'll have to watch the season to see the particulars of how and why.

The Extras on this set are phenomenal, there's a full hours worth of deleted scene on each disc and a massive amount of other stuff that totals something in the region of an additional 5 or 6 hours of viewing. As always the deleted scenes are worth watching because they are considered cannon, but the rest is worth watching due to it's brilliance.

Extras: Deleted material, Blooper Reel, Episode Commentaries, Toby Wraparounds, Joss Whedon interview, Dwight Schrute Music video, Kevin Cooks Stuff in the Office and more
Price: £24.99
Runtime: 9h 34m
Price per minute: 4.4p

: 5

Season 3 @ Rotten Tomatoes

Final Words

I really hate the idea of remakes, I think they are lazy and often result in shows that are far worse than the original ones. But "The Office" is truly an exception to this, it has in fact risen above the original show and is clearly a better viewing experience. It's better paced, has more sympathetic characters, more interesting situations and overall it is just a superior show. It's a sharp and cutting look into office life in the USA that doesn't ever let up on the comedy. There's a very good reason why I rated it number 6 in my top 50 shows. It's just filled to the reels with quality, so any fan of the UK version should watch this and the people who didn't like the UK one should still give this a try because it's just a better show.


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