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The Office: Season 1 DVD Review

The Office: Season 1

January 20, 2006

Director: Ken Kwapis, Bryan Gordon, Greg Daniels, ,
Starring: Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, B.J. Novak, Brian Baumgartner, Phyllis Smith, Oscar Nunez, ,

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DVD Review

Whenever a U.S. network tries to remake a popular British sitcom it almost always fails. Roseanne’s take on Absolutely Fabulous never saw the light of day, John Larroquette’s version of Fawlty Towers was dreadful and the more recent attempt to remake Coupling was an embarrassment. So, the U.S. makeover of the brilliant and hugely popular Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant Britcom, The Office was met with a certain amount of jaded cynicism (and in some cases, outright hostility). There was no way that they would be able to capture the original show’s blend of uncomfortable humour and spot-on observations of human behaviour in a soul-deadening 9-to-5 office environment.

There was a glimmer of hope in that Gervais and Merchant had given the show their seal of approval and, more importantly, that Gervais’ inept office manager’s U.S. counterpart would be played by none other than Steve Carell, a memorable regular on The Daily Show and a scene-stealer in Bruce Almighty (2003) and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004).

Amazingly, the writers on this version have found the equivalent of Slough by basing the paper company Dunder Mifflin, Inc. in Scranton, Pennsylvania, a negative zone where not much exciting happens. The set-up is identical to that of the U.K. version: a documentary crew visits the offices of said company in order to observe their working methods and conduct while regional supervisor Michael Scott (Carell) tries to keep his people happy amidst rumours of rampant layoffs.

Let’s face it, if anyone has a chance of replicating the clueless insensitivity of David Brent it’s Carell and he does a pretty good job of filling Gervais’ shoes. Carell just has a naturally funny presence that makes what he does and say very entertaining. He isn’t afraid to look stupid or in an unflattering light. He is fearless and willing to play his role to the hilt as evident in the “Diversity Day” episode when Michael recites a memorable Chris Rock routine to hilarious effect.

The rest of the cast does a fine job with their respective roles but anyone who has seen the original would agree that none of them compare to their U.K. counterparts. However, as the season progresses, they seem to be breaking away from their archetypes and developing their own unique traits. It should be interesting to see what directions they take in the next season.

It is impressive to see just how far the network let this show go. There is a scene in the Pilot episode where Michael plays a practical joke on his secretary, Pam (Fischer) that backfires horribly when he makes her cry. The scene goes on for what feels like an eternity making it even more uncomfortable by the second as Pam, thinking she’s been fired, gets really upset and Michael looks more and more like a mean-spirited bully.

Greg Daniels, the man responsible for the U.S. adaptation, faithfully preserves the show’s hand-held camera documentary look, lack of laugh track and a musical score to tell audiences when to laugh or what to feel. It’s a gutsy move for a major network show. Daniels deserves credit for not totally screwing things up like past U.S. Britcom adaptations and it should be interesting how much he makes the show its own thing in the next season.

Special Features:

There are deleted scenes for all six episodes that give some of the peripheral characters more screen time.

There is an audio commentary for the “Pilot” episode by cast members Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson and B.J. Novak. They all talk about how nervous they were going into this production, especially having to do a script reading in front of Gervais and Merchant. They also touch upon the pressure from the media and the fans of the original show.

Also included is an additional commentary for the same episode, this time with Krasinski, Wilson, Novak, actress Jenna Fischer and executive producers Greg Daniels and Ken Kwapis. Gervais and Merchant were very supportive, offering notes on editing and tone of the episode. Fischer talks about how she was cast and the process. She was told to dress conservative and bore the casting director.

There is an audio commentary for the “Diversity Day” episode with Carell, Krasinski, Wilson, Novak and Daniels. Like the other tracks, this one is conversational in nature as everyone cracks jokes and recounts anecdotes of filming this episode.

There is an audio commentary for “The Alliance” episode with Krasinski, Wilson, Fischer, Novak, Daniels, consulting producer Larry Wilmore, writers Paul Lieberstein, Mindy Kaling and Michael Schur. The writers talk about how they got the job and the audition process. For the amount of commentators for this episode it never gets too chaotic. The writers and actors try to create the impression that many of the lines were adlibbed.

Finally, there is an audio commentary for the “Basketball” episode by Carell, Krasinski, Wilson, Novak and Daniels. They shoot more footage than what airs so that some scenes can go on longer but they only have 22 minutes of screen time on network TV, hence the deleted scenes section on the DVD.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 77%

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