With Steve Carell's last episode about to air, an accounting of what makes his version of the show superior
A few rules for the proper consumption of pop culture: The book is better than the movie. The original is better than the sequel. Bad movies are good at a twenty-year ironic remove, but their remakes remain bad.
And of course, British is better than American.
Like all rules, this last one doesn't always hold true. It may be an unfashionable opinion, but I maintain that American version of The Office has always been better than the British original. With the departure of Michael Scott bringing the end of The Office as we know it, as well as the reappearance of Ricky Gervais as David Brent, the boss of the original Office, it's a good time to revisit what has made the American version so successful in the first place.
The American office has now run five seasons longer than the British, but just looking at David Brent next to Michael Scott makes it clear what kind of a different show NBC started to make right from the beginning. Brent was a petty, mean-spirited son of a bitch nearly devoid of redeeming qualities. Scott, on the other hand, was a child, at times as uncomfortable, but loveable in a way Brent could never manage.
The other characters follow suit. In the British version, Gareth seems to be borderline socially autistic, and Tim's abuse of him feels cruel before funny. Gareth's American counterpart, Dwight, on the other hand, is a bombastic ass so beyond reality that he comes out on the other side of likeable, and Jim's pranks border on public theater. Lee, Dawn's fiancé in the British version, was cruel, controlling, and hinted at being emotionally abusive. Roy was just a well-meaning if somewhat violent buffoon.
The British office was full of warm bodies just trying to get their work done under the oppressive. But as time went on in the American version, minor characters developed into weirdos to give even the boss a run for his money. Around the end of the second season, the writers decided that everything Creed said should be batshit crazy. Kevin went from being just a fat guy to Brian Baumgartner's brilliant, childlike masterpiece. Meredith turned into a sex-crazed drunk. Also hilarious.
The differences in the two shows also play out in their plot arcs. The British Office and the first four seasons of the American are love stories at their core. The end of Tim and Dawn's story is brilliant and beautiful, but heartbreaking. Tim rushes out of the interview room, asks Dawn to talk behind a closed door, and takes off his microphone. We see some hand gestures, surprise, a silence, and a hug. Tim sits back down at his desk and picks up his microphone: