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.