The best British import since Bowie

The third season of The Office came out recently, and for someone who keeps his television consumption to a bare minimum, this reporter was stoked. The Office is a fantastic show, and this is coming from an individual who is highly critical of TV. The premiere of the fourth season is coming up on Sept. 27, and the plot is highly cumulative, so you might want to take this chance to catch up on the storyline.

The series is an adaptation of a wildly popular British comedy of the same name. It follows the exploits of employees at the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company. Even though the premise of the American version is basically the same, it has different writers, producers (among whom is Greg Daniels, a significant contributor to The Simpsons) and a different – more attractive – cast.

At first glance the show could be mistaken for a common sitcom. Plenty of uninspired drivel has been pumped out on network television attempting to parody the normal, day-to-day situations that middle class Americans encounter in their work lives. But there’s an important distinction between this show and many others, and that distinction is good writing. Admittedly, the cast members are talented enough to deliver their lines with aplomb, but the major difference between The Office and so much unwatchable trash is the quality of the script. Not to put too fine a point on it – it’s actually funny. The characters are consistent and believable, their interactions are original and at times, embarrassing and uncomfortable.

Like any good office, Dunder-Mifflin is seething with understated sexual tension, mainly between sales representative Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and secretary Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer). The writers have artfully handled their relationship through three entire seasons, maintaining an almost unbearable attraction between the characters with very little payoff. Other, less appealing romances help to drive the plot but they’re mainly just good for laughs.

A wide variety of characters and subplots helps to enrich the series, such as the main character, office manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell), but the main focus is off-beat comedy. Carell has done a great job in the past as a correspondent for The Daily Show and as a suicidal Proust scholar in the brilliant film Little Miss Sunshine. In the role of Michael Scott though, he’s really come into his own. To put it bluntly, he plays a really horrible jackass. His wild, unpredictable swings from insensitive smugness to weepy insecurity are hilarious at the same time they’re making you cringe. Carell’s character insists on being the center of attention, much to the amusement of his wittier

subordinates. For example, in the third season he manages to start an affair with an attractive superior, then in an effort to prove it to a friend he accidentally circulates a provocative picture of her throughout the company’s e-mail. It sounds trite when you describe it, but it’s really well executed. This kind of vanity-fueled blunder is typical of Carell’s character, and he doesn’t overplay the fact that he’s genuinely afraid of his girlfriend. The sullen warehouse workers who hate their boss and make the incriminating picture into a giant poster are spot-on authentic. Fans of the show will know what I’m talking about.

The first three seasons are readily available from Blockbuster and Netflix, so there’s no excuse to download the widely circulated bootleg copies. The Office is on NBC Thursdays

at 9 p.m.

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