There are great debates and great debates. Lincoln vs. Douglas. Nature vs. Nurture. And then this one…and if you say they’re both good you are, no doubt, a total wussy.
Now I’ll admit that initially this was no contest. British Office all the way. I give anything that is done first–a big head start. The initial first season episodes of the American Office were so similar to the British Office in terms of plot that the American version just seemed appallingly derivative and uninspired. However, with time the American version grew on me quite a bit.
What the American version has that the British version lacks is an amazing extended cast: Angela, Andy, Phyllis, Jan, Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration. The addition and development of these characters has been a major strength that the British version didn’t have. For one thing, the U.S. version doesn’t just have the Tim/Dawn relationship, or the Pam/Jim relationship for your viewing pleasure. The larger, fleshed-out cast of characters allows all sorts of contrasting pairings: Jan/Michael, Dwight/Angela, the Temp/Kelly, etc. Plus, Toby is amazing.
Of course, the British version has “Free Love on the Free Love Freeway.” That alone is a very big strike in their favor. Another advantage the British office has is it’s over and done. It’s fourteen episode run has a beginning, middle, and end. The Christmas special packs a real emotional punch and ends everything perfectly. It’s a brilliant ending. British television, sponsored by the government as it is, doesn’t have a need to be quite as commercial and extend a hit to the point where the characters and concepts become tiring and annoying. So far the U.S version is still hilarious, but we’ll see how long it can hold up.
The other thing the British version has going for it is that it always played as a believable documentary. The U.S. version takes little to no pains to preserve the original conceit of the show, and while the British version never lets you forget the mind-numbing boredom of office employment, Dunder-Mifflin, quite frankly looks like a fun place to work. I also think the subtlety of the Tim/Dawn relationship is dramatically superior to the Jim/Pam relationship, where I constantly find myself asking what’s stopping those two? How many silly obstacles are the writers going to have throw in their path in seasons to come?
Another way to break it down is by match-ups.
Michael vs. David: Winner: David (And I’m not saying Carell isn’t talented, but Gervais plays it much more real and understated).
Dwight vs. Gareth: Winner: Gareth (Love Shrute/Wilson, but half the time it seems like he’s trying to steal scenes from Carell).
Dawn vs. Pam: Winner: Pam (Yeah, I like Pam)
Tim vs. Jim: Winner: Tim (C’mon, the English are masters of the deadpan expression)
Okay, I’ve decided. The British version is still slightly better than the American version of The Office.
And if you didn’t know the Season 4 premiere of The Office (USA) is this Thursday night.
As an added bonus, my favorite bit of Office dialogue, from the USA version.
Michael: Sounds like a good dentist.
Dwight: Oh yeah…
Michael: What’s his name?
Dwight: (lying) Crentist.
Michael: Your dentist’s name is crentist?
Michael: Huh… Sounds a lot like dentist.
Dwight: Maybe that’s why he became a dentist.