American The Office clocks out
- 18 May 2013
- From the section US & Canada
The American version of The Office closed up shop after nine years and more than 200 episodes. Its sunny optimism reflected the country that adopted it.
For Britain the joy was always short lived. For America, the river of laughs flowed deeper and ran longer.
But now it is over.
The Office - whether in Slough, England, or Scranton, Pennsylvania - has closed for business.
What became a wildly successful series in the US almost died at birth. A six-episode run in 2005 garnered calamitously low ratings and generally poor reviews.
But broadcaster NBC persevered. The style of the show was tweaked and by the second season The Office had become that rarity - a huge network hit showered with praise by the critics. It also changed the way that television, or at least some television, was made.
The original concept, as executed in the UK, was a hugely unlikely mass-market show for the US - a single-camera "mockumentary" about life in the administrative office of a paper products supply company.
'Life is stationery'
The humour is deadpan ("refreshingly laid back", the regional manager described himself, "for a man with such responsibility"). There is neither studio audience nor laugh track to remind viewers that it is a comedy or simply to indicate when to laugh.
It worked in America. But it was different. And the differences speak - perhaps a little uncomfortably at times - to the differences between the country that gave birth to the show and the one that so enthusiastically adopted it.
Some of the changes were superficial - Wernham Hogg Paper Merchants (where "life is stationery") became Dunder Mifflin Inc, a regional paper and office supply distributer.
The UK version ran for 15 episodes. The US version, with nine seasons and more than 200 episodes, had a larger cast and vastly expanded storylines. And Slough, of course, became Scranton.
For Office fan Michelle Dempsey, that almost became a problem.
"My husband is British," she says, "and the night we met we bonded over The Office, the UK version.
"The American version had just started, and I had to swear to him that Scranton, where I lived, was not Slough."
Dark, bitter, lacerating
Tim Holmes, of the Scranton Times, picks up on the theme.
"Even though we are a little slow-paced in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and they really played that up, there's always this endearing quality that came out," he says. "For that we were always very thankful. They were very kind."
Endearing. Kind. Not words you associate with the UK version. Dark, bitter, quite often lacerating. But really not endearing, or kind.
You rarely wince watching the American Office. The cubicle farms of the US, where tens of millions spend their white-collar working lives, are deeply conventional places, heavily represented (and ever-so-lovingly mocked) in advertisements.
The US version of The Office may have seemed risque to some, but that is because American workplaces are more regimented affairs than in many countries, with written and unwritten workplace etiquette rules often stifling spontaneity and horseplay.
Small towns mocked
So in the US version, a stapler does get embedded into jelly. But the foul-mouthed misogyny of near-sociopath Chris Finch? The unflinching mordancy of anti-hero Gareth Keenan? None of it made it to the American screen.
The US version of The Office is a kinder, gentler thing, with more slapstick laughs and more relief for the audience from the forensic dissection of life amongst the grey partition walls.
"In the first season of the American show, we were trying to create the despicable boss and the despicable employees, and I guess we just couldn't follow through on it," says Hank Steuver, TV critic for the Washington Post.
"We needed something to hang on to, some sliver of hope. We kind of turned them into loveable teddy bear people who still had all their flaws and were not always nice to one another but somehow wormed their way into our hearts."
The Office in America became a funny, sometimes awkward piece of the television furniture. And when the end of the final season drew near, the people of Scranton threw a parade. Stars of the show sat on the back of pick-up trucks and the band played and played. Small town life had been mocked in the show, but gently.
It is difficult to imagine Slough, back in England, doing the same for The Office that made its trading estate home.
One critic wrote of the British version that "nobody is working, nobody has a happy relationship, everyone looks terrible and everyone looks depressed". That's not Britain - either at work at play.
But it might just be that the kinder, gentler American TV show reflects a kinder and gentler country.