The Office: An American Workplace - Season Two

The Office: An American Workplace - Season Two


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Being a massive fan of the original version of The Office, I never held much hope for the Americanisation. Though Season One wasn’t completely awful, it often felt like a watered-down copy of its predecessor (some episodes were almost copied scene for scene) and wasn't anywhere near as funny. Add into the equation that nearly every time a British show has been translated to American soil it has failed miserably and things did not look good for season two. Fact.

Thankfully, the second series improves immeasurably over the first and proves all its doubters - including me - totally wrong.

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While the office workers at the Scranton branch of paper company Dunder Mifflin still face the prospect of downsizing, boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) continues in his quest for popularity and acceptance. In the middle of all this a few office romances begin as Dwight (Rainn Wilson) secretly gets involved with Angela (Angela Kinsey), Kelly (Mindy Kaling) develops a crush on Ryan (BJ Novak) and Michael tries to romance his superior, Jan (Melora Hardin). At the same time, Jim (John Krasinski) still harbours his secret love for Pam (Jenna Fischer) and when plans for her wedding to Roy (David Denman) move forward, he contemplates leaving Scranton for good.

Learning from the mistakes of Season One, showrunner Greg Daniels takes this season in its own direction and avoids following in the long shadow of the Golden Globe-winning British classic. Though it is still a mock documentary, with occasional talking heads, that focuses on the work environment in a paper supply company, the humour is a little broader, the tone is a little lighter and the scope is a little larger. While this might hint at a dumbed down version, its clever in a different way and, as someone who can quote each line from the original, I am shocked (in a good way) by how much the American version now has to offer. Well, I suppose if you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.

In my opinion, the main reason for the turnaround is the characters. Without the burden of having to live up to their British counterparts and with a lot more episodes to work with (last time there were 6, now there are 22), they get the chance to develop in their own right into real people who we are genuinely interested in. Though Michael, Jim, Pam and Dwight are still the focal points, the background cast get much more screen time in Season Two and each one of them contributes something significant. From glum HR rep Toby (Paul Lieberstein) to dagger-staring Angela, from closet-alcoholic Meredith (Kate Flannery) to monotone humbug Stanley (Leslie David Barker), their foibles are what make them who they are and the show wouldn’t be the same without them.

Whether it’s Kelly speed-talking about her infatuation with having a relationship, Meredith getting presents from Bob Vance (“Vance Refrigeration”) or the permanently mortified look on Ryan’s face, these guys are no longer just bodies used to fill up the rest of the office. Indeed, in a manner reminiscent of The Simpsons (unsurprising as Daniels was a writer/producer for them) we are sometimes actually waiting for a minor character to come on screen just to get their take on what is happening. Personally, I’m always looking for the strange and eccentric Creed (Creed Bratton) who is pure comedy gold-dust.

The knock-on effect of all this is the relationships that hinted promise in Season One now blossom into viewing which is both moving and endearing. Though television has had more than enough 'will they, won't they?' couples, the Jim/Pam dynamic (I believe the cool kids are calling them 'Jam' or 'Pim') is the well-crafted emotional centre round which all the comedy is based. Played with impressive chemistry by both Krasinski and Fischer, their subtle unspoken romance frustrates us in the right way and is full of brilliant small moments like a rooftop meal or when Pam's Mum asks about Jim. Don’t even get me started on the ending.

In terms of the funny, the laugh-o-metre has been cranked up several notches from series one with more writing responsibility being given to BJ Novak, Paul Lieberstein and Kelly Kaling (who play Ryan, Toby and Kelly respectively). Since we have become hardened to the 'I can't watch' wince-inducing approach of comedy over the last few years with things like I'm Alan Partridge or Peep Show, the humour here has more levels to it. Instead, the laugh-out-loud moments come from Michael's stupidity, Jim's inspirational pranks on Dwight (like convincing him it was Friday on a Thursday so he would miss work the next day) and Dwight generally being Dwight.

Speaking of Dwight, Rainn Wilson's performance is definitely one of the highlights. No longer haunted by Mackenzie Crook's ghost, Wilson cuts free to create a character so brilliantly conceived you can easily share in Jim's frustrations. As for the "Captain of the ship" Michael Scott, though there might be too many episodes that focus on his unpopularity and need for acceptance, Steve Carell improves his game big time and gets more winning moments than Brent ever did. There is also something dramatically different about his hair too, but I just can't place it.

While the show won a few awards, perhaps the biggest compliment it received was that most viewers thought it was largely improvised. Though there is improvisation peppered in (Carell and Wilson in particular), it is a credit to the actors and writers that the majority is scripted and feels like we are secretly watching the events of a real life office unfold. About the only UK comedy series to be successfully remade in the US, it is definitely better second time round. That’s what she said.

Reviewed on: 15 Nov 2008
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More office politics at Dunder Mifflin, in the American version of the Brit hit.
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Director: Greg Daniels, Ken Kwapis, Paul Feig, Charles McDougall, Bryan Gordon, Dennie Gordon, Victor Nelli Jr, Ken Whittingham

Writer: Mindy Kalin, BJ Novak, Michael Schur, Greg Daniels, Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky, Paul Lieberstein, Larry Wilmore, Jennifer Celotta, Steve Carell

Starring: Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, BJ Novak, Jenna Fischer, Oscar Nunez, Angela Kinsey, Kate Flannery, Leslie David Baker, Brian Baumgartner, Mindy Kaling, David Koechner, Amy Adams, David Denman, Phyllis Smith, Creed Bratton

Year: 2006

Runtime: 660 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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