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The U.S. version of Britain’s hit comedy ‘The Office’ hasn’t found legs yet

by Erin Adler

Contrary to what one might think, Hollywood doesn’t get angry when TV shows from other countries best their home-grown humor at an awards show such as the Golden Globes.

Instead, they get inspired. They copy the premise, reproduce the jokes in U.S. idioms and crank the thing out so the money can start rolling in.

With this formula, it’s amazing NBC’s adaptation of the British hit “The Office” is not a complete failure. In fact, the network is calling it a “new hit comedy,” albeit prematurely.

Especially to anyone who appreciates dry British humor, the painfully realistic portrayal of diurnal office activities and the mockumentary style made the original show seem fresh and exciting.

Comparatively, the NBC version, also framed as a mockumentary and featuring similar characters and plotlines, just doesn’t feel as authentic as the British version. The style and casting choices contribute to this inferiority.

Notably absent is the ambient office noise and the pregnant pauses in which the camera idles on the copy machine or the bored face of an employee. Dull? Yes. But that’s the point.

And while Steve Carell, who plays office boss Michael Scott, was funny on “The Daily Show,” his over-the-top antics and good looks simply don’t scream “middle management” the way Ricky Gervais’ character David Brent did in the original.

The interoffice flirtation and romance between Dawn, who is engaged, and “everyman” Tim is also problematic in the NBC show.

In this version, the Tim character, now called Jim, is considerably more attractive than his British counterpart. Viewers might question why he pines for Dawn, a dowdy secretary now named Pam, for two seasons, as well as why he is portrayed as such a deadbeat.

But there are many Americans who have not seen the BBC version of “The Office.” Given the Tuesday-night alternatives of ABC’s “According to Jim” and another season of “The Amazing Race” on CBS, viewers seem to be selecting the new “The Office” as the most palatable alternative.

Its 3initial success can be attributed in part to the show’s commentary on the banality of office culture.

It seems the droves of U.S. workers holed up in front of computers in their cubicles seek connection to others in their situation. How else can we explain the popularity of “Dilbert”?

NBC’s “The Office” accomplishes this feat, despite its faults.

Additionally, there are occasional moments that garner a laugh; suspending a stapler in Jell-O is humorous, at least the first time it’s done.

Michael’s repeated blunders in political correctness are uncomfortably funny, though exposing his character’s main fault during the most recent “Diversity Day” episode is a far-less-subtle tactic than the British “The Office” used.

Even bigger changes could be in store. The second season of the British “Office” made cubicle life seem pathetic instead of funny. It remains to be seen whether NBC can pass this kind of alteration off on U.S. audiences.

Of course, if the show bombs, the network can always cancel it … and then start writing the spin off.