Friday, October 21, 2005

The Office: For Once, a Pleasant Surprise

After bingeing on Ricky Gervais and "The Office" DCDs whilst on a recent trip to Australia (this was between rugby games and seafood and traveling and the beach and all that), I returned to the U.S. hungry for more, though with very pale and limp memories of the U.S. version that debuted last year. Then I saw and loved Steve Carrell in the "40-year-old virgin" and decided what the hell, I'd give the U.S. version of "The Office" one more shot.

If you haven't done the same, I recommend that you do. It is funny and memorable and poignant. After the 40YOV attained sleeper hit status, maybe NBC decided to give the writers a longer leash or something, because this season is unbelievable. (Kudos NBC, Earl and The Office are nothing like Friends...and thank God for that.)

The best thing about the office is that the characters are actually like people everyone in my demographic knows, but distilled, like very old, very thick vinegar. Dwight Shrute, the office's pasty and earnestly loyal blowhard and suckup, is priceless. Sample line: "She has everything I'm looking for: milky skin, straight teeth, large breasts. But not for me, for our children. The Shrutes produce very thirsty babies." Steve Carrell as Michael Scott is cringe-worthy as a weak, ineffectual, dim boss who just wants to be loved. But he humanizes the character so much -- watching him hand out candy to kids on Halloween from his stark, lonely condo after their office party flopped was heartbreaking -- that you just wish he was even the tiniest bit lovable. My favorites, though, are John Krasinski as the sarcastic yet kind office racounteur who manages to inject some fun into the drudgery, Jim, and Jenna Fischer as the long-suffering and unfortunately-engaged Pam. I feel like they're really playing up the attraction between those two characters more than they did in the UK version, but it rings really true, and the chemistry feels so real. You can almost feel the buzz and electricity between those two coming off the screen and you're really rooting for them, though there's no way the writers are going to let us off easy like some slut on prom night. No, they'll tease. And tease.

I also love the fact that Jim reminds me of my actual friends. Actual friends of mine would go as a "three-hole punch Jim" for Halloween. It's hipster-y, it's simple, and it pisses off people who buy $200 costumes from a store. When I watch him hatch schemes with or look longingly at Pam or try to be real with Michael, it feels like he is -- again -- compressing conversations similar to ones I've actually had and punching them up. Would that there were more shows that gave characters real personalities instead of making them all cliches.

I guess if this show were a man, I'd want to make out with him and go to dive bars. Then I'd want to do some crosswords together, go out people-watching and have a few compassionate laughs at the parade of human weirdness. Then I'd take him home to meet my parents. Or maybe I'm just thinking of John Krasinski....

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