As productive and prolific as American TV studios have been over the years, there has still often been the temptation to look across the Atlantic to see what was working on British TV. And then copy it. Unfortunately, British comedy hasn’t always done well when translated for an American audience, with no less than three attempts at Fawlty Towers remakes as well as failed versions of Absolutely Fabulous, Red Dwarf, One Foot In The Grave, Dad’s Army and The Young Ones, amongst others.
The Office is one of the few UK comedies to have not only been successfully remade in the US, but to take on a life of its own over the pond. While the original show only ran for two short seasons and a two-part Christmas special, its remake lasted 201 episodes and was hugely popular and successful, winning four Emmy awards and launching the careers of several stars as well as having a clear influence on other successful US comedies.
It also achieved the almost unique achievement of going on to be hugely popular in the UK, possibly helped by the lack of new episodes of the original show, but demonstrating that America really could sell British comedy back to Britain.
The show was a huge success in the US with the best episodes as good or even better than the original. So how did this show succeed where so many others had failed? Some of it has to be down to the talents involved in bringing it to life, including creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, along with US showrunner Greg Daniels.
Adapting The Comedic Element For a US Audience
Another element of its success is that Daniels wasn’t afraid to take the premise of the show and tweak its humour to better fit the American audience, so while the pilot episode stuck very closely to the original Office’s pilot (and was credited to Gervais and Merchant), this version only really came into its stride when it gained in confidence of both its own writers and actors, while the documentary-style filming was also loosened at times as the show went on, to avoid it becoming restrictive.
The main characters in The Office US are based on those in the British show, but all with tweaks that made them able to not only appeal to a different audience but also last in a show that went on to have 9 seasons. It’s fair to say that the more acerbic elements of the humour were given softer edges for the US market, and so Ricky Gervais’s David Brent became Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, still not a boss you’d want to work for, but given a more gentle portrayal than his British counterpart.
Gareth Keenan shifted from Mackenzie Crook’s angular and anxious portrayal to the more contained but no less socially adept Dwight Schrute, launching the career of Rainn Wilson, while John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer certainly had chemistry as Jim and Pam, the US versions of Tim and Dawn. With a lot more episodes to fill, it’s no surprise that more of the ensemble cast got to shine at Dundler Mifflin, including Angela from Accounting and Oscar the gay Hispanic character so often the victim of Michael’s attempts at humour.
Becoming A Success
The Office US survived a patchy first season of just six episodes with mediocre reviews but good enough ratings to earn another chance and flourished in its second season when it began to properly gain its own identity. That identity and brand of humour became so popular that it inspired the creation of Parks And Recreation, a show with a very similar style that went on to be a huge success in its own right, with Daniels and Michael Schur from The Office writing staff involved in its creation.
Schur’s success at Parks And Rec led to him creating Brooklyn Nine-Nine, while fellow writer Mindy Kaling was able to build on her success on and off-screen in The Office by creating The Mindy Project. So that’s three very popular shows that all owe their creation to a US remake of a UK show, demonstrating exactly what can be achieved if remakes are done with both affection and respect for what has gone before but also confidence and inspiration to be very much its own thing.
That’s what The Office US achieved, helping to cement Steve Carell’s status as a star of the small and big screens, as well as keeping a nation (and beyond) enthralled by the romance between Pam and Jim, and highlighting some uniquely American office traditions to go with the very British antics that Ricky Gervais had turned the comedy spotlight on. Not many remakes stand on their own as classics alongside the originals, but this one does.