UK: DANIEL MCLOUGHLIN
US: KIRSTIE WOOLHOUSE
US: Michael Scott is, for me, one of the funniest characters in television. Of course, he had his moments that made you cringe and hide behind your hands (The Scott’s Tots episode for example) but overall I found him a lot better than David Brent. With David I found I was cringing a lot more than I was laughing. Although, that does purely depend on your sense of humour – I’ve found that some people find him sometimes unlikeable – especially where Toby Flenderson is involved. It was enjoyable to watch Michael Scott grow as a person; changing from a complete ignorant idiot to…slightly less of an ignorant idiot and you got to see the personal and lonely side of Michael which made him all the more lovable.
UK: There’s no denying that David Brent is a character that makes the viewer feel awkward and embarrassed. Personally, I often hide behind my hands until these situations have passed; like when Brent pretends to fire Dawn for stealing paper clips and makes her cry! However, if you stick with Brent through these calamities, Gervais and Merchant show us that there is a loneliness and a need to be liked behind his attempts at entertainment. Nevertheless, in contrast to Michael Scott, I don’t think that Brent is a character designed to be loved. While we are invited to feel sympathy for him when things go wrong, I believe that it was more important to the writers that the character stood as someone with a unique blend of genuine belief in his own hilarity as well as his ability to inspire, with a little bit of sadness and loneliness to tug on our heart strings.
The Length of the Series
US: Obviously, The US Office is a winner here; it has nine series which is barely comparable to the UK Office’s two. What is important though, is that when Michael Scott left (as David Brent did in the UK version) there was no focus on Michael afterwards, there is little to no mention of Michael Scott, how his life with Holly is going and did he get the chance to be a parent and have people love him the way he wanted.
UK: From the outset, it has to be remembered that The Office UK was always going to be kept to two series and a Christmas Special, as Ricky Gervais’ later works such as Extras and Derek have continued. I am a big fan of the length and structure of The Office US, with its nine seasons allowing for greater depth and exploration of characters and themes. However, what the short and sharp two series gives you is a snapshot of a little period of these characters’ lives. We are given neither depth in their past nor much of a look into their future, with the exception of Tim and Dawn’s romance. However, what I feel this gives us as the viewers is room to ask ourselves questions. For example, were David Brent’s main desires in life friendship and romance (which he arguably got in the end)? Furthermore, as it was clear that both Dawn and Tim felt dissatisfied with their accomplishments in life, was their story in the series about each finding someone that could push them to strive for more in life, rather than being content with mediocrity and unfulfilled dreams of illustration and university respectively? By only giving us morsels, the writers leave the viewer wanting more of something they love, answering questions and leaving them open in equal measure. But, what the US version does well is that it accentuates the more subtle longings of the UK characters, such as Gareth’s desire for power, Brent’s longing for friendship and love, and Tim and Dawn’s hope for marriage and happiness after the first kiss.
The Addition of New Characters
US: Both incorporate new characters in some way, the UK gets members from Swindon, the US gets members from Stamford and then additional characters in the later series like Erin, Pete, Nellie and Clark. What I quite enjoyed is that these characters each had their own real personalities and became core parts of the shows. While they were brought in for small plots to begin with (Erin because Pam quits with Michael) they stayed and managed to be given their own backstories and complex personalities, for example, Nellie’s need for a child.
UK: The new characters in The Office UK aren’t really given much of a role, other than in relation to the central characters already mentioned. For example, we only learn a bit more about Rachel when she becomes Tim’s girlfriend, after which she fades into the background leaving an open space in Tim’s life which is later filled by Dawn. This is perhaps symbolic of the fact that the entire show revolves around these characters and that peripheral characters only become important in so far as it affects the few at the centre.
US: By now it’s obvious that I’m biased. The amount of romances within the US Office is astounding, although as it happens over almost the period of a decade that’s fairly viable. Jim and Pam is a fan favourite and they’ll always be my number one fictional couple; Jim and Pam’s romance was my favourite thing to watch, it had parallels with The Office UK, of course with Pam (Dawn) already having a fiancée and the clear inner pining for one another. But, of course, with The Office US you get to see their wedding, see their ups and downs and get to see them have adorable children. Plus, Dwight (The US’ answer to Gareth) also manages to have a romance, multiple romances actually, as did most of the characters of the US Office. It was nice to see the characters have personal lives within an office space which I feel didn’t happen very often within the UK’s version.
UK: With the short few years over which The Office UK takes place, it is no surprise to me that there is just one central romance. Furthermore, with the mundane, everyday working environment, it makes sense that Tim and Dawn’s love story does not come to fruition until the very last episode. For me, the message here is that love can be rare and difficult to find, and so couples aren’t just going to find each other with ease. Whilst we are given clear indications of Tim and Dawn’s feelings for one another, things don’t just fall into place for them; with both finding themselves in relationships at one time or another that do not fulfil them. It is the contrast between Lee’s lack of consideration and affection for Dawn, as with his lack of belief in her dream of illustration and artwork, and Tim’s unwavering faith and encouragement of Dawn, that makes her realise that, although it is inconvenient for her to break up with her boyfriend, she wants to spend the rest of her life with someone whom she truly loves, and vice versa. Thus, in contrast to the various romances of The Office US, romance is treated as a rare and precious thing, with the viewer kept hoping and wishing until the very end.
US: The Office US is a clear winner for me; the character development is allowed to expand over nine seasons whereas I found that The Office UK, as it is short, it doesn’t allow that kind of growth. Take Pam for example, at the beginning she’s in a relationship she barely wants to be in and she’s considerably more submissive but with the continuation of the series she becomes her own woman, she accomplishes what she couldn’t at the beginning (going to art school in the fourth series whereas in the first her fiancée more or less says that she couldn’t take that kind of opportunity), she grows wiser and she learns to assert her opinions where necessary and stands up for herself. All of the characters develop in some way. Arguably what is bad is that Kevin regresses into a caricature of the ‘large bumbling idiot’ but despite this all of the other characters manage to progress in a positive way.
UK: In my opinion, the Americans do a far better job at allowing us to get to know the main characters, as well as the wider cast of The Office. However, as I have said, I don’t believe that the British aim was to give the audience a deep insight into the characters’ lives. For example, we learn that Tim regrets not finishing his university course, that he is dissatisfied with his lack of professional advancement, and that he had feelings for Dawn. However, in contrast to the US show, we aren’t given the deep insight into how Tim deals with his unrequited affection for Dawn, the way in which he conducts his other relationships nor the plans that he and Dawn have for their future together.
While both of us tend to prefer The Office US more than we like The Office UK, we implore you to consider watching both and make your own minds up – not only for that but they are great TV shows and you’ll get a good laugh at least!