Ricky Gervais: Graham Jepson/ Camera Press/ Retna
Josh Wolk
March 14, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

Even if you’re still experiencing phantom eye pain from watching NBC’s version of the British sitcom Coupling, there’s reason to be hopeful as the Peacock network prepares to launch its version of England’s sacred comedy cow — The Office (March 24, 9:30 p.m.). Smack in the center of the adaptation of Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globe- and Peabody-winning observational comedy is Steve Carell, who with his masterful turns as oblivious egotists in The Daily Show and Bruce Almighty, seems to have been in training for this Office space for the last six years.

Though show runner Greg Daniels (King of the Hill) has come up with all-new scripts (save the pilot) and a few new names (Carell’s version of Gervais’ painfully clueless boss is called Michael Scott), he has kept the same character archetypes: a vaguely psychotic sycophant (Rainn Wilson), a stifled receptionist (Jenna Fischer) and the sarcastic, stagnated drone who loves her (John Krasinski). Most crucially, he imported the comedy’s trademark awkward silences and darkly relatable plots. ”There are people who are going to be absolutely knocked out by just how surprising this show is, and people who’ll say, ‘I’m offended!”’ says NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly. ”But [either way], at least they’re gonna get excited, and that’s much better than what’s happening with a lot of comedy right now, which feels formulaic and stale.” When Carell and Gervais recently teamed for an interview — in an appropriately sterile NBC conference room, with Gervais on speakerphone from England — the discussion was anything but stale, as the dueling bosses explained how soul-deadening Office life can be just as hilarious in America. Even on NBC.

EW Ricky, are people in England dismissive of the Americans daring to remake your show?
RG I think people are always gonna be wary of a remake — it’s a tradition. But this remake is aimed at the 249 million Americans who didn’t see the original TV show. There’s not gonna be many Texas farmhands going, ”Eccch, not another version. I can’t believe it.”
SC Our version is done out of love of what they did. I don’t think anyone was hoping or expecting to improve upon the original or even make it as good.
RG But it is as good. And I love the fact that, apart from the first one, the scripts are all original. You’ve gone back to the blueprint of what the characters are and you’ve started from there, as opposed to copying anything. To me, it was like watching something I had nothing to do with, and it would be my favorite sitcom. You’ve made a new program, and it has to be that way. Which is why I purposefully had no involvement. It should be made by Americans for Americans.

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