When I first heard about NBC creating its own version of the British comedy The Office: The First Complete Season, I feared the worst, figuring there was no way it could match up to the original (Coupling, anyone?). And you know what? It doesn’t. But it comes pretty darn close. To borrow the lingo of fellow mockumentary subjects Spi¨al Tap, while on a scale of 1-10 the U.K. Office went to 11, the U.S. version still soars to a respectable 7 or 8. Steve Carell is spot-on as the embarrassingly insensitive paper-supply-company office manager, and the show has succeeded in keeping the tone, pacing, and overall awkwardness of the original. Instead of cutting out all the inappropriate references and long pauses that give The Office its uniquely dry humor, Carell and Co. have, if anything, jacked them up. (The ”Diversity Day” episode, especially, is a thing of politically incorrect beauty.)
It’s almost shocking that Carell succeeds in not being a mere clone of creator-star Ricky Gervais’ David Brent. At least until you listen to one of the five breezy commentary tracks, in which the Daily Show vet admits that he had watched only ”some of the pilot” when he first auditioned. The reason? ”Ricky Gervais was so good and so definitive that I thought, probably not a good idea to watch too much more or else I’d just want to do an impression of him.” Seeing Carell on the show and in the dozens of deleted scenes — including ones showcasing his painful Curly and Arte Johnson impersonations and another in which he interrupts a co-worker’s lunch to discuss a suspected lump on his testicle — you realize that ignorance, indeed, is bliss. In more ways than one.