First of all, to get this out of the way, let me just admit that I am a huge fan of the British series "The Office." In fact, I resisted watching the American version because I just didn't think it could live up to the British.
It is a well known fact in my household and in other parts of the United States that the Brits are just funnier than Americans. In general, this is true. I think it is caused by their flavorless cuisine and their far superior beer, but it could also be attributed to the sogginess of their environs, which leads to wet socks, and everyone knows that causes one to make dry and acerbic comments. I'm sure there are Brits who are not funny, but I don't know what rock they are hiding under. Let me also say that one of my favorite office moments is when Tim puts Gareth's stapler in gelatin (since it's England it's not Jello, or maybe it is).
That said, the American version has far surpassed the British version, in my heart if not in reality. Partly this may be a function of the length of the series. The American version is beginning its fourth season, and the British version was only two, plus the bonus special. The additional seasons have allowed for more character development.
In the British version, the minor characters remained minor characters, colorful, funny, but never wholly human. In the American version, as the seasons have progressed, minor characters have come to the front, so that "The Office" is not just the story of Michael, Dwight, Pam and Jim, but also the story of Toby, Phyllis, Angela, Kevin, Kelly, Ryan, Creed, Oscar, and Roy (etc. I know I'm leaving some out). And this, I contend, is what makes the American "Office" a superior television product. If a series is to survive, it can't simply be funny. It must be funny, yes, but it has to be funny with heart. I know veteran readers of this blog will balk at my use of this word, but I mean it. "The Office" has been engaging my emotions, and not just on the Pam and Jim front. (I will admit here that I was obsessed, in every sense of the word, with Pam and Jim when I finished watching Season 2 and was waiting for Season 3 to come out on DVD. I googled the actors and found out all I could. I looked for pictures online. What was I going to do????)
The greatest surprise, and reward, of Season 3 has been the emergence of my favorite sub-character: Toby. And the fact that Roy becomes more than just the "bad boyfriend." And the episode when Michael shows up at Pam's art show and buys her watercolor of the office building for the office is truly touching. And this is what elevates Michael Carrell's character above his British equivalent. Even though David Brent is witty, and, we guess, ultimately a nice guy, we get to see that Michael is a nice guy; in spite of his being an ass in many situations, ultimately he does care about his employees. And I think the decision to humanize Roy was a good one. He moves beyond the stereotype of the boyfriend who only cares about sports to become a person.
And Toby! My favorite scene is when he must accompany Michael to New York for the salary negotiation. Ryan and Kelly are fighting in the cubicle next to his and Michael tells him he has to go with him. When Toby asks why, Michael says, "I'm going to hit you in the head with a hammer." Toby listens to the fighting for a minute, then picks up his bag and follows Michael.
I notice that I have not yet mentioned the cringe factor, which adds to the appeal of "The Office" but I fear I have overstayed my welcome. I'll leave that for another post.