02nd Oct2019

Which is Better? #3 – The Office (US) vs. The Office (UK)

by Chris Cummings

Which is Better is a new column here on Nerdly where we’ll pick two related movies and discuss each of them, and then conclude which we think is the best one. It might be about sequels in comparison to the first film, or the original film and its eventual remake, we might even do it for full film franchises. It could be about TV shows or movies that have similar themes or stories. It will be a way to talk about which, in my view, is the better. This time, I’ll be talking about The Office, both the UK and US versions, and conclude which I think is the best. So, let’s go!



As a resident of the UK I remember watching The Office on BBC Two when it started airing in 2001. There was nothing like it and it was totally unique to other comedy shows I’d seen, or anyone had seen at that point. The uniquely styled cringe-comedy was implemented and with Ricky Gervais at the helm as the arrogant, lonely and sad boss-man David Brent, a new comedy icon was born, and one of the best British comedy shows in the process. Written and directed by Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the UK Office wasn’t actually that long of a show. It ran for only two series’ and just a mere 12 episodes (with 3 specials). Eventually a movie would be released years later too. Anyway… That isn’t many episodes at all, especially considering how long the US version lasted, but the UK Office remains a favourite among many and launched Gervais into the mainstream where he became a huge star. It would also introduce Martin Freeman who went on to big things (The Hobbit, Ghost Stories) and a bunch of other British actors. Merchant, too, would go on to acting and directing some good stuff (Fighting with my Family). The show itself leaned heavily on the uncomfortable and awkward comedy style. You felt uncomfortable for the characters, you cringed when Brent did something weird, bad or stupid. If you liked that kind of comedy then you were in your element. The two series’ gave us a full story, too, and managed, in just those few episodes, to build characters, relationships and stories that people truly cared about. They even managed to take David Brent, make him a loathsome idiot, and still make you root for him in the end. Pretty damn good.

The American Office began in in 2005 with Gervais and Merchant on board as executive producers. Adapted by Greg Daniels, this US version of The Office became a smash-hit around the world and continues to attract new fans today, some six years after it aired its final episode in 2013. Instead of Gervais’s Brent, the boss here is Michael Scott played by Steve Carrell. He’s also cringy, desperate, awkward and, at times, thoughtless and cruel, but the show is written so well and the characters developed so masterfully, that he is someone we want to see find love, friendship and success, even though he makes us mad sometimes. The cast are terrific, from John Krasinski as Jim, Rainn Wilson as Dwight and Jenna Fischer as Pam. This is a bigger cast and because of how many episodes we get here, we get much more of them, spend longer with all of them, including the smaller characters like Creed, Kelly and Meredith. Compared to the 12 or so episodes of the UK Office, the US one had 201 episodes and did nine seasons. In that time we had so many stories between the workers in this paper company in Scranton, PA, and though it lost some momentum when Carrell left in season 7, it ended really nicely and is a show that will go down in history as one of the best of all time, at least in the opinions of many.

Comparing these two shows is very difficult because they are, actually, very different. The UK Office feels much more like a grim documentary with situation-comedy in the middle of it. It feels a bit more on the realistic side and the characters, aside from Gervais’s Brent, Freemans’ Tim, Lucy Davies’s Dawn and Mackenzie Crook’s Gareth, didn’t get much chance to be on screen. I mean, they only had a few episodes to tell the story. The US version had way longer. They had almost a decade to tell their story of this company and the people who worked in it, those who left, the new ones who joined. The UK Office is full of brilliantly dry humour, characters who we care about and story arcs that build up to nice climaxes. The US has much less of a documentary-feel and while it does go for the mocumentary style of shooting, it’s sillier and more traditional in a sense, but I think it works better in the long-run for a show that lasted a lot longer. I think the US version has better characters too, and while David Brent is layered and played brilliantly by Gervais, I feel like Carrell’s Michael Scott is more complex. He’s a dumb-ass sometimes, mean to people and desperately seeking attention, but underneath that we see how he’s lonely, in search of love and friendship and lacking confidence in himself. These things help us attach to Michael, and it makes the show easier to enjoy. The side characters are, again, more enjoyable. The love story of Pam and Jim lasts longer than Tim and Dawn’s in the UK version and perhaps for some that becomes irritating, but I liked the way they let it unfold slowly through a few seasons. Krasinski is fantastic as the sarcastic but kind-hearted Jim Halpert. Oh, and then there’s the comparison of Crooks’ Gareth, the suck-up assistant to Brent, and Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute. Dwight is possibly one of the best characters in TV, and we get to see him grow as more than just a suck-up, more than just a guy who wants to get ahead. Gareth, though we see glimpses of who he is behind his schtick, doesn’t get a chance to become much more.

In the end it comes down to the US version having longer to build their world, the characters and the relationships. Personally, the humour in the US version is more palatable for me, and I enjoy it a lot more than the UK Office. I’ve debated this many a time with friends, and I know people who adore the UK version and simply can’t stand the American one. I’m a fan of both, but the US Office wins for me, hands down. I honestly feel like it’s one of the best television shows of our time. You may not agree, and that’s fine too. That’s what this “Which is Better” thing is all about. Opinions, and conversations. I will say, though… looking at this as a fan of both shows, and someone who has watched them countless times over the years, I feel like the stronger show is the US version but doesn’t mean the UK Office isn’t a splendid program in its own right.


The US Office

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!


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