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The Office: Season 1 (American Version)

It’s no secret that Hollywood left behind any notion of originality years ago. Reality television and scripts imported from successful films in other countries make up the majority of our entertainment, so it’s no surprise to see an adaptation of the hit U.K. series, “The Office” hit American airwaves. With failed American versions of “Fawlty Towers” and “Men Behaving Badly” in the past, how does this adaptation hold up? Surprisingly well actually. For those who aren’t aware of the overseas version which ran for two seasons (plus a Christmas special) in England, here’s the idea behind “The Office”: a documentary crew follows around the odd workers of a sales office for the Dunder Mifflin paper company. At the heart of the office is the completely clueless boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell), who somehow thinks he is the best manager around. Working under him is Assistant (to the) Regional Manager Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), an equally clueless employee who was probably beaten up quite a bit in school for being a teacher’s pet. Always on hand to foil Dwight’s plans is Jim (John Krasinski) and office receptionist Pam (Jenna Fischer). Each week the camera follows around the workers allowing Michael and Dwight to showcase their idiocy while Jim and Pam have fun at their expense. Add in office temp Ryan (B.J. Novak) and the threat of the office being downsized, and you’ve got the show.

The first episode is almost identical to the overseas show with the threat of possible downsizing first being announced. This lead to lots of criticism as diehard fans of the original saw what they felt was a bland rip off of their beloved series. Thankfully after the first episode the series slowly started to transition to more original gags, borrowing less and less from Ricky Gervais’s original material. As the show got more original, it also found stronger legs. While the original idea of the characters from show to show may have been the same, each actor has managed to make their part their own in the American version. Carell’s clueless boss is different from Ricky Gervais’s original. If possible, he’s even more clueless about how he’s perceived by those around him, and less competent. What’s great is that makes the show funny in a different way from the British original, which means the two get less chance to be compared side by side.

The storylines in the first season, which is only made up of six episodes, include a range of typical office problems. The office workers have to endure diversity training, the threat of new health care plans, basketball games against each other, and a visiting extremely attractive saleswoman. Of course the threat of downsizing looms at all times, leading to some of the first season’s best moments as the clueless Dwight attempts to form an “alliance”, turning his continued existence in the office to something akin to Survivor.

If I have any real complaints about the show, it’s that I wish some of the episodes had been placed in a different order. For instance, the non-political correctness of Michael would have been set up even better for “Diversity Day” (the second episode) if it had aired after all of his racial biases in “Basketball”. It’s not that anything is wrong with the order they are in, after all it is the production/airdate order. I had the same complaint when the episodes aired. Fortunately the second season holds the opportunity to build on Michael’s discriminations with a rumored sex ed episode.

The true mark of any television show however, is how fast it makes its way into modern culture. Since the original British series was more of a cult favorite over here, it’s definitely a sign of the success of these six episodes that some of the jokes from the show have made their way into business offices everywhere. Of course, these are the same offices that have red staplers roaming around and guys named Bob conducting interviews, but still.

If you’ll excuse me now, I need to return to my office... er, workspace. With only six episodes in the show’s first season, this “set” probably marks a new record for shortest DVD of a television show that didn’t get canceled. Still, there’s really nothing Universal could have done. If only six episodes were ordered, that’s all that are technically in season one. It’s not like they could have held these six episodes for a “Season 1 and 2” DVD release or something. Even with so few episodes, this DVD release manages to be quite impressive. In fact between the commentary and deleted scenes there is almost as much bonus material as there are actual episodes.

The deleted scenes are offered by episode, or can be watched all clustered together. In all there is almost an hour of deleted footage, all on par with what ended up being broadcast. These are less like deleted scenes and more like getting a bonus hour of “never before seen material”. Seriously, not to give them any ideas, but Universal could create a clip show with these scenes and create a few cheap episodes for the new season.

There are five commentary tracks for four out of the six episodes featuring different combinations of cast and crew. These are some of the best commentary tracks out there for a tv show, pointing out some really cool bits of trivia. For instance, unlike most television shows, the entire cast has to be on hand every day, whether they are in the shooting schedule or not, because they might be in the background of a shot due to how the show is filmed. The true golden boy of the commentary track is Rainn Wilson, who provides some true gems of humor, from impersonating castmate Jenna Fischer on tracks she isn’t around for, to making comments about the tacked-on Universal slate at the beginning of every episode. Surprisingly Steve Carell remains pretty calm and quiet during commentaries he participates in.

Universal has done a good job with the first season of “The Office” on DVD, filling the single disc as full as possible with some great bonus material. Here’s hoping future seasons will receive the same treatment, only with more episodes to keep us laughing.