Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Ah, that's better.

First things first: you are aware, aren't you, that Series Two of The Office is out on DVD Stateside? Good. Now go buy it. And here's a chat with the Gervais himself in this week's Onion AV Club.

Now, I realize that just about every pop-cult-savvy hepstah has weighed in - repeatedly, tiringly, indefatigably, adverb-stringingly - about The Office, and I'm certainly as guilty as any in that respect (but isn't it better for the world that touching an imaginary tie and biting your lower lip has replaced "D'oh!" in certain circles? Quieter, at least?), but I've got a few things I'd like to get off my chest before my breastplate cracks and that'll be that (except for when the Christmas specials finally air on BBC America - that'll be the end of it, oi promise):

1. In every interview I've read or heard with Gervais, not to mention his public appearances (and particularly his Golden Globe acceptance speeches), he has unfailingly come off as extraordinarily grounded and level-headed - smart enough to know when to stop milking the Brent cow, tickled but not overly impressed with his success, pleasingly self-effacing, etc. - and yet a lot of people, mostly Brits, have been turning up on various comedy-oriented message boards referring to him using terms like "annoying, arrogant twat" and suchlike. This is not an uncommon occurence, of course - some folks tend to bristle at success and cultural ubiquity, usually out of jealousy or the standard allergic reaction to media oversaturation. But I wonder if something else might not be in play in (getting on) Ricky's case. Whether it was intended or not, the character of David Brent is not merely a good example of the "bad boss," a standard-enough archetype that's shown up in enough comedies to be unremarkable by itself (discounting the fresh levels of ill-hidden vulnerability that he's added to the template), but also the most biting characterization to date of none other than the Comedy Geek himself, the guy that somehow believes that his love of genius laughsmiths alone somehow confers their brilliance onto him. People who keep slipping references to their favorite bits into conversation as if memorizing tiny joke-memes and spewing them out without the crutches of context, timing or originality puts them in league with their heroes. People like - well, people like those of us who worship The Office. What a brilliant stroke - to create a character who reflects worse upon his fans the more devout they become. Could those who sneer at Gervais really be casting aspersions on their own reflections? (Answer at end of post.)

2. While we're on the subject, I need to vent a minor annoyance and follow it with a mild confession. Recently, it was revealed that more adults in the UK recognized the words of David Brent than those of Shakespeare. Pretty sad, you might think - indicative of the short attention span of our media-saturated culture, the overweening lack of literacy, etc. etc. etc. But here's the bigger problem as I see it: he said no such thing! In fact, the misshapen pearls of Brentian wisdom that have been circulating on the 'Net, like on this page, have never surfaced on a single goddamned episode of The Office! Not one! And yet they continue to get quoted in most every piece written on the show these days, article after article after article. After reading a few of these, I was about to rise up in righteous indignation about the laziness and irresponsibility of modern journalists, can't they do research, where are the fact checkers and haven't we learned anything from Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair... then I remembered: I did the exact same stupid thing when I first praised the show more than a year ago. I had done like a lot of people had done and had let the Internet, more specifially the Office quote page at the Internet Movie Database, do my research for me. Now, in my defense, the show was still in its first rotation on BBC America at the time, so I figured the misattributed quote was going to turn up on a then-unseen future episode, and, of all the false Brent quotes, I at least chose the one he was most likely to say. Oh, and nobody gives a shit about anything I say on my blog. That too. That doesn't mitigate my error, I realize. But at least I confessed to it, and if you don't like it, you can, as David Brent would say, "stifle yourself, Meathead."

3. That's put me in a fiesty, daring mood, so let me go on the record with what may be the most controversial statement I'll ever make. Steel yourself, people. I'll give you a line break to prepare.

The American version of The Office may not turn out all that bad.

I know, I know, making a claim like that is tantamount to wearing a "Nader in '04" button to the Democratic Convention, but dammit, I'm going to turn against the tide even if I get crabs up my nose (not the first time that would've happened, but I digress...). Yes, we have a long and unpleasant history of taking decent foreign product and ineptly translating it into Yankese ("Bea Arthur as Basil Fawlty! It can't miss!") and yes, the not-bad Britcom Coupling was turned into a quite-bad US version by the same network responsible for this reduxing just last year, but delusional optimism springs eternal. First off, the guy behind the Stateside remake is Greg Daniels, a man partly responsible for some of the finest comedy on commercial TV over the last fifteen-plus years (King of the Hill, The Simpsons, and what was arguably the true golden age of Saturday Night Live), a man who knows his funny and how to squeeze just the right amount of sap-free poignance out of it. Second, they cast Steve Carell (late of The Daily Show) in the Brent-surrogate role, a truly inspired and oh-so-apropos bit of casting. And third... well, I can't think of a third just now. They seem to be taking a lot more care in transferring it to these shores than they usually do in cases like this, and they're allegedly consulting quite a bit with Gervais and Stephen Merchant in the development process, so, yes, this may indeed wind up a non-disaster, in spite of what absolutely everyone else in the world is saying. If I'm right, well, remember where you heard it first. If I'm wrong, then you're all free to tell me to "sit on it." Just like David Brent would.

(Answer: yes.)

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