I saw an early copy of the pilot episode of upcoming NBC sitcom The Office. This is, of course, based on the BBC original, which many, including myself, believe to be the best comedy program ever shown on television.
When I heard that "America" was going to be re-envisioning the series, I immediately thought "well, that'll suck". Turns out I was right.
The pilot was pretty bad. It looks good, and the script is good (basically the same as the first episode of the BBC version, but Americanized), but the acting and direction (barely) miss the mark. Even though they barely miss, it's enough to derail the whole thing.
The direction: It's supposed to be shot as if it's a documentary on the goings-on at an paper-supply office. I noticed that there seemed to be too many cuts and edits between characters in many scenes. Close up on Character A as he talks, cut to close up on Character B as she responds, cut to a different angle on Character A again. I began to wonder where all these "documentary cameras' were. It really lessens the belief that this is supposed to be documenting the day.
The BBC version got it right: two camera angles at most for any scene, and cutting between characters was employed sparingly. The pacing of the show was, not surprisingly, too rushed. One of the successes of the British original was their willingness to linger on scenes, at both their beginning and end of scenes. This version cuts to the chase too much. And even the main content of many of the scenes seems like it's being rushed through.
The script for the pilot episode was pretty good, but it ultimately fails because it doesn't make the boss character (I forget the character's name in this version, but the David Brent character) vulgar and desperate enough. Too, he is portrayed more as a simpleton buffoon, whereas the BBC character was a buffoon, but not a simpleton. I think what makes David Brent such a compelling asshole is that you get a sense that, deep down he knows exactly how pathetic he is. I didn't get that feeling at all with this version. Steve Carrell (formerly of The Daily Show) plays him a bit too much (not much, but a bit too not much) like his simpleton character from Anchorman. He is completely oblivious to how much an asshole he is (and, actually, the script doesn't allow him to be enough of an asshole).
The acting: The acting is so close to being good. But they just can't quite seem convincing enough that they are the characters they're portraying and not in fact, actors playing these characters. There is very little suggestion of history between the characters, not much chemistry.
It's not fair to compare the two series, especially when the BBC version got it perfect, but it can't be helped. Still, there are all kinds of North Americans who haven't seen the original and who will come to this version with fresh eyes. What will they think of it?
Well, there's no laugh track, so that will confuse America, and there are no joke-jokes, really, so America won't know what to laugh at, specifically. An essential element of the show seems to be missing - that being the need to allow the uncomfortableness in scenes to breathe.
This show will not be allowed to last.