The Office (U.S. version)

Seasons one and two on DVD. Season three debuts Thursday, September 21, at 8:30 on NBC.

I should acknowledge up front that, though I have great respect for Ricky Gervais’ The Office, on which the American version is based, I have never been able to sit through an entire episode. The painfully awkward humor and the merciless probing of embarrassment, folly, and ennui makes me so uncomfortable that eventually, inevitably, I give up and flee from the television. I appreciate the show’s insights and perfectly drawn characters, but I’ve always been too susceptible to vicarious humiliation, and the British Office is more than I can bear.

The American Office, on the other hand, is comparatively gentle. I might view some scenes through my fingers—(Yes, really. I’ll watch grotesque violence with no more than a wince, but show me a shame-faced person surrounded by a laughing crowd, and I run for cover. I have issues.)—but the American show is more generous about relieving the tension, perhaps more forgiving toward the characters, no matter how foolish or weak they might be. Some might argue that its relatively gentle nature indicates that it is more conventional and timid than the groundbreaking British version, but I think that would be unfair. Rather, it indicates that the American version has found its own path and its own sensibility—not better or worse but different.