The ultimate TV question: The UK or US Office?

The much-loved American version of the British hit mockumentary The Office was recently re-added to Netflix over Christmas. Apart from giving us some much-needed festive cheer in these dark times it has also reignited one of the biggest debates in TV popular culture: which is the better show? The UK or The US Office? And it is fair to say, both sides have pretty strong cases. The British version is groundbreaking, genre-defining, and painfully awkward. It quite brilliantly captures the lifelessness and monotony of office work. On the other hand, its quintessentially American counterpart is a piece of sit-com joy, which wraps viewers up and makes them feel nothing but happiness.

Since watching The Office UK for the first time five years ago it has been embedded into my existence and has become a big part of my life. If not re-watching episodes for the twentieth time, I am usually digging out classic clips on YouTube or reciting some of the best David Brent one-liners. This is symptomatic of the special bond and connection that I have with this show that I cannot say I have with others. Considering this it would be difficult to make the case for the version made on the other side of the Atlantic – so I am not going to.

Rather, in this article, I am going to make the compelling case for why the UK version is significantly better than the US one. In my opinion, The UK Office is hands down both funnier and more awkward than the US version. Whatever you might think of Ricky Gervais today, it is undeniable that in the early 2000s he emerged as a comic genius with his highly inventive and uncomfortable comedic style. Indeed, David Brent is one of the great fictional characters of comedy, easily up there with the likes of Basil Fawlty, Alan Partridge, and Del Boy. Can we really say the same for Steve Carrell’s annoying and shallow Michael Scott? A character that does not emanate nearly enough of the same tragedy and desperation as Brent.

The most obvious differences between the British and American version lie in their sense of humour. Like most British comedies, The Office has a subtlety and ingeniousness to it which requires you to concentrate and question your own preconceived notions or hidden prejudices. The American version woefully misses the mark in this respect with spoon-fed and watered down jokes which fails to challenge its audience in any respect. It is hard to see how the US version can distinguish itself in any way from other popular US sitcoms like Parks and Recreation or Community.

Underlying the brilliance of The UK Office is a sense of realism that we can all connect to in some way. It represents a world of work that is neither attractive or inspiring but is frustrating and at times infuriating. Unlike The US version, the characters do not appear in any way happy or satisfied with their career, which indeed is a true reality for many people occupying office jobs in the 21st century. This is what makes the show relatable. How many of us can say we have met a Gareth, a Tim, or god forbid a Chris Finch?

Ultimately, what it comes down to is this: The Office US is at best a slightly above average sitcom and nothing more. The UK version may have only been 14 episodes, but that made it short and sweet and allowed it to set the benchmark for future mockumentary sitcoms. So, if you are looking for some office entertainment, my advice is to go British.

Image: Admirality via Wikimedia Commons