The British sitcom The Office has the most devoted following this side of Monty Python, so an American remake seemed doomed. Amazingly, the remake actually finds its own enjoyable version of the original's uncanny comedy of embarrassment. Office manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell, The Daily Show, The 40 Year-Old Virgin) believes he's the beloved leader of the Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch of a paper products company--but his relentless and painfully forced efforts at comedy creep out everyone around him, including paranoid Dwight (Rainn Wilson, who had a memorable recurring role on Six Feet Under), nervous receptionist Pam (Jenna Fischer, LolliLove), and aimless salesman Jim (John Krasinski, A New Wave), who's smitten with the already engaged Pam. The pilot episode suffers from closely replicating the British pilot, but after that The Office finds its own footing, turning diversity training, an office birthday party, and a basketball game into excruciating yet hypnotically funny rituals of humiliation. Carell, though clearly talented, can't match Ricky Gervais' unique performance as the aggressively needy British manager (it's hard to imagine that anyone could); as a result, the supporting roles become more prominent, and Wilson, Fischer, and Krasinski quickly create a rapport that matches and may even exceed that of their British counterparts. Be sure to watch the deleted scenes; remarkably, they're as good as the material that made it on the air in this six-episode season. --Bret Fetzer
Thank goodness for second seasons. While the first season of The Office started dubiously with a pilot that was just a poor copy of the original British version, it did manage to provide enough good material to stay on the air and hint that better was yet to come. And here it is. The second season of The Office finds its own footing and manages to do the near-impossible by not only breaking free of the gravity of that excellent BBC version to stand solidly on its own, but establishing it as one of the best comedies on TV. Season 2 starts out strong with "The Dundies," where Regional Manager, Michael Scott (Steve Carell, The 40 Year Old Virgin) hosts the companys annual office-awards event with his signature less-than-perfect grace. Things seem to only get worse for him this season as he bumbles a potential affair with his boss, Jan (Melora Harding), angers his employees by reading their emails ("Email Surveillance"), cooks his foot ("The Injury"), and accidentally destroys the warehouse with a forklift in "Boys and Girls," one of the seasons highlight episodes. Always at his side is the clueless paranoid Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), the Assistant Regional Manager ("Assistant to the Regional Manager," Michael always reminds him in one of the shows running jokes).
One of the reasons for the shows improvement in the second season is increased focus on Dwights character, whos becoming something of a pop-culture icon right down to having his own bobblehead. He in turn provides so much good material for Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Jim (John Krasinsky) to play off of, to their own amusement. But of course, Pam and Jims simmering relationship is the real meat of the show, as their compatibility becomes more obvious, Jims feelings for her continue to grow, and Pam struggles with the impending marriage to her less-than-caring boyfriend, Roy (David Denman). Things have to come to a head, and they do nicely in the final episode, "Casino Night." As strong as the leading characters are in The Office, its the excellent peripheral characters that really make the show hilarious, especially dimwitted office-slug Kevin (Brian Baumgartner), long-suffering intern Ryan (B.J. Novak), office-ditz Kelly (Mindy Kaling), and ultra-conservative Angela (Angela Kinsey). As with season 1, this season contains excellent bonus features to give you an excuse to spend more time at The Office, including the fake PSAs, commentaries, Michaels The Faces of Scranton movie, the ten stand-alone webisodes, and deleted scenes. --Daniel Vancini
After a shaky first season of finding its footing, and a second season of establishing itself as one of the funniest shows on TV, the third season of The Office finds the show in its strongest form yet, thanks in large part to the addition of some new characters and stronger plotlines centered on office romances. A corporate merger brings the Stamford staff to the Scranton office of Dunder-Mifflin a quarter of the way through the season giving a nice boost to the season's arc of story lines, especially the addition of Andy (Ed Helms, another Daily Show alum in a role that seems custom made for him) who serves as yet another foil to Dwight (Rainn Wilson) in his unending fight for Michael's approval. As the season begins, the focus is more on Michael (Steve Carell) and his unique "leadership" style in the Scranton office. "A good boss gruntles the disgruntled," and despite his best intentions, he proceeds to somehow screw it up, as in the opening episode, "Gay Witch Hunt," in which he accidentally outs a gay employee. In the second episode, "The Convention," Michael tries to get the party started at the Mid-Market Office Supply Convention ("fun jeans"), and ends up revealing his insecurity about Jim's (John Krasinski) decision to move to Stamford. It leads up to "The Coup," where Dwight meets with Michael's Boss Jan (Melora Hardin) in a misguided attempt to take control of the office. The merger of the two offices into the Scranton location provides the fuel needed to continue the Jim and Pam (Jenna Fischer) subplot as Jim returns with his new girlfriend, Karen (Rashida Jones) who also transferred, and with Pam no longer engaged to Roy, the tension among them increases significantly. Other major plot points this season include: Dwight shows his true feelings for Angela in an excellent climax to one of the funniest subplots on the show; Michael negotiates a raise after learning he barely makes more than his subordinates; new office suck-up Andy is forced into anger management classes; and finally, in what may be the most bizarre company retreat in history, a day at the beach ends with Pam revealing her true feelings for Jim in front of the entire office. The season wraps up in unpredictable fashion when Karen, Michael, and Jim all travel to headquarters to interview for the same position. The strength of this season just continues to solidify The Office's place as the preeminent satire of today's cubicle culture. --Daniel Vancini