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TV Reviews: American 'Office' works for and gets the laughs
Wednesday, March 23, 2005

First things first: Despite botching the American remake of the Britcom "Coupling," NBC makes a pretty good effort in its version of "The Office" in duplicating the original's ethos while injecting it with an American sensibility.

Paul Drinkwater, NBC Universal
John Krasinski, left, B.J. Novak, Jenna Fischer and Steve Carell star in NBC's version of the British hit comedy "The Office."
Click photo for larger image.

'The Office'

When: 9:30 p.m. tomorrow on NBC.

Starring: Steve Carell.

For those unfamiliar with the British original, airing in reruns Saturday afternoons on BBC America, "The Office" centers on a lousy boss who's prone to saying and doing inappropriate things; he lacks the self-awareness to know his attempts to be funny generally fall flat. The show's conceit is that a documentary crew is filming the office workers, so the characters directly address the camera.

That's the same premise in NBC's "The Office," and tomorrow's premiere is based on the pilot script used in the British edition, though subsequent American episodes are from original scripts. Greg Daniels, co-creator of Fox's well-written "King of the Hill," oversaw this translation.

Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is the immature, off-putting manager at the Scranton office of Dunder Mifflin Paper Supply Company. He introduces the show's other regulars, including odd duck Dwight (Rainn Wilson, the creepy Arthur on "Six Feet Under"); smart, charming Jim (John Krasinski); and Jim's unrequited crush, receptionist Pam (Jenna Fischer), who seems to suffer most at the hands of her boss.

"If you think she's cute now," Michael Scott says, standing in front of Pam, "you should have seen her a couple years ago."

Scott prides himself on being "a friend first, a boss second and probably an entertainer third." In a future episode he's revealed to be a Pittsburgh Pirates fan.

Humor-wise, "The Office" has most in common with HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," another series that traffics in the comedy of the uncomfortable. The pace is slower than the traditional sitcom, and the humor tickles the brain more than the funnybone.

When the show moves next week to its regular time slot, 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Michael Scott rides herd over his company's diversity day, ruining the efforts of a consultant brought in to facilitate the event.

"Everybody, say a race you are attracted to sexually," Scott says, much to the horror of everyone in the room, except himself and his toady, Dwight.

Fans of the original "Office" will no doubt be making comparisons, but Carrel does a decent job creating his own character while retaining some of the traits of the original character, David Brent, played by British comedian Ricky Gervais. Carrel is probably more unctuous where Gervais was more slimy.

To be sure, "The Office" is an acquired taste and sometimes a challenge to watch. Still, it's at least a worthy follow-up to the original, and it attempts to plot its own course in future episodes.


'Life on a Stick'

Despite an unpleasant title that brings to mind a coarse, scatological admonition to someone with a compulsive personality (or maybe savage headhunters), Fox's new sitcom "Life on a Stick" (9:30 tonight) is a light, breezy show.

Justin Stephens, Fox
Amy Yasbeck, left, Matt Glave, Rachelle Lefevre, Saige Thompson, Charlie Finn, Zachary Knighton and Frankie Ryan Manriquez star in Fox's "Life on a Stick."
Click photo for larger image.


'Life on a Stick'

When: 9:30 tonight on Fox.

Starring: Amy Yasbeck.

Laz (Zachary Knighton) and Fred (Charlie Finn) just turned 18 and landed jobs at a mall food court working for the always-yelling Mr. Hut (Maz Jobrani) at Yippee, Hot Dogs.

Laz falls for Lily (Rachelle Lefevre), another employee at the hot dog stand. She finds her own way to rebel against Mr. Hut, allowing the soda fountain to run continuously.

"I can't change him, but I can make him wonder where his beverages went," she says.

At Laz's home, his dad (Matthew Glave) and stepmom (Amy Yasbeck) want him to move out -- until they see he can be a good influence on his 16-year-old stepsister, Molly (Saige Thompson).

She wants him to stay, too.

"If we don't hang out, you're outta here and that means all their deranged parenting is focused on me, and I can't have that," she says.

Created by Victor Fresco, who also invented the late, lamented "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," "Life" might be better off without the studio audience yukking it up. The comedy is more subtle, and the loud laughs sound out of place.

Knighton is well-suited to playing Laz, but sometimes it appears that Finn screams his lines. Note to Finn: Being louder does not generally make dialogue funnier.

"Life on a Stick" isn't a landmark comedy, but it is offbeat enough to distinguish itself from the same-old sitcoms that generally show up around this time each year.


'Chasing Farrah'

This is one odd celebreality show. TV Land's cameras follow Farrah Fawcett in her daily life, which, despite that one appearance with David Letterman (Fawcett jokes about it), is not as whacked-out as you might expect.

 
 
 

'Chasing Farrah'

When: 10 tonight on TV Land.

Starring: Farrah Fawcett.

 
 
 

One of her handlers promises "Chasing Farrah" (10 tonight) won't be like Anna Nicole Smith's show, and Fawcett is quick to respond, "I promise you I'm not going to be Anna Nicole Smith."

Fawcett acknowledges she hates reality shows, and though she can't articulate why she's doing one at the moment, something else she says might explain it: "My whole life is a reality show, all the time" with all the paparazzi that continue to dog her.

Fawcett is a space cadet at times, but in other moments she's surprisingly self-aware about her fame and how she's regarded by the public.

"Chasing Farrah" is less of a train wreck than "The Anna Nicole Show," but it's also less entertaining than early seasons of "The Osbournes."

First published on March 23, 2005 at 12:00 am
TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.
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