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Mindy Kaling in The Office (NBC Universal Television, 2007)
Stories & Ideas

Sat 01 Aug 2020

The Office - Bananas

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Blake Howard

Australian film critic and award-winning podcaster behind Michael Mann’s One Heat Minute

It's bananas that one scene can highlight the differences between the UK and US versions of this hit TV show.

In the seconds before Mindy Kaling's Kelly Kapoor provides her summation of the disastrous day's bureaucracy, she's beaming from her meeting room chair. The shot's background is BJ Novak's Ryan Howard's effortlessly judgmental face. There's just something so perfect about The Office's mode of storytelling. Just before that typical reality TV insert shots to reflect on what was happening, you already feel like the background characters share their internal commentary and disapproval of what their co-workers are doing and pre-empting how they're going speak about it to the invisible crew. The infectiously joyful Kaling, beaming despite Novak's judgment, sings her paraphrased Gwen Stefani lyric; "This day is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-as".

The scene beautifully contrasts the significant differences between The Office U.K. and The Office U.S. In the case of The Office UK David Brent (Ricky Gervais) believes he's a diamond in the rough, he believes that the documentary crew around him is there as a platform for his immense undiscovered talent. He wants his peers to retreat into the chorus. He's the star, and so he's better than them. Brent's confidence and complete lack of self-awareness (and shame for that matter) are the perfect storm of cringe-watching elements. The first time around the series, many of the hilarious moments reach out of the screen and throttle you with the shame that Brent is unable to experience. The beautiful tragedy is that their tolerance, in essence, is the most substantial and most honest acceptance that he's ever experienced in his life. The camera's gaze in The Office U.K. is so uncompromising that David Brent's embarrassing antics reflexively make you want to watch the show through fingers covering your face. In stark contrast, Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) in The Office U.S. wants to be loved. He is desperate for the approval and affection of everyone in his workplace. Michael Scott is the star, but this workplace - for him - Dunder Mifflin Paper Company is the greatest show on Earth.

When the incredible Gary Shandling pioneered the TV mockumentary style for his critically acclaimed, Emmy Award-Winning cult hit, The Larry Sanders Show; he may not have realised that the influence would be adopted and adapted for decades to come. Across the Atlantic, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant would take that noted workplace mockumentary style and create a sitcom franchise behemoth - The Office. The short-lived BBC sitcom would respawn into its own phenomenally successful U.S. remake (and ten remakes worldwide). The Office U.S. became a melting pot and eventual launch pad for an incredible roster of comedic talent. The cast included Rainn Wilson (Super, Juno), Jonn Krasinski (A Quiet Place, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan), Mindy Kaling (Late Night, The Mindy Project), Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine, This is the End, Zack and Miri Make a Porno), Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), and Jenna Fischer (Splitting Up Together).

Blake Howard