When the American version of The Office was released, many critics hated the first episode. Many detractors have argued that because “Pilot” serves as a shot-for-shot and almost line-for-line remake of the original British pilot, it is entirely redundant. This is a fallacy. Although very similar to the original, the reason the American pilot, and ultimately series as a whole, works is because the characters have been made more relatable to the audience.
Ricky Gervais portrayed the ultimate idiot boss. David Brent was uncouth, racist, sexist, and cruel. Even if you happened to like his character, you hated his character at the same time. Enter Michael Scott. Scott – played by the wonderfully talented Steve Carell – has a different aura about him. Instead of constantly exuding cruelty (which, to be fair, he does at times), Scott exudes idiocy. To be blunt, he’s a well-meaning moron and the epitome of the higher management.
The series main “lovers,” Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Jim (John Krasinski), are much more lovable and relatable when compared to the original Dawn and Tim. In the British version, Tim’s character was dull, uncreative, and a loser. Jim, on the other hand, is clever and intelligent. His position at Dunder Mifflin is one of necessity, best summarized by his quote, “If this were my job, I’d have to throw myself in front of a train.” In order to deal with the monotony of his daily life, he playfully picks on his desk mate, Dwight K. Schrute.
If it were not for Dwight, I’m not sure if the American version of The Office would have survived beyond a single season. While the UK’s Gareth was socially awkward and creepy, Dwight is, as writer/actress Mindy Kaling described, “a fascist nerd,” and a lovably daft one at that. Authoritarian to a laughable degree, Dwight demands respect from his “inferiors” (after all, he IS Assistant (to the) Regional Manager). Although Dwight later grew into a border-line sociopath, in the pilot episode, his craziness is just believable enough to be cringingly humorous.
As for the story: Dunder Mifflin is introduced to a camera crew that wishes to film a documentary. The audience, in the meantime, is introduced to the main characters. Not a very interesting premise, but a necessary one at that. Although The Office could have gone the route of Arrested Development and given the show a documentary-esque feel, sans the actual “documenters,” the decision to present the show as a real documentary makes it much more enjoyable. In later seasons, the show would slowly lose this sense of realism, and so the first few seasons truly stand out as comic gold.
Overall, “Pilot” is a good start to a great show. Despite being very similar, both in terms of filming and dialogue, to the original British version, the episode brings a warmer, more relatable, and ultimately funnier feel to the original conceit. “Pilot” is by no means one of the best episodes of The Office, but it is a decent one at that.
Final Rating: 8.0 out of 10
Best Quote: “You can’t do that [...] Safety violation. I could fall and pierce… an organ” — Dwight Scrute