The Office: Will Hotstar's Hindi remake match up to the Steve Carell-fronted American version?
Remaking a show like The Office comes with a set of guarantees, because the source material is so good. But it also comes with many, many expectations.
The phrase ‘paper pushing’ got a whole new meaning when the world was introduced to Dunder-Mifflin, Scranton way back in 2005. Based on the eponymous British show that gave Ricky Gervais a ticket to Hollywood, the American version of The Office was identifiable for most people clocking 9-to-5 on a daily basis in dead-end jobs. If you thought your desk job sucked, all you had to do was switch on your TV set after a long day and take a look at these guys. The Office has since been remade in German, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Swedish, Czech and Finnish, with varying degrees of success.
This weekend, when the Hindi version of the show finally drops on Hotstar, it will have some pretty big boots to fill for those of us who spent the best part of a decade watching the adventures of Michael Scott and his merry men (and women).
Pundits will tell you that the show was so successful because at its core, the characters seem to have this inexplicable hope that things would get better, while the viewer could sit back and say, “Ha. I know better.” But that’s all philosophical—most people watched this show because it was damn right funny, threw up the most quotable quotes and created one of the most loveable characters of this millennium. This was the show that gave us Michael Scott, along with all the sub-plots one would expect to see in any office drama. There’s the power hungry oily yes-man, Dwight and his secret romance with Angela; Michael’s on-and-off sexual relationship with his boss Jan; the customary ‘young’ pair for the viewers to ship, Jim and Pam. And while all of this serves as a great milieu, they’re just props in a world where you’re taken back time and again to find out, “What is Michael up to today?”
Steve Carrell has a resume of characters that would turn any comic green with envy, but none more memorable than Michael Scott. Make no mistake here, Michael would break every cringe-meter in a one-mile radius every single time he opened his mouth. He’s ridiculously awkward, he tries too hard, he’s over-dramatic, he doesn’t know what it means to weigh one’s words; you definitely wouldn’t want to be seen with him in public. Yet, he remains one of the most loveable goofs to have graced television. That the show made ‘cringy’ humour acceptable in an increasingly politically-correct world is a testament to the show’s writing, and the ability of one man to ‘harmlessly’ deliver it.
Black humour hinges on being clever, but few sitcoms have had as many uncomfortable moments as The Office. To understand this better, one just has to dial back in time and revisit its highest rated episodes. ‘The Dinner Party’ from season four has been widely described as the best half hour of comedy from that decade, and takes awkwardness to new highs. Can you imagine your dinner hosts having an argument about the series of vasectomies he had to go through, or a gatecrasher who turns up with his geriatric babysitter who he’s in a ‘purely carnal’ relationship with? The episode is just a series of ouch moments in a show that takes pride in making you wince.
This brand of cringe humour was no happy accident for the creators of the show—Michael’s was a carefully crafted character where the end result is more than just a bunch of flaws. You see him growing from an awkward man-child thrown into a position of responsibility, into an awkward man-child embracing his position of responsibility. Oh yes, he doesn’t change much; what changes is how his co-workers and the audience see him. For example, a lot of what he says to Pam borders on sexual harassment. When he forces Oscar to come out of the closet, he thinks he’s being woke without truly understanding the concept of boundaries (he even plants a kiss bang on Oscar’s lips without consent). He’s racially insensitive too on multiple occasions—who can forget his impression of an Indian man?
How then does he end up being so likeable? This really is what makes the show brilliant. For all his flaws, you sense his awkwardness coming from a life of loneliness; he has no friends. His intentions are always pure in that he doesn’t know any better—he just wants to be liked. Desperately. And no, the emotion being evoked in a viewer’s mind is not one of pity, as some would have you believe. This show is not apologetic at all. You look at him, you see all the layers and you see a prize doofus. You want to see him make an ass of himself, and that is what brings you back, episode after episode. Michael’s words from the first season couldn’t have been more prophetic: “I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”
Remaking a show like The Office comes with a set of guarantees, because the source material is so good. What elevated the show from good to great, however, was the character of Michael Scott. That can’t be adapted; it needs to be recreated.
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