If you want proof of quite how big the NBC show The Office is, simply guess how many minutes American Netflix viewers clocked up watching the show in the whole of 2020? Got an answer? You’ll probably want to double it, or maybe even triple it, as fans of the show watched a cumulative 57 billion minutes in the year that the Covid-19 pandemic plunged its talons into the consciousness of the entire world.
Led by Steve Carrell as Michael Scott, The Office has become something more than a TV show, joining the select few projects that transcend the limits of the screen and become something far more indelibly attached to contemporary pop culture.
Together with such figures as John Krasinski’s Jim, Jenna Fischer’s Pam, Rainn Wilson’s Dwight and Brian Baumgartner’s Kevin, The Office has created a modern comedy phenomenon that all stemmed from the release of the UK version back in 2001.
Created by British writers and comedians Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, The Office changed modern comedy as we know it today, presenting a show told in a mockumentary format, following life at a painfully normal English workplace. Embracing the importance of silence in the modern genre, Gervais and Merchant taught contemporary comedy that there is a certain truth and innate hilarity to extract from reality when life is stationary.
Just as Carrell has become the most iconic character of the US Office, the UK version catapulted its star and writer, Ricky Gervais, to instant critical and commercial acclaim. So influential was his character that it would go on to inspire countless modern pop-culture icons as Kerry Mucklowe from This Country and Peep Show’s Mark Corrigan, figures of utter disillusionment that simply reflect the hopelessness of British comedy.
In part, Carrell was too inspired by the work of Gervais, revealing to The Talks: “You know, before I auditioned for The Office, I watched about five minutes of the British version just to get a sense of tone but when I saw what Ricky was doing and how specific and great his character was… People love him, people think he’s hilarious!”.
This would be about as far as Carrell was willing to go with the inspiration, however, knowing that if he watched any more than this he would be “prone to doing an impersonation”. Continuing, he added: “I would just try to steal more and I thought that wouldn’t serve me in an audition. I figured they wanted a new version, an American version; they didn’t want a carbon copy of the original”.
Thankfully, Carrell did indeed distance himself from Gervais’ version, crafting a comedy persona of his own that captured the imagination of audiences in an entirely new way. Leading the line with seven series of the show, the actor helped to sculpt one of the most celebrated comedy series of all time that remains just as popular today as when it was released throughout the mid-2000s.