American Remakes of British Television
DePaul University Assistant Professor Paul Booth and I just published the chapter “Translating the Hyperreal (Or How The Office Came to America, Made Us Laugh, and Tricked Us into Accepting Hegemonic Bureaucracy)” in the new book American Remakes of British Television: Transformations and Mistranslations edited by Carlen Lavigne and Heather Marcovitch. In the chapter, we use Baudrillard to examine the American remake of The Office.
Here’s an abstract:
The Office stands as one of the most popular “translations” of a British television show to an American audience. The British Office garnered scores of awards during its two-year run; the American Office is currently one of the most popular sitcoms on American television and a key component of NBC’s Thursday night lineup. Many elements of the original series were adopted by the remake with only minor alterations. Both use similar styles of humor: an uneasy, passive-aggressive and sometimes horrifyingly uncomfortable (albeit often realistic) awkwardness of many of the characters. Additionally, both shows follow the exploits of a socially awkward boss, a subservient and obsequious second-in-command, and a good-natured office “drone” who becomes, in a roundabout way, the audience’s hero. Further, both shows employ a “documentary” style of shooting, so that the characters are aware of the TV crew, and the cameras become characters in their own right.
Yet, tellingly, the translation of the show from British to American also creates significant differences. Specifically, we use a reading of Baudrillard’s simulacra to investigate how the British version consciously uses the documentary-style to produce a distinctly hyperreal office, something that is lost in the American remake. At the same time, we argue that the character of Dwight in the American version embodies Baudrillard’s Disneyland, a fantastical exaggeration meant to hide the fantasy of the real. Because Dwight is set up as the extreme bureaucratic archetype, the more mundane bureaucracy of the rest of the office workers becomes normalized. Finally, by comparing the relationships between Gareth and Tim in the British version and Dwight and Jim in the American, we argue that the American The Office actually reinforces its hegemonic bureaucracy, effectively negating any of the subversiveness of the British version.