Let's just get this out of the way first: NBC's "The Office" absolutely rocks.
That's right, those fearing another "Coupling" (i.e. NBC's botched attempt to import the BBC hit last season) shouldn't be afraid to come out from behind their sofas to watch "The Office" premiere tonight at 9:30/8:30c (after which it moves to its regular Tuesday, 9:30/8:30c slot following "Scrubs").
Like its BBC predecessor, NBC's "The Office" tracks an unseen documentary crew as they follow the daily tedium of the employees of a paper supply company (in this case Dunder Mifflin in Scranton, Pennsylvania).
It's here we meet Michael Scott ("The Daily Show's" Steve Carrell, having quite a bit of fun), the branch's obnoxious boss who describes himself as "friend first, boss second, entertainer third." Believing himself to be the funniest person in the room at all times, Michael awkwardly attempts to win the popularity of his employees by both unintentionally horrifying and berating them. For instance after meeting a new temp (B.J. Novak), Michael attempts to break the ice by doing an impersonation... of Hitler.
Rounding out the office are Jenna Fischer as Pam, the exasperated receptionist; John Krasinski as Jim, a good-natured but bored with his life salesman; and "Six Feet Under's" Rainn Wilson as Dwight, Michael's socially repellent lapdog. In addition, the series also features a fun mix of bit players that rivals "Scrubs" in terms of their ability to make an impression in brief doses.
The pilot, directed by Ken Kwapis and written by Greg Daniels, quickly establishes all of the characters and their relationships as we learn of Jim's surprisingly sweet crush on the engaged Pam; Dwight's hilarious rivalry with Jim, which is tied mostly to their unfortunate proximity to each other; and everyone's (aside from Dwight) quiet disgust with Michael.
One of the first things that struck me about the show is how "authentic" it feels. The production design is absolutely fantastic - this isn't a "Hollywood" version of an office with giant bay windows and the latest technology, it actually looks and feels like something you'd actually see in Scranton, Pennsylvania or any other suburban town. The same goes for the casting, which rivals "Freaks & Geeks" in terms of finding actors who look like "real" people.
More importantly though is just how damn funny the show is. "The Office's" sense of humor sits somewhere between "Arrested Development" and "Scrubs" as it toes the line between both outright slapstick and dry, awkward pauses not to mention is filled with various lines you'll find yourself repeating days later ("Exactly how many Filet-o-Fishes do you eat?" or "You're not going to freak out because it's a Corolla" jump to mind). Of the three episodes provided for review, surprisingly the pilot comes off as the weakest, which may or may not be related to it being the most similar to the BBC version. So if the first installment comes off as kinda "meh" to you, hold tight for the later episodes.
In fact NBC's "The Office" works the best when it steers clear of trying to emulate British version, particularly in the gut-busting second episode where Michael takes over a diversity seminar. Among the "I have to pause the TiVo because I'm laughing too hard" moments are Michael trying to do Chris Rock's stand-up routine, followed by him having all his employees pretend to be other races "Indian poker"-style. While these type of moments certainly break out of its more "documentary" feel, it definitely greases the comedy wheels of the show.
In terms of dislikes, those expecting a more "Office Space"-esque brand of humor might be a little disappointed. The show doesn't really take a "Dilbert" approach to the corporate grind. Instead it takes the "de facto" family aspect of corporate life and just has fun with it.
Finally as for original "The Office" purists out there, I have to say my reaction to the show falls somewhere around the way I felt about "Battlestar Galactica's" revival - initially skeptical but ultimately very, very satisfied.