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NBC is off target with ‘The Office’

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Steve Carell

Steve Carell

Maybe, after "The Office" dies a quick death on NBC, the network will decide that trying to Americanize British TV comedies isn't such a great idea.

Network honchos should have figured that out after they turned the very funny Britcom "Coupling" into one of last season's biggest bombs. And, while "The Office" is no "Coupling," it's also no comedy. (The show previews tonight at 8:30 on Ch. 5 before moving to Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.)

For those of you who might have missed the critically praised, award-winning original (which repeats Saturday afternoons on BBC America and is available on DVD), Ricky Gervais starred as an utterly incompetent, idiotic boss — the regional manager of a paper-supply company. Shot documentary style, the show documents not only what a dope he is but how he's surrounded by sycophants, slackers and drones.

The American version casts Steve Carell ("The Daily Show") as regional manager Michael Scott, who's every bit the idiot the British boss was. But Carell doesn't capture the weird charm, the subtlety and the vulnerability — and the show doesn't have any of those.

Frankly, it's sometimes so painful to watch you can just imagine remotes clicking all across the country. Scott introduces his long-suffering secretary/receptionist, Pam (Jenna Fischer), with the comment, "If you think she's cute now, you should have seen her a couple years ago."

In another episode, he decides it will be funny to convince her she's being laid off. Scott is taken aback when Pam breaks into sobs; the viewer is left feeling unsettled and disturbed.

This is supposed to be funny? It's not good when a sitcom's most memorable moments are those that induce pain.

The cast includes salesman Jim Halpert (John Krasinski), a likable if unambitious fellow; wildly weird Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), the arrogant assistant to the regional manager whom Jim takes joy in torturing; and Ryan Howard (B.J. Novak), the temp Scott takes a liking to.

Again, "The Office" is not the train wreck that "Coupling" was. It's just a gross miscalculation — an attempt to translate British humor that was basically doomed from the start.

What might be funny for six episodes at a time (and a total of only 12) would be nothing short of torture over a 22-episode season, let alone multiple seasons.

American viewers have clearly demonstrated that they aren't receptive to sitcoms that break the traditional mold. Heck, NBC hasn't been able to get much of an audience for the very funny "Scrubs," and Fox has struggled to attract viewers to "Arrested Development," despite massive critical praise and an Emmy win.

And those shows are funny. "The Office" is not.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com