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The Office (NBC, Thursdays, 9:30 ET) is the American version of a British comedy that racked up loyal fans on BBC America for its dry satire of the white-collar work world. The American Office, slow to catch on, is now a hit, with its episodes becoming popular downloads for the new video iPod: Picture office workers watching it secretly in their cubicles.
The show's premise is that filmmakers are shooting a documentary on management style at the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. The boss, Michael, opines for the camera, which follows the employees as they go about their daily grind. And in a send-up of reality TV, everyone does talk-to-the-camera confessionals.
Old sit-coms often lampooned the boss as a cold-hearted tyrant. Here, the boss is far worse. He wants work to be fun and thinks, incorrectly, that he is funny. Michael subjects his employees to motivational pep-talks, sensitivity workshops, and male-bonding retreats.
He talks in grating business-speak. "What is more important than quality?" Michael asks. "Equality." Michael takes over the instruction in Diversity Day, telling his workers how they should treat minorities, even though it was his treatment of minorities that made Corporate require the seminar.
Meanwhile the denizens of the cubicles play office politics, struggle with health-care plans and performance reviews, and form tangled romantic or tactical relationships.
The Office has no laugh track, uses the shaky camera of real-world documentaries, and coaxes extremely realistic performances from actors who look and sound like ordinary people. But like many comedies, it is ultimately sad. This is the 21st-century workplace-empty of meaning and value-to people who have no sense of Christian vocation.