Ever seen the American version of Fawlty Towers? I’m not surprised. The Atlantic is floating in British TV formats that the Americans have sunk. Very occasionally they manage to get it right: Queer As Folk, All in the Family, Three’s Company.
When Ricky Gervais on-sold the rights to The Office he ensured producer Ben Silverman understood its charms. Silverman, who also has Ugly Betty and Kath & Kim, resisted multicam shoots, live audience and laugh tracks. The comic cast, particularly lead actor Steve Carrell, was also astutely selected.
The fact that the show hasn’t worked in Australia can be put down to two points: 1) that we had already bonded with the template original -a fate which befell our local Queer Eye– and 2) that Ten didn’t persist long enough with it when it had a sluggish start. So it’s pleasing to see them try again.
In ‘Gay Witch Hunt’ boss Michael Scott (Carrell) is taken to task for inadvertently calling his accountant Oscar, “faggy.” As it transpires, Oscar is not out to his workmates. Vacuously, Scott defends, “I call everyone faggy! Why would anyone find that offensive? I would have never called him that if I knew. You don’t call retarded people retards, you call your friends retards when they’re acting retarded.” With all the subtlety of a giant shovel, Michael digs himself a bigger hole.
Michael soon looks at everyone with homo-suspicion. “There could be others… I need to know so I don’t offend anybody else….Could Oscar and Angela both be gay and having a gay affair?”
Suddenly everyone is alert to political correction. Dwight (Rainn Wilson) tries to buy a personal Gaydar detector. “I think they sell it at Sharper Image.” And in their trademark monologues, one woman begrudgingly admits to watching Will & Grace. “But it’s so loud,” she moans. How true.
Eventually Michael fumbles through an apology to Oscar in front of his workmates. “Did you know that gay used to mean happy? When I was growing up it meant lame. And now it means a man who makes love to other men.”
Greg Daniels’ (King of the Hill) script is defiantly offensive, and a most delicious use of subtextual comedy to drive home points about acceptance and identity. But that’s beside the point.
First and foremost it’s a darn good laugh.
The Office ‘Gay Witch Hunt’ airs 10:25pm Monday August 27 on TEN.