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New in 2005

'Office' Humor and a Joyless 'Stick'

By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page Y08

The office-based sitcom is classic TV fare, from "The Dick Van Dyke Show" to "Murphy Brown." This week, both Fox and NBC roll out their latest takes on the genre -- one at a paper supply company, the other at a food court. Will they be classics or just history? Take a memo.

'The Office'

Previews: Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC; Regular time slot: Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m.

The tagline you'll never see: "Anything the Brits can do, we can't do better."

The basics: This Americanized version of the brilliant British quasi-documentary sitcom follows the action, or inaction, at a paper supply company in Scranton, Pa.

Michael Scott (Steve Carell) is the Head Honcho, the Big Cheese, Numero Uno -- and he's just terrible at his job despite his coffee mug that proclaims World's Greatest Boss in big bold letters. Scott, a buffoonish clown with little sensitivity in the areas of race and gender, never met a bad joke or inappropriate comment he didn't like. The poor staffers who toil under his warped leadership include meek underlings, deranged sycophants and bored drones. How bored? One guy likes to torment his peers by trapping their desk supplies in gelatin molds.

The lowdown: Perhaps NBC stands for "Nabbing British Comedies." The network's 2003 rip-off of the Brit hit "Coupling" was pulled quicker than you can say "bullocks." The original "Office" has had a lot of positive PR, thanks to a few Golden Globe awards and strong DVD sales in America. (For those who'd like a refresher course on the original, BBC is airing the first season on Saturday beginning at noon.) The original show's attention might just translate to more eyeballs for NBC's version. But it doesn't help that the show has landed in a tricky Tuesday time slot, which hasn't been competitive for NBC in years.

Reality check: Carell, who was so brilliant on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," overdoes it at times and certainly is no match for the wonderful Ricky Gervais, his counterpart in the British version. Yet there are a few reasons to give this show a chance. At times, it nails the banality and ridiculousness of office culture, and the supporting cast is top-notch, especially Rainn Wilson, who perfectly plays the suck-up to the boss. Of course, fans of BBC's "The Office" will have a hard time swallowing the new American-flavored version. But NBC deserves credit for putting the excellent comedy on the air. If the network continues to polish the show's rough edges, the peacock just might have something to strut about.

'Life on a Stick'

Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on Fox

The tagline you'll never see: "Awful title. Awful show."

The basics: Let's get the bizarre title out of the way. Best buddies and recent high school grads Laz and Fred (Zachary Knigh-ton and Charlie Finn) work in a food court at "Yippee, Hot Dogs," dishing up artery-clogging deep-fried dogs . . . on a stick.

Laz lives at home with his libidinous father and stepmom (Matthew Glave and Amy Yasbeck) who pick inappropriate times to have a romp, including one in the family garage. Laz's parents want him out of the house, but a deal is struck in which he can stay rent-free as long as he keeps tabs on Molly, his younger, cynical, date-challenged stepsister (Saige Thompson).

At the food court, the boys and their tempting redheaded co-worker Lily (Rachelle Lefevre) make the best of their miserable jobs and degrading uniforms by doing such things as deep-frying everything in the boss's office. Hardy-har.

The lowdown: Fox must have some hopes for "Life on a Stick," which gets the valuable post-"American Idol" time slot on Wednesdays. If "Stick" manages to attract any audience at all, it likely will be the young one "Idol" delivers and Fox loves. The sitcom, which centers on teenagers and malls with a few dirty jokes thrown in for good measure, emanates from the brain of Victor Fresco, whose previous effort for Fox, the slightly better "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," tanked.

Reality check: Even the laugh track seems dull in this lame sitcom. From the first "joke" about whether French fries feel pain, "Life on a Stick" fails to score any laughs (okay, maybe one involving a pretzel hut in the second episode). Although these young actors are trying hard to develop their characters, it's difficult to care about any of them. Then again, they don't get the best lines to work with. (An example of the stellar quips: "Mr. Hutz is a butt.") As for the acting, Knighton is forgettable, and Finn comes across as a wannabe Ashton Kutcher -- but why someone would wannabe Ashton Kutcher is puzzling in itself.

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