The Office, or Le Bureau, or Stromberg

In Slate, a look at the various national versions of Ricky Gervais’ The Office and what the fact of so many variants tells us about humor.

According to legend, in Denmark during World War II, border guards would screen homecoming Danes by making them say aloud the name of the Danish dessert rødgrød med fløde—berry pudding with cream. (To approximate the sound of these words, say them while gargling and whistling.) Apparently, even the craftiest Danish-seeming German infiltrator could not pass this simple test. The Danish ear recognized its own.

I was reminded of this shibboleth recently while watching two foreign sitcoms patterned on the exultantly depressing hit BBC comedy The Office—a mockumentary chronicle of the drudgery, rivalries, and wan romances in an office headed by a blowhard slacker boss. The show, which was created in 2001 by Ricky Gervais (who plays the boss, David Brent) and Stephen Merchant, has been exported to 80 countries (as-is or dubbed) and has proved popular in most of them, including this one, where it ran on BBC America.

In France, however, the dubbed version sank like a lead ballon when it aired two years ago. But when a BBC-licensed French remake, Le Bureau, debuted on French television last month—starring the sly, puffy-faced French comedian François Berléand as the useless Gilles Triquet—critics hailed it as a succès fou. Meanwhile, a German imitator, Stromberg, in which the boss is a high-strung, homophobic alcoholic, won the German Comedy Prize’s best actor award last winter for its director and star, Christoph Maria Herbst.