Overtime at The Office

NBC’s sitcom, now in Web installments.

Steve Carell, John Krasinksi, and Rainn Wilson in The Office 

The Office: The Accountants is NBC’s online spinoff of its nicely silly critics’ darling of a sitcom. The network defines its two-minute installments as “webisodes,” another one of those hideous tech-dork neologisms attendant to the convergence of TV and Web video; please help us, Mr. Safire. The story here is perpendicular to the grand narrative of venom, drudgery, and lust that transpires among the cubicles of Dunder-Mifflin on the regular show, and the plot concerns an internal investigation into expense-account shenanigans. The show is too slight to be better or worse than middling.

NBC intends this summertime micro-series as a lagniappe for the show’s substantial cult of fans—and also, of course, an experiment in reaping profits on the Internet. The network has indeed sold some commercials, and they run when you click the play arrow to start the show. It’s at the moment unclear whether NBC execs should be excited about the FedEx Kinko’s ad that sometimes precedes the webisodes. It easily outclasses the program itself in such categories as wit, lighting, and commentary on the miseries of working life. Check it out.

The show itself is strictly a diversion for the devoted. Its four most important characters—Steve Carrell’s boylike boss, Michael; his oily sycophant, Dwight; and Pam and Jim, the star-crossed pair of cuties—are yet to be seen, so this is an opportunity to nurse crushes on the gallery of good comic actors in the ensemble. The first two webisodes, titled “The Books Don’t Balance” and “Phyllis,” respectively, explore what happens when the books don’t balance and when kind and dowdy Phyllis gets interrogated by her colleagues. “There’s about $3,000 missing and we’re trying to figure out where it went,” says the brittle blonde Angela (actress Angela Kinsey), later naming her manager as the man in her cross hairs: “Michael is the obvious suspect, but he is the boss, so we have to at least pretend to ask other people first.”

The Accountants is a particularly good showcase for Brian Baumgartner, who plays the fat and enigmatic Kevin. Baumgartner’s body splits the difference between Dilbert’s and Sydney Greenstreet’s, and he lets all kinds of sweet and creepy smiles play out on his sly lips. He seems like the kind of guy who would procrastinate by watching this show in his polyester work space and then blow off the rest of the afternoon trying to dream up something better.