No living human could reproduce the precise blend of vanity, pathos, and smarm that Ricky Gervais, the co-creator and star of the British series, brought to the character of David Brent, but Carell wisely re-imagines the role from the ground up; his version is less a buffoon than a dickhead, with the knitted brow and aggressive physicality of Ben Stiller. He also wears his self-loathing closer to the surface than his predecessor did; where Gervais was wrapped in a cocoon of self-regard, Carell seems constantly on the verge of a temper tantrum, or possibly tears. Carell understands the needy, unlovable Michael Scott from the inside out. But some characters belong to the actor that created them; stepping into such a role, any other performer is as doomed as a singer covering a Bob Dylan song.
Now, wait a minute. What a terrible analogy! There are countless brilliant covers of Dylan songs! Dylan made his way into public favor through the work of the artists who covered him -- Joan Baez; Peter, Paul & Mary; The Byrds. A great thing about Dylan has always been how wonderfully well his songs transform in the hands of another singer.
But back to "The Office." At my house, we were laughing through the whole show, and we especially enjoyed Carell's reinterpretation of the role.
A sidenote: I kept trying to figure out where I recognized that actor Rainn Wilson from. He's Arthur from "Six Feet Under"! Great! I always missed Arthur.