Friday, February 15, 2013

Stop Betraying Jim, Damnit

"The Office" Betrays Jim Halpert

The very fact that this editorial exists reveals how heavily invested BeansTalk is in NBC's long-running comedy, "The Office." We anxiously await Thursday nights, and have watched each episode of the previous eight seasons at least three times. 

That said, the super-sized, hour-long "Moving On" episode of Thursday (Valentine's Day 2013), confirmed many things -- the most evident: the show's (writers, producers) betrayal of Jim Halpert (John Krazinski). 

We have a strong suspicion (not based on anything, except our own instinct) that it may have something to do with executive producer and writer Mindy Kaling leaving. Kaling has a crystal clear view of the (familiar) bad, booty-calling boyfriend (Ryan); the rebound beau (Daryl), the disgruntled adulterer (Stanley), the devoted, macho-but-sweet traditionalist (Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration); the creepy (Gabe); the clueless (Andy); the desperate (Michael Scott), and finally, the idealized (Jim). In her book "Is Everyone Having Fun Without Me?" she pretty much states just that -- finding a real beau can be a challenge when Jim Halpert is a stalwart in your daily life. 

Some TV analyst speculate that Jim was previously a depressed, even pathetic character, stuck in a job he doesn't like, resigned to mediocrity. We see it another way (and maybe because we can so relate to Jim): Jim -- who clearly had opportunities to move up at Dunder Mifflin, move to another company with greater career prospects -- made the conscious decision to choose his happiness (clearly, Pam) over more money, more status, more…career definition. 

It was, in fact, Jim's quiet, constant devotion to Pam that kept him at Dunder Mifflin, where he excelled despite himself (as Michael Scott once noted, complaining, Jim doesn't work hard: "I can spend all day on a project, and he will finish the same project in half an hour.") He's very well-liked by his colleagues and customers and bosses (with the sole exception of self-absorbed Charles Miner) -- and rightfully so. Jim is, to paraphrase "Austin Powers'" "Mrs. Kensington," who all men want to be, and who all women want to be with.

And Jim's idealization wasn't far-fetched, because "The Office" gave its audience plenty of men with defined quirks. 

It is Jim who always takes the moral high ground, always offering honesty as the best option, when he's asked to counsel. 

When Jim finally "got" Pam -- revealed in the first episode of season four -- he knew what he wanted. In a talking head segment, he says that within a week of actually dating Pam, he'd bought an engagement ring. A few episodes later, he buys his childhood home from his parents for her. He does so without consulting her -- they aren't married yet -- and is joyfully relieved when she is thrilled. 

The dynamic of the pining good guy and the sweet artist he adores, ebbed after the couple's genuinely beautiful (and hilarious) wedding, but there was enough mayhem swirling around them, for fresh stories to be told. 

Another TV critic noted that the recent strife between the couple seems to have resulted from their lack of communication, but that is directly in opposition to the "JAM" (as fans dubbed them) developed over the previous eight seasons. 

Pam repeatedly refers to Jim as her best friend, and the arch phone conversation that evolved into tears from Pam and sympathy from smitten boom-mic guy Brian was handled by Pam (and most excellently by actress Jenna Fischer, who plays her) in typical Pam fashion. Pam jokes with Jim that he was right, that she had a harder time than she thought pointing a rectangle to shoot video. But the Jim Halpert of that episode, "Customer Loyalty," the Jim who humorlessly berates her was completely out of character, just as he was in the subsequent episode "Vandalism," where Daryl is fed up by Jim's sloppiness. At no point in previous seasons is Jim revealed to be slovenly. In Season Two's "Email Survelliance," when Jim has the barbecue, in which Michael is famously not invited, but crashes, Pam inspects his clean-as-a-pin room. Jim as an organized, neat guy just goes hand-in-hand with the considerate person "The Office" has always -- until this season -- has shown us. 

Season Nine Jim is detached and distant, both literally and figuratively, separating himself from Scranton and home life. In "Couple's Discount," it was surprising, not only that Jim "didn't want to stay and fight," but that he asks Pam to drive him from the office directly to the train station. Would the Jim Halpert "The Office" has established even conceive of going back to Philly without seeing Cece or Philip??? Without even mentioning them?

"The Office" hasn't shown the catalyst for this dramatic, disturbing and out-of-character turn in Jim. Why is he suddenly so self-absorbed? In an earlier episode of Season Nine, "Andy's Ancestry," when Nelly tries to tell Pam that Jim is cheating, Pam confidently replies that she knows he won't, "because he loves me too much." That is not Pam being cocky. That is Pam as she has been established on the show. Jim spent years, biding his time, distracting himself with office pranks, to throw it all away? We don't buy it. Period. 

Andy's Far From Dandy

In other "Office" news, the series seems wholly unsure of what to do with Andy. It seems utterly unconscionable that he wasn't fired (or at least suspended) for his three-month absence. "The Office" could have solved the "Couple's Discount" episode dilemma of no one in the office wanting to tell David Wallace about Andy's disappearance, by having Val in the warehouse tell him during their meeting. (By the way, it was also never explained, with the exception of a throw-away "it's going nowhere," why Daryl has gone off Val.) So this week, when Andy finally realizes that Erin is now dating Pete, he responds by hiring Pete's ex-girlfriend Alice to be a marketing executive and re-hires the odious Gabe, all for the purpose of making Erin and Pete feel bad. Andy's behavior is just too "out there" (coincidentally, both Alice and Gabe are unemployed and available that very day?) and mean. He was mean in "Couple's Discount," too, despicable, even. It's hard to look at him. They need to decide if he's the sycophantic dweeb they introduced, or this scary sociopath. 

Dwight and Angela

Sure, it's a little neat, but we want Dwight and Angela to get together (and for that big baby to be a Shrute!), for the selfish senator to come-out and campaign with Oscar by his side, and for goddsakes, for Jim and Pam  -- not to just be together -- but be true to who they have been -- and start talking. A lot.