Tuesday, December 08, 2009

On The Office

1. The Office is the most depressing show on television
Suddenly, a romance that seemed like the natural progression for two quietly charming people revealed itself to be much more depressing.

All of Jim and Pam's witty asides and eyerolls in response to their officemates' antics have stopped being expressions of untapped potential and started to look like passive-aggressive attempts to undermine their peers—who are the only people who will socialize with them.

For audiences, Jim—more so than Pam—has served as a pressure valve for all of the overstimulated personalities on the show by responding to his absurd coworkers the only rational way: with sarcasm and bafflement. The whole point of Jim was that he held the promise that at some point he would get his act together enough to break out of the confines of Dunder Mifflin. He's the relatable protagonist for anyone (read: everyone) who has ever been trapped in a middling situation and found the only defense to be sarcasm and bemusement.

Now Jim has developed into the most depressing archetype: a mediocre man who has already realized his full potential.

Gone is Jim's charming lack of enthusiasm for his job. Now he's proving exactly where a lack of drive is likely to lead you—to the mediocrity of middle management, where one is gripped by the fear of losing whatever corner of inanity you've carved for yourself in the workplace.
2. Jumping the Shark and the Bear Market
The Office avoided this phenomenon by marrying off Jim and Pam rather humbly, by avoiding "very special episodes" and dramatic cliff-hangers. What it couldn't avoid was a Bear Market.

The show, which I still count among my all-time favorites, has lost its teeth.

We just don't hate work anymore. At least not collectively. And it would be imprudent to sit around jawing and joshing about the hassles of the job when so many people would love the same hassles.

The show, then, is a kind of bellweather.

Witness. Two weeks after the financial dizzy spell, one of the show's best episodes aired. Michael goes on a business trip to Winnipeg. Meanwhile, Pam is finally away at art school, living her dream. In the early days, the business trip would have been a pathetic, desolate situation set against the big-city, self-actualizing activity of Pam's graphic design. There would have been a message about the quiet desperation of employment. (And, for good measure, the quiet desperation of Western Canada).

Instead, Winnipeg turns out to be surprisingly fun and Pam fails art school.

In an amazing moment of both downward mobility and romance, she tells Jim, "I'm coming back the wrong way. It's not because of you. I don't like Graphic design. That's it. I miss Scranton. It's not because of you." She smiles.

Sure, Pam has a tall, hunky Polish fella to come back to, but the fact remains that, after five seasons, her career hasn't advanced and the river she'd always looked to as her way out has dried up. But characters trapped in their jobs come to love being trapped.

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