Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Guy-Next-Cubicle: On NBC’s “The Office”


I’ve watched enough of “The Office” to determine that the chemistry going on between office mates Jim and Pam is really something special. I have a feeling this show has hit upon a uniquely powerful formula, romance-wise, and I’ll do my best in this entry to put my finger on what it is.

My two daughters and myself are all nuts about Jim Halpert, Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company’s inside sales rep, played by John Krasinski. His character fascinates me because (not to be insulting or anything) John Krasinski is no matinee idol. He does not have a Hollywood face. On the other hand, though, if you worked in an office with him, after being around him awhile you would conclude he was very cute. In fact, it is probably largely due to Jim’s non-glamorous looks that the female viewer finds it so easy to identify with receptionist Pam and get sucked into the show’s plot and the relationship between the two characters.

The situation is perfect for all kinds of excitement, angst, and sexual tension. Jim is single and clearly crushing on Pam. Pam is engaged to a jerk and in denial about her feelings for Jim. So the two are “just friends,” but the kind of friends who engage in all but the most overt expressions of affection. Their favorite activity is conspiring to cause grief to the more annoying members of the staff. Therefore the two are cohorts in crime, sharers of secrets, allies in the war on office frustration.

This affords plenty of opportunities for activities that, in a slightly different context, would be fraught with romance and eroticism. You have meaningful glances, furtive giggling, the passing of notes and emails, whispering in each other’s ears, etc. Every little victory they achieve is another private bonding experience.

Meanwhile, however, they cannot actually “be together.” There can only be secret longing in Jim’s case and self-deception in Pam’s. Nevertheless, beneath all the ambiguous office hijinx and conflicted emotions, these two are undeniably very drawn to each other. So whether intentionally or not, they must express that desire within the bounds of the office and their activities there.

And here’s where the viewer connects: Most of us have been in this position, attracted to a person who certainly behaves as if it’s mutual, yet is prevented by circumstances from expressing it. There’s a cute guy in the next cubicle. He’s funny, nice, physically attractive, and best of all, seems equally interested in you. But he’s married, or you are, or both, and therefore the furthest it will go is mild flirtation. It’s frustrating in a way, but on the other hand, it’s kind of a nice little game. It will never become as serious and complex and troubling as a real relationship.

Meanwhile however, on a fantasy level, you always wish it could. And that’s why Jim seems so attractive, and you pull so hard for him and Pam to actually become a couple somehow. The story is about you, about the little experiences of unfulfilled sexual yearning that happen all the time. When Jim leaves a bag of chips on the counter for Pam, you remember the time that cute guy at work bought you a surprise coffee, and you think, “Yeah, he probably did do that because he kinda likes me.” And you wonder what might have become of it, if circumstances had been different. It’s almost like watching Jim and Pam will give you a chance to find out.

Jim is so attractive because he’s all those real life, regular, cute guys we’ve known, rolled into one. When he’s funny, or attentive, or shyly affectionate, it just seems like he’s right there in the room being that way to you. It’s not a sit com, it’s suddenly very nearly real life, and that’s potent stuff.

John Krasinski was recently chosen one of the world’s sexiest men by People magazine. Apparently when someone else on set told him this, he thought he was being punk’d. I’ll bet people who haven’t seen “The Office,” who merely looked at a photo of John, might be likewise perplexed. Nevertheless he deserves this status, and I admire him all the more because he has achieved sexiness by the same ordinary means as men we encounter in real life.

And that’s what makes it that much more thrilling. If there were a real Dunder-Mifflin in Scranton, PA, there’d be a lot of women applying to share an office with Jim Halpert.

11 comments:

All This Nonsense said...

I adore Jim as well. I just read a cute article about him so I thought I would pass it along: http://www.givememyremote.com/2005/11/my-office-crush.html

Diana Laurence said...

Hey, Nonsense, thanks for the link! That was a great blog entry, and I posted a link back here there. We Jim fans need to support each other so we can bear up under the unrequited longing. :-)

Diana

Trish said...

You nailed it, Diana. I've been analyzing lately what it is about Jim/Jim and Pam. Your comparison of giggling/whispering-in-the-ear conspiratorial office shenanigans to out-and-out expressions of real romance are dead on. The other part I think we all fall for is what the camera catches (and we see) that Pam is oblivious to -- namely, the longing glances, the pained (so true to life!) looks on his face when Roy walks in, and the little expressions of hope or success that we've seen cross his face at various times (overhearing Pam's mom asking 'which one is Jim?' -- how perfect was that?! or his smile when Pam said she couldn't remember the last time someone made her dinner).

The show, for as over the top it can sometime seem, is actually very true to life. The writers and actors get that, and portray it to an amazing level of authenticity. I'm hooked, and I can hardly wait for Season 3.

Meanwhile, I just ordeered my "Where's My Jim Halpert?" magnet from Givememyremote.com. The search continues....

TD

Trish said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Diana Laurence said...

Trish, you really hit on some great examples of moments when Jim really "gets to you." The season finale of "The Office" just blew me away. I was so glad it wasn't left as some cliffhanger with Jim headed for Australia without speaking his heart or something. The final scene was one of the most romantic in TV history in my opinion, and Jim & Pam are certainly my favorite TV couple ever. The new season is so far off....sigh...

Anonymous said...

THANK GOD I am not the only one. I swear, I thought I was. I'll always mention to people "Do you watch The Office?" and it seems like nobody does. Yup, John/Jim is my sexy hero husband. I have his "Sexiest Men Alive" pic as my desktop background. You may say "obesessed". I say "strongly partial".

Diana Laurence said...

Oh believe me, Anonymous, you are in LOTS of good company! I'm sure John Krasinski never anticipated this huge reaction, but he's really something special in this role. "Sexy hero husband" indeed!

Trish said...

I know, Diana -- that last episode was just brilliant, on so many levels. First there was the sublime ridiculouness (is that a word?) at the beginning of the episode with the discussion on Afghans, Afghanis, Afghanistanis and (thank you, Jim) Afghanistanannies -- not to mention Toby's droll explanation of why a Hooters-catered gambling night might not be appropriate for boy scouts. Then the great play with Michael and his two dates. And then, oh man, Jim and Pam making eyes at each other over the poker table (kill me, would you?). That would have been good right there. But then, adding to the qualities we know and like about Jim -- funny, warm, decent, thoughtful (my stomach has butterflies just writing this) -- the writers decide to show that the guy has balls of steel. His confession to Pam, while very touching, was disarming in its boldness and directness. As sweet as it was, it was Jim being a man. Just the way he said the words, "I'm in love with you." The tone was brave and honest, and you just don't get moments much sexier than that.

I think it's funny just how many people had the same incredible reaction when he said those words -- screaming at the TV in shock, mouth falling agape and then holding our breath. They set it up beautifully.

And then, the kiss. Well, that was just icing on the cake. That bold gesture, so tenderly delivered after being rejected, solidified his position. He's really a man by the end of that episode.

This is your area of expertise, Diana. In mythological terms, what happened there? What was Jim's dragon -- his fear, his doubt, his inaction? And now that he's slayed that dragon, again in mythological terms, how will that change or redirect his journey?

God, I love this stuff.

TD

Diana Laurence said...

Brilliant commentary, Trish! Jim did indeed slay a dragon...TWO, in fact...and I think that's what made the season finale so wonderful. He conquered his fear when he confessed to Pam, and then conquered his pride when he kissed her after being rejected. Each took a different kind of courage. It was so inspiring!

Now we wait to see if his heroism is rewarded. I'm hoping the writers of the show recognize it would be a mistake to have Jim not at least get some reward--there ought to be triumph after courage. But I feel like Steve Carell couldn't have written that episode in the first place if he didn't have a sense of that kind of romantic justice. Too bad we have to wait so long to find out!

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, so I wasn't the only one whose stomach jumped in shock and excitement when Jim said I'm in love with you to Pam. I was not expecting it and I am sooo happy it happened. I just happen to have been watching it on DVD and I replayed the ending 20 times I think! This couple works because it is the most real to life and so relatetable, none of that Hollywood cliche tension. I never want this show to end....

Diana Laurence said...

Me neither, Anonymous!