Jim Halpert sucks and we’re just now realizing it

In a way, The Office’s Jim is as immature and trapped in bad-movie stereotypes as Michael


Last night’s episode of The Office was unusually depressing, because the A story was about the single worst thing Michael has ever done in his life, and the B story was about Jim turning into an idiot, easily manipulated by Dwight. I was OK with the Michael story, because it shows the real-world consequences of his tendency to treat the entire world like a bad movie scene (he always does, or says, what he would expect the hero of his unproduced screenplay to do). I do notice that now that Michael’s employees have no fear of him, the writers have to up the ante on how much trouble he can cause for people outside the office; he becomes more destructive and insane because they can no longer create the little moments of humiliation within the office setting.

But the more interesting thing, perhaps, was the way the subplot really brought home how depressing the Jim and Pam characters have become. You’d have thought their marriage would have made the show happier, but instead it’s pointed up the fact that 1) no one really likes them very much (except Michael), and 2) Having moved up the ladder at Dunder Mifflin, they’re no longer charming little people with dreams of getting out. Jim, in particular, has become a rather unappealing character, though his transformation has been going on for a long time: for about two seasons now, the writers have been dropping hints that the more Jim takes his job seriously, the closer he comes to turning into Michael.

Some links (via Myles) complaining about the depressing-ness of Jim: Linda Holmes at NPR and Meghan Keane at The Awl.

In a way, Jim has always been less of an adorable everyman character than John Krasinski, with his inherent every-guy adorability, would lead us to believe. His method of surviving his soul-crushing job was to have as little ambition as possible: wanting to succeed at his job would be admitting that it rules his life. The problem was that since he has no clear talents or interests outside the job, he’s not saving himself for any other mission in life; he’s just refusing to admit that this is what he is and what he does. And in a way, Jim is as immature and trapped in bad-movie stereotypes as Michael: in the wedding episode, where he talks about how he always knew he was destined to be together with Pam, he sounds like he’s reading the script of a bad romantic comedy where the hero’s puppy-dog determination conquers all.

The show hasn’t really explored the question of his relationship with Pam — that is, whether it’ll be any different once they’re actually forced to know each other as real people — and it will get even more depressing when/if it does. But it has shown him become more involved in his job, for reasons that are very realistic: he needs to make enough money to raise a family. But now that he has actual responsibilities that he takes seriously, he becomes not a responsible person, but a slacker pretending to be a responsible person. He only seemed to be smart because he never really tried at anything; once he starts trying, he demonstrates Homer Simpson’s adage that trying is the first step towards failure.

This doesn’t bother me much because my sympathies on the show have always gone to other characters besides Jim (because the guy with the creepy stalker obsession on a girl he barely knows anything about is not my favourite romantic-comedy character). But I can see how the more they hit the “decline and fall of Jim” button, the more depressing the show will become to the many viewers who saw Jim and Pam as the oasis of potential happiness within the bleak, insane world of the office.


Jim Halpert sucks and we’re just now realizing it

  1. Yeah, my response to the "Ohs nos, Jim's depressing now too" thing is, well, yeah, what show did you think you were watching? The American Office might not be as overtly dark as The British Office, but it's still dark at heart. These are not happy, fulfilled characters. Not even Jim. Maybe especially not Jim.

    These are sad characters with sad lives that are punctuated by small moments of happiness. Those small moments of happiness only feel like tremendous triumphs because the rest of the show is so sad.

  2. I'll take issue with Jim being a stalker. They knew each other pretty from work, and in one of the talking heads she called him her best friend. That and her relationship with Roy was really, really bad. When he came on to her, it was emotionally confusing for her rather than creepy. I agree with your reading of the speech at the wedding, though. Jim is a simpleton in a lot of ways. I think the arc they're taking him is more realistic than anything.

  3. I actually think that the treatment of Jim on The Office (and before that, Tim's treatment on The Office UK) is one of the great things about the show, because it doesn't let anyone off the hook. The viewer is invited to identify with Jim (and Pam) and feel superior to Michael and everyone else in the office. That's a pretty smug and condescending point of view to take (and indeed, turned off some people who found Jim smug from the start). But the genius of the show is that while Jim may be smug, the show itself isn't. Jim is not without his flaws — the writers know he is smug, and insufficiently ambitious, and maybe not as smart as he thinks. Maybe Jim isn't good at management (It's worth noting that Jim's failings as a manager tend to be the opposite of Michael's. Jim knows that Michael's flaw is his obsession with being liked and inability to make tough decisions, and so Jim seems to be overcompensating — always going for the tough decisions, disregarding the feelings of his co-workers, being very blunt and direct, and being surprised when this doesn't work well either). Maybe Jim isn't destined for more than climbing the ladder at a drab, unremarkable company. Most people aren't.

    We are used to heroes who break free and distinguish themselves, but that is not the real world. Not everyone breaks the shakles of conformity. That's why it's called conformity.

    So when viewers who have identified with Jim see a Jim who settles, who plays the company game, who no longer intends to leave Dunder Mifflin and seems resigned to a life of professional drudgery that nonetheless pays the bills for his family, they are seeing their own failures and disappointments, the way their own lives are perhaps not everything they had hoped. The show is telling the viewer that no, you are not better than everybody else. You may think you are, but in the end you are subject to the same forces and you are just the same. That is Jim's arc (UK Tim's was even worse, he never even mustered the ambition for the promotion). Yes, it is bleak, but it is real, subversive and brutally honest.

  4. I couldn't watch this latest episode – right after the kids got up to sing and dance to Michael – while he watches on…..I found it brutal with no humour anywhere. What an odd, odd episode.

  5. "He only seemed to be smart because he never really tried at anything". I found this interesting because we've all known that slacker guy in highschool that we thought was really a genius but who never realized their full potential because they were just too cool to try, and that was the Jim character. We use to identify with Jim (maybe because he kept looking at the camera and because initially all the other characters seemed to crazy to relate to), hoping that if he succeeded, there may even be an inner genius in ourselves! I've always loved Michael because he has big ideas, passion, persistence and for the most part a love for people. I'ld love to see more of Creed – has there been an episode about him that i missed along the way? His comments are hilarious.

  6. i thought Murder was one of the best episodes in a long time. Michael's determination to make it work no matter what eventually got everyone to play along in some way. Jim's acknowledgment that sometimes Michael is right was, er, sweet(?). The "stand off" at the end of the episode was extremely funny.

  7. The Office officially jumped the shark when Jim was made co-manager.

  8. Yes they did jump the shark but you guys forgot about one thing, Dwight, he is trying to dethrone Jim and hopefully he succeeds, knocking jim down a peg and bringing him back down to earth, where he will then play pranks on dwight.

  9. Jim and Pam are the MOST BORING CHARACTERS EVER. I'm glad that both of there careers have stalled out.

  10. Glad others are feeling the same. The show feels almost angry to me, it's as if the actors don't like each other off set and they're bringing that to the camera. Pam looks tired and sad. Jim has mysteriously lost his edge and fun, Dwight is just mean, Phyllis has been snapping with angry one liners that feel almost real, and that's a bad thing. There is so little attention played to the best part of the show–the supporting cast. Kelly needs more screen time. Ryan needs to have something happen to him..maybe he turns out to be gay. Kevin needs to have band troubles. Angela used to be weird and timid, now she's just angry like the rest of them. Andy and Erin (the BEST PART OF THIS SEASON!) are carrying the show. They seem to be the only ones having a good time. The biggest mistake they made was having co-managers–totally messed up the dynamics.

    The show really does seem just plain mean now. The "Scott's Tots" was about as bad as it gets. Who in the world came up with that awful storyline? Phyllis used to be passive aggressive, now she's just aggressive. Same with Angela. Erin is my favorite character now. She's the only one who smiles! Pam looks like she's aged 10 years this season. Maybe they're doing this on purpose to set up something, but I think she's just wishing she were out of her contract and on to bigger things, like movies. Seems like most of the cast feels that way. So…QUIT ALREADY! Instead of putting us through the pain of watching you just go through the motions. This is like a baseball team whose star players are alienating everyone else. I say, let the "stars" go and play the kids! I'd love to see a show with just Erin, Andy, Ryan, Kevin, Creed, Kelly, and the warehouse crew.
    Attention writers and actors of the Office: If you don't care anymore about the show, why should we?

  11. I always found Jim and Pam to be the two most annoying characters on the show, probably because the writers set them up to be the most likeable characters, or at least the most normal ones.
    Well, they're a couple of a**holes, you ask me. Pam and her perky little blandness. Jim and his smug, doesn't-give-a-s**t attitude.

  12. Well I do agree that there has been a real change in Jim since he started dating Pam. Since his promotion he has been out of the loop in the office as well. But as seen in the Gossip episode managers seem to be out of the loop of the daily talk and jokes of the employees. I just find it hard that Jim is not as involved with his employees as he is a manager that oversees day to day responsibilities and tasks. The co-manager idea truly did mess up the foundation the office had which made it so fun and exciting to watch. Jim and Pam have changed to boring people and have been the main cause of frustration for other characters. If dwight successfully gets Jim demoted i think he could possibly return to the old slacker that was the centre of pranks. Jim and Pam should be treated like the rest of the characters with the same daily problems instead of keeping them above them, which has caused them to become boring and dull.

  13. “This doesn’t bother me much because my sympathies on the show have always gone to other characters besides Jim (because the guy with the creepy stalker obsession on a girl he barely knows anything about is not my favourite romantic-comedy character). ”

    Dude, it’s hard to take this article seriously especially when it appears that you never like Jim from the start? Also, “creepy stalker obsession” for a girl he barely knows? Wasn’t it implyed that Jim and Pam were friends so wouldn’t that mean he knew her quite well? And is inlove with a girl a whole lot qualifies as a “creepy stalker obsession”?

    Anyway, I’m afraid you missed the point about Jim. Jim is very smart and talented but he applies those talents to a job he doesn’t really care about. If he applied his talents to a job he really cares about then he would be happier at his job. However, his circumstances as well as his relationship with Pam keeps him from doing so. But he would rather work at a job he finds boring and be with Pam. Then work at job he likes and not be with person he loves.

    • Nope. Jim is just a dick. Deal with it.

      • Or maybe you are?