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.
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.