Hands down, no contest, The Office (U.S.) is my favorite show of all-time. I’ve seen every episode several times, can quote the show more than any other, and I even liked the final season (I know, I know).
Apart from the creative writing, the smart humor, and the pranks and one-liners, Jim and Pam are the only TV couple I’ve ever invested in. Like, sometimes my day was ruined based on what happened that week. In other words, I hated my life almost all of Seasons 1-3 and parts of Season 9. Soap opera junkies make more sense to me now.
But why did Jim and Pam grip us so tightly? I think it’s at least in part because of the redemptive aspects of their relationship. They weren’t your normal TV couple. They didn’t perpetuate progressive cultural norms of promiscuity, selfishness, and general over-hyped drama. They also weren’t perceived as perfect and fairytale-like either. Frankly, they were a couple young adults in my generation could look up to.
Here are three redemptive traits of the Halperts that kept us rooting for them until the end, and inspired us along the way:
Relationships are hard. They bring out the best and worst in us. Throughout the years, we saw Jim and Pam ride the emotional rollercoaster of infatuation, bad timing, engagement, marriage, kids, finances, and a whole host of small daily disagreements that we all face. But they didn’t let it destroy them. The Halperts were marked with consistent joy, even in hard times. At the end of the day (episode), they were almost always smiling and laughing, despite the struggles. They gave us a picture of what it looks like to let love trump trials.
We all remember suffering through Pam’s engagement with Roy, rooting for Jim because he was the good guy, and (if we’re honest) hoping he’d have a little mean streak in him and punch Roy in the face for mistreating Pam. But he didn’t; he let his joyful attitude, kindness, and genuine care win the day. The closest we got was his schooling Roy on the basketball court in Season 1. That was glorious. (As a side note, I dislike Roy more than any TV character I can remember, which is a testament to the magnetic pull of Jim and Pam’s love.)
The writers didn’t depict Jim as some pathetic, pining stalker who might kill himself over a girl. Instead, he was a good friend and everpresent encouragement for her. Jim often smiled even when he wanted to cry. He reminded us that even when you don’t get what you want, life does go on. It also goes to show that nice guys don’t always finish last.
We also saw their infectious joy in the wedding episode. Sabotaged by just about every character on the show, Pam didn’t go bridezilla on anyone, even during her most frustrated moments. And in a weird way, their sneaking away from the wedding for a private ceremony took the edge off the wedding itself, their relaxed attitude making everyone around them better (initiating one of the best group dance sequences on TV!).
The Halperts remind us that joy outdoes and outlasts hardship. They encourage us to fight through pain, frustration, and suffering knowing that life really is a vapor, and that a joyful life is a better life. “Count it all joy” consistently rings true.
There aren’t many TV shows today that highlight commitment and fidelity, and yet we never questioned the Halperts. Season 9’s insertion of Brian from the camera crew was dramatic, but ultimately unneeded and even insulting to the audience. With Jim in Philadelphia and Pam in Scranton, the writers had us believe that she might just fall into the arms of another man. Could they have written that in? Sure. Would it have made any sense whatsoever for Pam’s character? Of course not. The Halperts didn’t roll like that.
They remind us that fidelity truly is more inspiring than bed-hopping. The one thing we could count on with Jim and Pam: they weren’t going anywhere. We didn’t need drama. We needed to see people that could fight through anything and stay true to each other. And ultimately, we did. (The Brian foil was good for the show in that regard.) They encouraged us to buck up and keep our eyes on our own husbands and wives. We all walked away from The Office wanting to love our own significant other better.
Finally, the Halperts were troopers. They took it on the chin time after time. If it wasn’t exes playing games, it was co-workers causing problems, stress creating division, kids introducing tension, or Pam heading to NYC for art school and Jim heading to Philly to start a business to better provide for their family. In other shows, seasons might’ve dragged on with questions of divorce. Jim and Pam, on the other hand, spent a few episodes in tension before working things out.
Jim and Pam remind us that perseverance makes us stronger. The best scene of a largely ho-hum Season 9 is Pam’s visit to Philly to interview for a new job (with a hilarious cameo by Bob Odenkirk). That night, Jim and Pam have dinner together and she tells him that she doesn’t want to move to Philly, the place where he’d just co-launched his dream job. At the end of the conversation, they simply shrug their shoulders and smile. No hissyfits. No threats of divorce or abandonment. Instead, Jim comes back to Scranton and everything goes back to normal. They fought for their marriage, and they prevailed.
These traits speak to us. In an MTV world, we all know deep down inside that this is the best type of relationship and marriage. Jim and Pam taught us how to love.