TV Talk: The Office

Back in happier days, when Jim was in Scranton.

TV Talk: The Office

Starring: Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, B.J. Novak

Series Creators: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

It’s time again for TV Talk, the segment setting Livejournal on fire. A month ago, I reviewed the second season of NBC’s The Office, calling it one of my favourite shows on television. Having only begun watching the series in August, I was riding high after devouring the first 28 episodes of the series, finishing off with the superb “Casino Night” season finale. But that finale left with quite the cliffhanger, one that promised season three would be a change from the status quo.

Since these TV Talk posts are spoiler-laden, no sense in beating around the bush on this one, seeing Jim confess his love to Pam, then later kissing her to finish the season was one of the great moments in the history of sitcoms. It was right up there with Ross kissing Rachel at Central Perk coming in from the rain, or… I dunno, some other big sitcom moment. The Ross and Rachel thing is probably the best parallel, especially since I hope this show doesn’t peak with Jim and Pam’s kiss like Friends did with that kiss. (Wait, I know another example! Daphne running off with Niles instead of getting married in Frasier).

So far, season three hasn’t had anything that surpassed it, but how could it? It was the big moment of the series, and now they’re dealing with that and the fallout, while still delivering comedy in the five episodes we’ve seen. Big moments are for sweeps and stuff. The immediate fallout was pretty satisfying as a viewer, Pam (Jenna Fischer) decided not to marry Roy (David Denman), but didn’t immediately fall into the arms of Jim (John Krasinski). In a nice bit of storytelling and continuity, Jim followed through with his request for a transfer, and is no longer in the Scranton branch, now an assistant manager in the Stamford branch. It works well that Jim was so shaken that he took his big shot and missed that he had to leave, in that his feelings for Pam were far beyond a crush.

However, even if it works well, even if it opens up interesting creative choices, even if Jim’s new adventures in the other branch with co-workers Andy (Ed Helms – formerly of The Daily Show), Josh (Charles Esten) and Karen (Rashida Jones) are funny and possibly interesting (especially the possibility of Karen being Jim’s new love interest), I don’t care! I want Jim back! And I want him back soon.

Look, I can respect what the show is doing with Jim creatively. I think having Ryan (BJ Novak) step up from being a temp into Jim’s old role in sales is a smart idea with strong potential for humour (as exhibited in the most recent episode “Initiation”, written by Novak). But Jim’s presence in Scranton and his interactions with all the characters in the office are a key element of the show, and its absence is hurting the show. This goes beyond Jim and Pam (although… I want my Jam! I earned it!), the show doesn’t work as well without Jim tormenting Dwight (he can’t do it all via phone and deliveries), Jim and Pam up to highjinx, Jim bringing everyone together for things like parties, office Olympics, or desert island lists, Jim tolerating Kelly’s (Mindy Kaling) constant blather, and, especially, Jim’s camera reactions to Michael’s (Steve Carrell) absurdity.

Sure, Jim is on the show a lot still, but without him in Scranton, the chemistry of the show is off. It’d be like doing a season of Friends with Joey in Los Angeles, or Seinfeld with George not interacting with Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer. It’s still funny, but a little too wacky of late. Jim was the audience surrogate, the everyman who helped us navigate the crazy characters like Dwight (Rainn Wilson), Angela (Angela Kinsey), and Kevin (Brian Baumgartner). While an episode like “The Coup” was still pretty funny, it got a little too silly with Carell and Wilson’s antics, moving away from the subtlety that makes the show great. Ryan can sometimes play the role of the audience surrogate, with disbelieving looks to the camera, but he’s not Jim. Luckily, the show has explicitly shown that he’s not Jim, like when he didn’t joke around with Pam as well (in “Gay Witch Hunt”) and that it looks like he’ll have a nicer relationship with Dwight (“Initiation”).

All in all, The Office is still a pretty great show, offering up some big laughs and smart humour. But… I’m not loving it like I used to and need them to bring Jim back. NOW.

Questions? Comments? Disagreement? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Office: Season One
The Office: Season Two
TV Talk: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

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