***This conclusion is based on the first five seasons of The Office. This post will be updated with new thoughts once I reach the conclusion of the show.
Since its conclusion in 2013, The Office has remained the top dog of comedy in the United States. While originally created for broadcast television on NBC, the show’s reputations skyrocketed with a release on Netflix, cementing itself as the most-watched show on the platform for multiple years.
Infamous for its witty dialogue and unabashed shenanigans, The Office resonated with audiences across all ages and occupations, painting a memorable picture of an office gone off the deep end. And everyone has their favorites; Dwight’s strange antics will appeal to some while Stanley’s no-nonsense attitude mirrors others. Not to mention the charismatically narcissistic Michael Scott, portrayed by the phenomenally talented Steve Carell.
However, there is one character that remains fundamental to the show’s persistent quality, and whom I daresay is the most important character in establishing the tone and style of The Office.
He’s a personal favorite of mine, and it’s none other than the Big Tuna himself 🙂
The Gateway Character
Amongst the more grounded members of the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, Jim’s subdued aura and quiet smugness underlie a charming man with a knack for pranking. Never does an episode finish its run without a classic snapshot of Jim’s reaction to the absurdity that surrounds his desk. Within the early seasons, he shares a strong companionship with Pam, who facilitates his grand crusade to prank Dwight at any opportune moment. No matter his position, he remains a consistent force of fun and sanity.
He also bridges the gap between the viewer and the office. Without a doubt, Jim acknowledges the presence of the camera crew most frequently outside of the interview sections, complete with the wide-eyed glance and tucked-in lips that flawlessly conveys the awkwardness of the present situation.
And despite his introverted qualities, Jim frequently participates or commentates on the funniest moments across the entire show. One cannot forget the time he hosted an “Office Olympics”, or his prank interrogation of Dwight over marijuana use.
On a personal note, I greatly relate to his sense of humor, if not for its brash yet colorful content. Somehow and some way, Jim manages to exist as a pseudo-neutral bystander with a chaotic side.
The Personal Struggle
The aversion to Jim as a character, however, cannot be ignored. While his treatment of Dwight has enough ammunition to debate its morality, his self-centeredness has manifested negatively on several occasions. His track record with relationships leaves much room to be desired, and he occasionally hoists a “too cool for school” attitude. It’s hard to ignore his flaws, and one could argue that they intensify across each season, as multiple individuals have asserted over the past couple years.
Yet despite the comedic focus of The Office, Jim’s emotionally vulnerable moments are essential in forming the show’s emotional core. In the second season especially, Jim’s struggle to express his true feelings to Pam reveals itself through his own insecurities. In a moment of defeat, he even musters the audacity to spill these romantic thoughts to Michael on a night cruise, knowing full well that Michael is far from the most reliable.
In fact, Michael (unintentionally?) puts him in an uncomfortable situation two episodes later, revealing his secret to the entirety of the office, and forcing Jim to slyly confess his feelings for Pam. While he lies about the timing of his infatuation, Jim’s confession haunts him for the duration of the second season. Not only must he witness Pam’s relationship with Roy edge closer to permanence, but he experiences distress from its imperfections. Heck, he plans a wedding to Australia to avoid their wedding date because witnessing their marriage would visibly cause him enough pain.
Amidst all of this, Jim faces a career dilemma late in the second season, where he struggles with the choice to leave Scranton for Stamford. While it offers greater opportunities for financial stability and career advance, the indecisiveness of his current relationships halts his decision-making ability. Rationally, Jim is capable of much greater things based on his track record as a salesman. Unfortunately, the circumstances compounded with his latent sense of laziness, chain him down.
These internal conflicts, while common experiences amongst millions of individuals, are nevertheless challenging. Under all accounts, Jim is brutally humanized as one with greater depth beneath the surface than one might have caught onto.
All of Jim’s struggles, however, culminate into a fitting climax for the second season that not only encapsulates his relationship with Pam, but the entirety of his character:
The hint of selfishness, the personal insecurity, the quiet intimacy… It all comes together beautifully, and ensures that Jim Halpert had the substance and versatility to carry an entire show for multiple seasons to come.
I will be the first to admit that my sentiment of Jim could drastically change by the show’s end. Since I have four seasons left to experience, there are ample opportunities for his personality to shift in deviating, undesirable directions. However, I maintain the confidence that the goodwill The Office has built up hosts the strength to carry Jim’s character arc to the finish line on a great note.