‘The Office’ – ‘Jury Duty’: Father knows least

I’ve mostly avoided writing about “The Office” this season because I didn’t have anything new to say beyond what I wrote six weeks into the season. But where many of this season’s episodes have just felt listless, last night’s episode actually made me angry, and also made me want to talk a bit about the thing that annoyed me. So rather than ignore the episode, or give it one paragraph in a round-up post (which is coming later for “30 Rock” and a bunch of other shows), coming up just as soon as I use elaborate cross-hatching…

So the Dwight half of the episode was fine. I tend to enjoy the occasional story where Dwight gets to be triumphant, particularly when it’s tied to recognizable human emotion. I’m not entirely sure how they’re going to incorporate Angela’s baby in with plans to build a spin-off for next season around Dwight working on the beet farm, but Rainn Wilson did a very good job of playing Dwight’s reaction to this news, and how it superceded any interest he had in punishing Jim.

But good God have I come to hate Jim and Pam. And it makes me angry and it makes me sad.

It just seems like the default setting for Jim stories these days is that he puts his family above his job, and while in a real world context that’s both understandable and admirable, on the show – where, as far as we’re concerned, the office is the family – it makes him seem like a jerk. And even within the framework of that, blowing off a week of work for non-existent jury duty is just a massive dick move. Massive. And Jim and Pam’s attempt to fix the situation through more lies – when cookies would’ve solved everything – only made me dislike both of them more. (I’m not saying I’ve never used my kids as an excuse to get out of something I didn’t want to do, but never to that extent, and never where I would actually parade them out as human shields made out of cuteness.)

And I know that this isn’t necessarily out of character. Jim always viewed himself above the rest of the staff, Jim was disconnected from everyone else, and we’ve gotten reminders from time to time that they aren’t really the king and queen of the prom that we viewed them as early on. But it’s been pushed so far the last couple of years that I now realize that I hate both of them.

I know the temptation would be to blame the babies, invoking the old saw that babies ruin sitcoms. But plenty of workplace comedies have either featured young parents or had characters have babies during the run without anything really being disrupted. Carla on “Cheers” had several babies while the show was on the air. On “Community” (which is essentially a workplace comedy), Shirley had a baby last year that the show has largely ignored. Half the characters on “Scrubs” had babies as that series moved along, in some case multiples, and they did just fine with it.

The problem isn’t that Jim and Pam became parents. The problem is that the show hasn’t known what to do with Jim in years(*), and hasn’t known what to do with Pam since Michael left (her relationship with him kept her vital far longer than Jim has been). And because they no longer have any traits that the writing staff finds interesting (we haven’t, for instance, dealt with how Jim feels about this job turning into a career in a long, long time), their new parenthood has filled up that idea vacuum and it’s now solely how they’re defined. And while parenthood is tough, particularly having two babies in such close proximity, it’s still hard to make them sympathetic in the context of a show where home life has never played a significant role.

(*) You could make the argument that the other old saw – about the consummation of Unresolved Sexual Tension ruining romantic comedies – applies, except I have a lot of counter-examples to that as well (including “Cheers” once again), and I did enjoy Jim and Pam as a couple for several seasons after “The Job.”

After James Spader was hired, but before we found out Andy would be the new branch manager, I thought that giving that position to Jim would be a win-win, not only giving Jim a clear role and focus for the first time in forever, but allowing Robert California to stay crazy to counterbalance Jim’s sanity. Maybe that wouldn’t have worked out, but Andy as boss really hasn’t, and Jim with no direction whatsoever has been even worse.

A lot of you have been complaining about Jim and/or Pam for a while. Did their behavior in “Jury Duty” seem appreciably worse? How is everybody feeling about the season at this point? Did you at least like Dwight and the baby? Are you looking forward to the spin-off?