Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) was one half of America’s favorite sitcom couple from 2005 until 2013. The will they/won’t they drama between Jim and Pam Beesly (Jenna Fisher) drove interest in The Office, offering a variation of a Sam-and-Diane situation layered in adorableness. The general perception has long been that Jim Halpert was a good man and suitor, but is it that simple? It’s a question that comes to mind due to shifts in our culture and with rumors about the show’s possible return persisting.
It can be unfair to judge art through a modern lens, of course. Times change we shouldn’t forget that. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for lessons or discuss how it all translates now. Our Alyssa Fikse and Jason Tabrys decided to have that conversation about Jim and Pam and The Office, arriving at a few conclusions that speak to their different perspectives (he a married man, she a single woman), the legacy of the show, as well as relationship dynamics in entertainment and the future of the rom-com.
Was The JAM Kiss Romantic?
In the “Casino Night” episode at the end of the show’s second season, Jim’s secret love for Pam spills out, first as a confession (which Pam tearfully rejects) and then as a kiss.
Alyssa: This one is complicated. It feels romantic because these two have mad chemistry, but in real life, having the coworker you just told “No, I don’t love you,” come and surprise kiss you would not be such a swoony moment.
Jason: Nope, that’s an HR case, at least.
Alyssa: Ugh, that’s a whole other can of worms. Toby (Paul Lieberstein) was also a not-so-secret creep when it came to Pam. Can the woman not do her job in peace?
Jason: Also, Ryan (BJ Novak) made a play for Pam and Michael (Steve Carell) absolutely crossed the sexual harassment line (among others). Maybe The Office is a horror story about one woman’s efforts to get through life at a mid-level office that is teaming with testosterone and entitlement?
Alyssa: Was the only good man on The Office Idris Elba?
Jason: Also on Earth, I think. But yeah, Stanley (Leslie David Baker) cheated. Andy (Ed Helms) was emotionally deaf, dumb, and blind…
Alyssa: I think you might be too kind to Andy, to be honest.
Jason: Probably. So, Idris Elba is the clear golden yogurt lid winner, but I do think Jim comes in with the silver, due, in part, to the state of the competition. But the Roy (David Denman) thing bothers me.
Alyssa: Pursuing someone who is in a relationship, despite its prevalence in pretty much every single rom-com, is pretty reprehensible behavior. I’ve liked plenty of people that I shouldn’t have, so it sucks. No one owes you their love because the friend zone is a bullshit concept, but it still stings. So I get it. Or I’ve just been conditioned by film and television to get it.
Jason: I’m absolutely coming at this as a hypocrite because I have, on a very small scale, tried to move from being someone’s friend to maybe something more when they were engaged. But I don’t know that I’d call that romantic.
Alyssa: Right. If Roy was painted as a more sympathetic character, Jim would be a villain trying to sabotage their relationship. But Jim is “the hero,” so we root for him.
Jason: The JAM kiss definitely made a difference in Pam’s life. It definitely allowed her to reframe her wants. So, I guess we need to give the act some credit while still throwing some shade at Jim for poor form?
Alyssa: I don’t think there is a cut and dry answer here. Did Jim overstep his bounds? Of course. But was it also the push that Pam needed to ultimately cut the dead weight that is Roy from her life?
Jason: Does Pam kiss Jim if he bursts into that room and makes one last passionate statement about needing to kiss her? She did kiss him back.
Alyssa: I think the kiss wouldn’t be lessened if he had given her more of an option to say yes or no. Consent isn’t the death of romance.
Jason: It’ll be interesting to see future filmmakers and TV writers navigate the changing climate and embrace that truth while, at the same time, aiming to create iconic seeming romantic moments like this.
Alyssa: Exactly. I don’t think we should remove every problematic choice of action from our modern heroes. But the outcomes need to be handled differently. A lot of ink has been spilled about the “death of the rom-com,” but I think it is possible to adapt. Women still love romance, but we want to be active participants, not just people that passively have “romantic” things done to us.
Was Jim A Bully?
Besides being portrayed as a dreamy romantic hero, Jim also excelled at goofing off and pranking his co-workers, specifically Dwight Schrute.
Alyssa: As someone who loves Battlestar Galactica, Jim was 100% a bully. Yes, Dwight was a total dingus, but I feel like we all should have learned by kindergarten that we shouldn’t be mean to people just because they’re different. Be better, Jim. Also, do your damn job.
Jason: This sort of goes to the thing about implied heroes and villains ala Jim V. Roy. If Dwight was more of an innocent, then I might be more on board with your take, but apparently, I regard tormenting co-workers as a more allowable infraction than homewrecking.
Alyssa: I mean, obviously they’re not on the same scale. But two things can be bad even if they aren’t the same level of intensity.
Jason: Yes. I can’t pretend, with a straight face, that Jim was solely trying to shield the office from the full thrust of Dwight’s madness, but it wasn’t merely about his jollies either. Like, Dwight was a borderline dangerous kind of bully/maniac (but also hilarious and lovable in a certain way) to everyone in the office. Sometimes inadvertently and sometimes purposely, Jim helped keep that in check while (mostly) focusing only on Dwight.
Alyssa: I suppose that’s one way to look at it. I still think that if Dwight was the therapy type (he definitely isn’t), he would spend most of his time crying on the couch about Jim.
Jason: How damaging were Jim’s pranks, really, though? They weren’t even all that clever. Can we really blame Jim for Dwight’s gullibility? Like, shouldn’t Dwight have known that Jim hadn’t suddenly transformed into an entirely different person or not followed a red cable up a utility pole? Am I victim blaming?
Alyssa: A bit. Broken down to its simplest parts, Jim is the “cool guy” in high school and Dwight is the browbeaten nerd. Jim is handsome, popular, a jock, and gets the girl (even when he doesn’t deserve her #TeamKaren). If this was a teen movie, we would be rooting for Dwight.
Jason: I’d cast Jim as the mildly anti-authority detached slacker that a lot of people (hello) fantasized about being while growing up. An extension of that staple-smartass established by Bill Murray, Matthew Broderick, and John Cusack all through ‘80s and ‘90s movies. Not the Bradley Whitford character in Revenge Of The Nerds.
Alyssa: Well, through a modern lens, you could easily translate Ferris Bueller as the villain, too. Jim is the Bueller to Dwight’s Cameron.
Jason: That’s too nice a comparison.
Alyssa: Is Dwight more the principal?
Jason: Dwight is a mix between the principal and Ferris’ sister. Nobody was rooting for them, nerd.
Alyssa: I might be projecting. I do own several bobbleheads.
Was Jim Selfish?
From big gestures to big decisions, Jim frequently plotted the course of his relationship with Pam without including her.
Jason: I think we’re going to agree on this because I know we both see some flaws in Jim’s abilities as an adult when it comes to communication and showing his partner a fair amount of respect. Selfishness drives some of that, even if it isn’t intentional. But, I guess my question is: Was he irredeemably bad as a husband because of it? I don’t know that my answer is yes.
Alyssa: I think Jim — and I say this as someone who owned an “I <3 Jim Halpert” mug in college — would be a deeply frustrating husband. I don’t know about “irredeemably bad,” but there are a few major red flags. Buying his parents’ house without discussing it with Pam is a major red flag. So is taking the job in Philadelphia without telling her. Many of Jim’s major moves as a husband disregard Pam’s feelings and opinions completely. He ultimately doesn’t care that much what his wife thinks and will follow through with his plans without her input. That would be a huge deal breaker for me. I think a lot of my issues with Jim come down to how he handled major decisions and how that was so contrary to the way Pam did. When she quit art school, she had one class left in her program but chose to leave because being with Jim was her new dream. It wasn’t the choice I would have made, but ultimately it was her choice and she took Jim’s feelings into account when she made it.
Jason: Jim is more of a manboy and an emotional fuckup. Is that just as bad as being purposely selfish?
Alyssa: I think it’s just as bad in the short term. It might just be a selfish oversight, but a lot of Jim’s big decisions stem from a (possibly unconscious) belief that what he wants is more important than what Pam wants for their family. I wouldn’t say that he is actively trying to hurt her, but that doesn’t excuse his behavior.
Jason: I think Jim moves through life assuming that everyone, including Pam, is super-psyched to be a part of his hero’s tale. And, to your point and what we established before with the bullying, there’s a long history of that kind of character being celebrated in pop culture as he always utters the perfect quip, dodges real consequences, and gets the girl. The Office definitely took advantage of that cultural soft-spot for a long time, but I do wonder if the show also deserves credit for sort of blowing up that stereotype by making Jim’s less ideal habits fodder for that surprising and, I think, effective arc in season nine when it was revealed that he’d kinda been a low-level shithead for years, transitioning to an even bigger one before coming to his senses and saving his marriage. Would you agree, or was that undercut by an ending that reinforced the show’s broken priority dynamic?
Alyssa: I mean, they end the series as a fairly solid unit, but, again, it is Pam putting everything on hold for Jim’s dreams. Sure, he gave her the note from the teapot, which admittedly did make me cry and declare love reborn in the moment, but she is the one who puts their house on the market so they can all follow Jim’s dreams to Austin. Whether or not the writers intended it or not, Pam’s dreams always took a backseat to Jim’s. So, sure, he got called out for being a jerk, but things worked out for him, so he doesn’t really need to change.
Jason: Well, there’s a shitty moral.
After examining Jim’s warts, the question remains: Is Jim Halpert good or bad?
Jason: I met my wife at work, I’ve done the slacker/smart-ass thing, and I’ve chased after and grabbed at something more real and challenging in my career to the occasional stress of my marriage (though, I talked that through first). In judging Jim, I am, in a small way, judging myself, so take this verdict (and my other remarks) with a grain of salt. It’s really hard to capture the intricacies of a marriage on TV or in a film, specifically a marriage in distress. The Office did a really good job of it in season nine. Jim learned that he had been taking Pam for granted and he learned that she was (as he was) a person with needs and ambition, not simply Pam of “Jim and Pam.” The ending does, in hindsight, feel like a backslide with Pam making her big “Jim” gesture in support of his dreams, but that doesn’t mean that the course wasn’t righted. In the end, Jim is portrayed as someone who wants to be a good and stable partner for Pam even though he sometimes gets lost along the way because he’s wrapped up in his own bullshit. Because of that, I can’t help but hold onto the idea that he (and, I guess, I) qualify as good. Though maybe not as good as we can be.
Alyssa: I mean, I guess you could say his flaws ultimately make him a human and distilling people down to either good or bad exclusively is reductive. I agree that The Office did do an excellent job of portraying a marriage as they usually are, but did Jim actually learn anything in the end? If we jumped 10 years into the future, would Jim still be steamrolling Pam during major decisions for their family? I mean, he got everything he wanted that way, so maybe. I’m not married, but when I consider what I want in a partner, I ultimately want someone who considers me an equal and factors my opinions and desires into their decision making. Don’t buy a house or take a job without telling me — this doesn’t feel like a lot to ask for. Big romantic gestures are nice, but they don’t offset the work of the day-to-day. There’s only so much a teapot love note can gloss over.