Why Jim Halpert Needs to Cheat on Pam To Save “The Office”

If you still watch "The Office", you’re probably annoyed with me already, just by the title. It sounds like I’m condoning adultery (I’m not) and trying to break up the fairy tale couple of Pam and Jim (I am) by suggesting he give in to the advances of Cathy, the new employee who has the hots for him.  But odds are you do not still watch NBC's, “The Office.”  And that’s the problem.  “The Office” needs to be saved. 

Lindsey Broad plays Cathy, who wants to sleep with Jim, even if it breaks up his marriage.

So let’s step back for a minute.  To understand why “The Office” needs to be saved requires understanding what went wrong.  We all lament the huge loss of Steve Carell as Michael Scott, when Carell left at the end of last season.  But to be accurate, “The Office” lost its way well before Michael Scott moved to Colorado to be with Holly Flax.   To be very accurate (as only I can) “The Office” started to lose it’s focus on May 17th 2007, and no one noticed.

What happened to Michael Scott on May 17, 2007? Nothing.  The derailing of the series had nothing to do with Steve Carell.

People believe Michael Scott was the heart of the “The Office.”  That’s not true.  Michael Scott was the center of the show.  But the heart of the show was Jim.  Jim is who we identified with. We rooted desperately for him to be with the love of his life, the beautiful, smart, sweet, and uniquely normal Pam.

May 17, 2007 was the airing of the Season Three finale episode, “The Job.”  At the end of the episode, while Pam was being interviewed in the conference room, Jim stuck his head in the door and asked her out to dinner. Pam said yes.  The guy got the girl. 

For the next four and half seasons, we all watched Happily Ever After play out on primetime television.  We saw the dating, the proposal at the gas station, the wedding at Niagara Falls, baby number one and now baby number two.  It wasn’t great TV, but it was good TV.  It was wish-fulfillment TV, and that is kind of satisfying.  It was sweet.  It was closure. “The End.”

In a movie, the audience leaves after “The End.”  On a sitcom, it’s never “The End” until the audience leaves.  And that’s where we’re at with “The Office”.

Pam and Jim the happy couple never fight, and never have real life problems.  A fairy tale romance is not funny and it is not compelling.  There’s no reason for us to root for Jim anymore. And that’s what is killing the show.

The show has tried to recreate the original Pam/Jim magic by creating new romantic entanglements.  Andy/Erin? Who cares.  Dwight/Angela? Snore. Darryl/Val? Who?  Creating sitcom will they/won't they magic is next to impossible. Pam and Jim beat TV odds. "The Office" hasn't been able to recreate it again because Pam and Jim are the only two realistic, three-dimensional characters left on the show.

The only way to rebuild the show is to make us root for Jim again.  The only way to do that is by first ripping away the only thing that matters deeply to him. Pam.  If Jim cheated on Pam by sleeping with Cathy – if the show gave him a reason to want to do that, and then let us watch the upcoming train wreck in slow motion – Jim would lose everything in a moment of weakness.  Yes, that sounds heartless, but by doing that, we would get to watch Jim have to win her back.  And if he had to work hard to do it, I mean really, really hard, we would start to care again.  He needs to dig deep within himself (and by “he”, I mean the writers), to prove to us in a meaningful way why we should take him back into our hearts. 

Watching Jim really trying to redeem himself, to prove he’s more than the typical cheating husband, to prove why he is, and always has been, special is what will give us, the audience, a reason to care, to cheer, and most importantly, to keep watching.  No matter who takes over for Michael Scott.  Having Jim cheat on Pam to get there may sound mean-spirited, but if you want a great omelet you have to break some eggs. Come on “The Office”, start cracking!