By Christina Tucker
In this column, a different writer each week will examine the episode of a television show that made them fall in love with the series.
“The Office,” a mockumentary-style workplace comedy, aired on NBC for nine seasons (2005-2013). One of NBC’s highest-rated programs, “The Office” features the oblivious Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and his childish antics as Regional Manager at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, with an ensemble cast of realistic yet eccentric side characters struggling to work under him (…that’s what she said?).
One of the most important plotlines of the first half of the series is the will-they-or-won’t-they love story between soft-spoken receptionist Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) and mischievous paper salesman Jim Halpert (John Krasinski). Their plotline came to a head during the finale of season 2, “Casino Night” (Season 2, Episode 22), ending with a kiss between Jim and Pam (who, at the time, is still engaged to her fiancé and Dunder Mifflin employee, Roy Anderson).
“Boys and Girls” (Season 2, Episode 15) marks a significant step for Jim and Pam’s relationship, as well as Pam’s character development. It’s a quietly important moment in their romantic story arc.
The episode involves Jan Levinson (Melora Hardin), Michael’s superior from Dunder Mifflin’s corporate branch, initiating a women’s-only seminar about women in the workplace. Out of jealousy, Michael takes the men of the office down to the warehouse for his own “men in the workplace” seminar. Michael’s half of the episode is the source for most of the humor and light moments in the episode (examples: he inadvertently encourages the men in the warehouse to unionize as he attempts to relate to a blue-collar lifestyle; his blatant ignorance as he looks into the camera and asks, “Do black people like pizza?”). But most of the powerful moments come from Pam’s experiences with her group and with Jim.
Jan’s seminar starts off light with a lecture on getting ahead in the workplace. However, when Jan asks the women where they see themselves in 5 years, she ends up frustrated with the women’s lack of ambition. Pam mentions a childhood dream of hers was to live in house with a beautiful garden terrace. Pam also tells Jan about her interest in illustration. Jan mentions that Dunder Mifflin is offering a three-week design program in New York City, but Pam declines, listing excuse after excuse as to why she shouldn’t or couldn’t do it. “There’s always a million reasons not to do something,” Jan tells her, one of several simple yet powerful lines from the episode.
When Jim and Pam break away from their groups to talk, Jim earnestly encourages Pam to go for the design program. She later informs him that she’s decided against it, per Roy’s recommendation. They argue, and Jim tells her, “You gotta take a chance on something sometime, Pam.” He asks her if she’s happy with her choices, if she wants to stay a receptionist forever, and Pam, offended, insists that she’s happy where she is. Jim is uncharacteristically serious when he argues with Pam. His frustration with her is heartbreaking, and resonates not only with the audience’s own frustration with Pam, but is relatable enough to make someone question their own choices.
During one of “The Office’s” standard talking heads, Pam once again explains away her choices. “It’s impractical. I’m not going to try to get a house like that. They don’t even make houses like that in Scranton,” she says, before immediately breaking down in tears. It’s one of Jenna Fischer’s best performances as Pam and caught me completely off guard.
It’s subtly devastating, relatable, and all the acting rings so true. The writer (B.J. Novak, who plays temp-turned-corporate-wunderkind Ryan Howard) made a fantastic, emotionally poignant choice to use Pam’s terraced house to show just how restricting her relationship with Roy actually is. Every dream Pam gives up, from the terrace to the graphic design program, represents so much more than what they are, and all relate to Pam’s biggest issue: she consistently compromises her dreams and gives up her own happiness.
“Boys and Girls” isn’t the funniest episode of “The Office,” nor do I think it’s the most exciting in terms of plot progression, but its emotional impact and solid acting make it one of the standouts of the season and, in my opinion, the entire show. The writing is beautifully subtle and everything resonates in a way that can’t be conveyed just by observing at the bare bones of the plot. This episode showed that not only is “The Office” capable of making hilarious scenes out of mundane office activity, but can also explore the realistically complicated hearts and souls of its characters. It made me sure that there was something I could connect with in this show and I knew I had to keep watching.
Christina Tucker is a contributing writer. Email her at email@example.com.