A Love Letter to The Office
What the hit U.S. sitcom taught me about love, grand gestures, and beets

One of contemporary TV’s greatest love stories; I am, of course, talking about soul-mates Jim and Pam.

The Office, as many of you may know, is a mockumentary-style sitcom helmed by Ricky Gervais. It lasted for a classically British two seasons, receiving critical acclaim leading us rather snappily, to The Office (US). The Americanised version included similar character styles, right down to the will-they-won’t-they template, almost on-the-nose romantic archetype that films and TV series have drained for decades. It’s a classic game of cat and mouse, one that has played throughout centuries, a pair of dice that we ourselves have likely rolled at some point in our lives. Throughout the monumental nine seasons that the show ran for we witness Jim and Pam transition from office mates to married couple with kids; and the magic of the show? It doesn’t hide any of the nitty-gritty in between.

The raw intimacy and wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve approach the characters share makes the sweeter moments even more mouth-watering, of course, and the show delivers reams of tear-inducing moments, for all the right reasons. When Pam walks on fire, for instance, and recounts to Jim that although there were ‘a lot of reasons to call off my wedding… I didn’t care about any of those until I met you’, we see ourselves reflected yet again. Who hasn’t been stuck in a relationship that is perhaps not good for us, one wherein we perhaps know this and refuse to acknowledge for whatever reason? And nobody can ever forget Pam’s face wherein, confessing on camera just how ‘over Jim’ she is, he pops up, invites her to dinner, and confirms ‘all right. Then it’s a date’. Joy overcomes her and we see proof she was victim to the fool insider her, much like the fool who lives in all of us when we want to safeguard our heart. The head cheerleader/quarterback archetypes they fit into resonate with us, but there is another, alternate relationship at work too…

At the beginning of the show, Dwight is a showy, extroverted oddball of a salesman while Angela is purely the opposite… a Christian accountant whose closest and most experienced relationship is with her many, many cats. They were messy, on-and-off, fire meets ice… and, at the end of it all, they were sublime.

Let’s face it… on many levels, Dwight and Angela’s love story was far more heart-wrenching than any of the others. From the initial, warm bubbles of the beginning, to the first time that they broke it off (Dwight putting Angela’s elderly cat Sprinkles of her misery, saving her from day-after-day cocktails of medication and pain relief by locking her in the freezer and leaving her to die), there was rarely a dull moment. Angela became engaged and married in between and during relations with Dwight, and their portrayal of the couple who never have the timing right was exactly what the audience needed.

Another reason Dwight and Angela were conceived as perhaps more honest than other on-screen couples is due to the sheer amount of footage in the show wherein they do not know they are being filmed. Their affection is often shown in snippets which are taken while cameramen hide behind boxes and lampposts. Pulling up clothes after emerging from a warehouse romp, slapping away hands as Dwight tries to grab Angela a little affectionately in the break room and lingering, longing looks amongst co-workers put these two firmly in the running for most the most sincere tugging of heartstrings throughout. As a young gay man I felt I could really relate to this pair and their need for secrecy and its integral part to play in protecting their relationship; whilst Oscar’s storylines often felt outdated and a little alien, I was shown that just because love wasn’t paraded around with teapots and extravagant PDA, love wasn’t any less valuable.

As a writer who finds great joy in the ordinary, it sparks joy in my heart to see the representation that a perfectly ordinary proposal like those displayed in the show can be just as momentous and elaborate… without a restaurant in sight. Jim and Pam’s ‘Yes’ at a gas station, wherein Pam is far away in New York and they’re making it long distance, and Jim just can’t wait to propose to her… is there anything more sincere, or real? Not being able to contain it any longer, feeling the sheer need to drive there, go anywhere, and pour your heart out in the middle of a rainstorm amongst petrol and Pringles? It took enough of my willpower not to blurt out ‘I love you’ to my boyfriend for the first time one night when we were shopping in Morrison’s… I’d been holding it back for days that had felt like weeks, and I can’t imagine the mental reigns needed to keep my mouth closed for such a thing.

Of course, we have to note to the crescendo of the show wherein in the finale of season 9 Dwight forces Angela’s car to grind to a halt, pulling over on the side of the road to beg for her, megaphone in hand…. It’s every romantic’s dream. Dwight shouting ‘I would raise a hundred children with a hundred of your lovers if it means I can be with you’ at the side of a highway after almost running Angela off the road emulates the lengths we will go through to be with the ones we love, whilst encapsulating a modern take on love with many, many failed marriages and single parents. A particularly heartwarming message that allows all to feel included, no matter how they may have been wronged or left in the past.

From Michael showing up to Pam’s art show when hardly anyone from the office did (even Jim was absent) and demanding to buy a photo of the building because ‘we have to have it for the office’, to Dwight comforting a crying Pam who’s reacting to Jim dating Karen, The Office has given us plenty of moments of platonic and friendly love. Solidarity between co-workers that become acquaintances and eventually lifelong friends show to us that the people we work with often become some of our closest allies right under our noses. Lessons like this are exemplary of The Office’s writing team, heralded by many of the show’s actors (Mindy Kaling, B.J. Novak etc.); their ability to tread through moments of our own lives is nothing short of spookily uncanny.

The Office was a show I never expected I would like, having never been attached to the original, and it took me years (and finally finishing Parks & Rec) to finally give it a go. At the time I pressed play I noticed half the cast already, as many have sprung from this once-niche idea into international comedy legends, going onto world-renowned roles (think Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt, Kaling in Ocean’s 8 and The Mindy Project, John Krasinski’s career boom both on the silver and smaller screens). I loved with Jim and Pam, laughed with Michael, loathed Toby and rooted for Dwight and Angela. It’s many notorious guest stars, such as Catherine Tate as the insufferably loveable Nellie Bertram, provided everything needed to create a rich, diverse and once-in-a-lifetime moment in television.

It taught me how to host the perfect (albeit unique) garden party, the bliss of pulling off the perfect prank, and that sometimes a look says more than words ever can. But, most of all, The Office has shown me exactly what it means to be human, to strive for better, and to not let the minutes pass by idly, because together, they make up pieces of a much larger puzzle.

Sometimes we may think the setting of our lives is ordinary; but looking back, the story that we tell is anything but.

Words by James Hawkridge / Photo Credit by NBC

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