It’s easy to take a show like The Office literally. This is supposed to be a documentary of the lives of the employees of a struggling paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The entire purpose of the show is to make it feel like it’s not a television show but rather a bird’s eye view to the lives of these people. We’re not supposed to think about the writers or the choices of the directors, we’re supposed to be wrapped up in the Jim and Pam of it all or worry that Michael is one day going to do one Chris Rock routine too many and get himself fired. That’s the beauty of The Office, and probably why it’s found so much success, we don’t view the cast as characters we see them as people. Everyone on this show is relatable, outside of Creed, and seems authentic and real. Our brains are trained to think that we’ve worked with someone like Michael or Kevin helping make the show more enjoyable and personal. Sure, some of these characteristics get exaggerated as the series gets into later seasons, again looking at Creed, but it always feels like it’s earned. We’ve been watching years and years of their lives, I don’t doubt that Dwight would go to the mall covered in beet juice thus preventing him from getting a wizard statue. I also don’t doubt that Dwight wouldn’t understand that the beet juice on his hands would make it look like he’s covered in blood. The documentary-style allows this unique opportunity to watch these people grow or in the case of Andy maybe grow backward before growing forward again. A Benjamin Button type thing with maturity. I don’t know, you word it better than me.
Here’s the thing though, The Office isn’t an actual documentary… What?! I know, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. It’s like telling someone that Big Bird is a guy in a suit or you can’t sneeze with your eyes open. It shocks you down to the core but eventually you move on or you keep trying to sneeze with your eyes open until you’re partially blind in your left eye. The Office had a tremendous writing crew, you’d be surprised how much is actually in the script and not improvised, and often worked things into episodes and seasons that represented the state of the characters without you even noticing. For example, how Michael’s hair in season one is specifically designed to make you not like him. Or have you ever noticed how when Jim gives his talking head he always has a window at his back? That’s because the writers/directors wanted you to know that there was something bigger out there for Jim besides this failing paper company. Anyone with a talking head with a window facing into the office itself meant they were pretty much where they were going to be for the rest of their lives. Next time you watch keep an eye on who gets outside windows and who doesn’t. It’ll wrinkle your brain.
While listening to a recent episode of The Office Ladies Podcast, hosted by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, I learned that there was more hidden symbolism happening right in front of our eyes. This particular reveal had to do with season three Jim. You know, the season where Jim moves up to Stamford briefly, drunkenly rides his bike into a bush, starts dating Karen, and for reasons beyond our understanding continues to tell Michael very personal details about his life. Well, there was something else going on with Jim in season three and it has to do with his clothing.
Before we get into this, take a minute and think of the classic Halpert look. You’ll get messy hair, loosened tie, top button unbuttoned, and sleeves rolled up. That’s our Jim Halpert. That’s the Jim Halpert we know and love. Buuuuuut in season three of The Office, Jim changes up the way he dresses and spends the majority of the season with his sleeves down. I’ll give you a minute because I’m sure the majority of you are trying to cycle through every season three episode in your head real quick to see if I’m correct and then that’s immediately followed by the strong urge to re-watch the season (again) and the fact that yeah, Jim didn’t roll his sleeves up all season. What the hell?!
Well, according to The Office Ladies Podcast that was a very specific choice of the creators of the show. The lack of rolled-up sleeves/relaxed dressed Jim is supposed to represent how he’s not really himself. He’s not really comfortable with life in season three. This isn’t our Jim. He’s in a position in life where he put it all on the line with the woman he loves and was rejected so he takes a job and moves away from his childhood home. Then the branch he transfers to gets absorbed by his former office and he has to return to the place he left because of the feelings he had for the receptionist. Plus he’s got this new relationship that is the exact opposite of his relationship with Pam. A relationship that’s good but as we learn later in season three, he’s not fully committed to. My man stresses hard about her moving a couple of blocks from his house. Not to mention he’s still got those feelings for Pam which he openly tells Karen and then gets exhausted by the late-night talks that ensue. Jim’s uncomfortableness in life is represented in his sleeves and the way he dresses. Taking away classic Halpert we’re supposed to look past the facade and see Jim is kind of struggling here trying to be someone he’s not. Hell, he gets a haircut for the first time in the series. Could you imagine season one or two Jim doing that?!
To further the point, when you start watching season four of The Office you can tell that things have immediately changed for Jim because he’s back in that classic Halpert attire. Loose tie. No top button. And the sleeves are rolled back up showing that he’s happy and comfortable again and a lot of that has to do with the romance he sparks up with Pam in-between seasons. But I love seeing how much time, effort, and thought are put into the physical representation of the characters. It’s very subtle but once Fischer and Kinsey reveal you can’t help but unsee it. It’s like looking at a 3D print and seeing the scooter. Sailboat. A scooter is a sailboat, dummy.
Geeklings, how many of you picked up on Jim’s sleeves in season three? Or the talking head windows? What other subtle hints and clues have you picked up on in your many, many re-watches? Be sure to share them in the comments below or if you’d like to talk about them on Twitter you can find me @iamgeek32.