California Literary Review

The Office Recap: Pam’s Replacement (Season 8, Episode 7)

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November 11th, 2011 at 12:15 am

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John Krasinski as Jim from The Office

Photo by: Paul Drinkwater

I briefly discussed in an earlier recap the failure of Jim and Pam as characters post…let’s say season 4. .

Jim started as the audience surrogate; a guy trapped in an all-around crappy life, hating every minute of it and being stuck as the level head in a world of fools. His battles with Dwight were the descendants of the pranks done in M*A*S*H- a way to keep one’s sanity in a horrific situation. As the show progressed, he got the American dream- respect from his employers and employees, top sales figures, a promotion (that he could have regained once Michael left), the house, and, most importantly, the girl who became the wife who became the wife and kids. And, more than that, he seemingly got it all with very little effort. In recent years, episodes like Lotto, Garden Party, and Classy Christmas were better venues for Jim because he got to do interesting/active things (and, coincidentally, had more interactions with Dwight), but for the most part he has turned into an incredibly dull figure. Obviously fatherhood changes a man, but that doesn’t mean for the better.

Similarly, Pam at one point had dreams. She wanted to be an artist; she wanted to do more with her existence than remain with Dunder-Mifflin. We knew she was never going to make it, but most people never do. It provided her and her story with a relatable tragic element. Even when she tried sales, at least she was trying to improve her situation from answering phone calls for the rest of her life. Then she abandoned that to become both mother and “office mom.”

 Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam on The Office

The actually pregnant Jenna Fischer.

And the core to the latest episode of The Office essentially revolves around the”office mom.” Pam is about to go on maternity leave so they hire a temp (Cathy) to replace her, despite them already having several people in the office who can probably fulfill the duties of a job that doesn’t really exist.

Cathy is attractive, which causes Pam to feel very insecure about how she looks at nine months pregnant and how Jim feels about her. Jim refuses to admit that he finds Cathy attractive, so Pam enlists the brutally honest Dwight to catch her husband in his lie. Eventually, Pam decides to go with Dwight’s plan about putting Jim on some sort of rigged up lie detector. Instead of developing a crazy device that Dwight can (and probably has) built, they disappointingly go to a pharmacy where Jim sits at a blood pressure monitor and Dwight determines “lie” based on blood pressure number. The scheme does not work, but Jim might have high blood pressure. Pam convinces Jim to go to his doctor, and that’s how the episode ends.

Chris D'Elia as Alex and Whitney Cummings as Whitney in Whitney

Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

Earlier this season, Whitney, which follows The Office, also had a plot that involved the male lying about finding a female attractive and his significant other trying to catch him in the lie. As much as it pains me to say it, Whitney handled the storyline if not better than more entertainingly. In the show’s third episode, Whitney punishes her boyfriend Alex for his untruth by first giving him the silent treatment and then giving him the babbling treatment. Like every episode since and prior, it made you despise the titular character and want the main couple to split. By the end of the adventure, I loathed TV Whitney as I have very few other characters. But at least it elicited some emotion from me. Through my hate, I was invested and engaged. Not until watching Pam’s Replacement did I appreciate the value of Whitney. When the same plot featured a lame married couple (and make no mistake, Jim and Pam are a lame married couple), it made me realize how little I care about the Halperts and their “struggles.” I am sure that Jim and Pam are fine people in person, but they are certainly not a pair worth hanging out with.

Craig Robinson as Darrryl Philbin, James Spader as Robert California in The Office

Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC

In the B-plot, Andy, Kevin, and Darryl are in the warehouse practicing their band because what is The Office if not a way for Ed Helms to show off. Robert California shows up, which leads Andy to, once again, freak out about impressing the boss. Robert wants in with his harmonica (camaraderie- what a way to impress the boss!), and he blows everyone away with his talent. Sporadically, we cut back to them as Robert invites friends who are eminently skilled at guitar and keyboards to join in. The new members, caught in their own superior jam session, unintentionally oust the original three members from the performance space. Andy, as usual, cannot stand up for himself and sadly sulks away. I wish the show gave the audience some credit and remember that Andy was unintentionally kicked out of a performance he started by people more talented than himself less than one month ago (October 13 to be exact) in Garden Party. At the end, Andy, Kevin, and Darryl realize that the important thing is friendship.

Additional Thoughts:

• The two storylines are so divorced from one another that it becomes bothersome. Even though the plots happen “simultaneously,” they could be taking place on two completely different days and nothing need be changed.

• One reason why Pam is so concerned about Jim’s feelings is that she notices Jim making Cathy laugh. One act breaks with Pam wondering to the camera why (or how) Jim is making her laugh so hard. Her delivery is almost dramatic and makes it sound as though we are supposed to feel bad for her. We don’t. I am not denying that this conundrum might be a situation that married couples or pregnant women face, but I’m sure it could be done with greater skill than “you should look into Lipitor.”

• Pregnancy woes constitute a sub-subplot in the first third as Pam complains about how people treat her after she started showing. I don’t doubt that some audience members might watch these scenes and be like “I can totally identify!” However, as someone who is biologically unable to spawn and who has never cared about a co-worker’s pregnancy, the jokes fell flat.

  • Katie

    I completely agree with this review. I feel that many of The Office’s once most interesting characters have changed and not for the better. While some growth or change would be natural, to completely rewrite the character is another. The perfect example is Angela. She went from the uptight judgmental Christian, to the woman who cheats on her fiancé, and then enters a sex contract so she can have a baby. I don’t know about you, but the judgmental, up-tight, Christian people I know tend not do that. The show has become so incongruent it is unrecognizable as the hilarious comedy it began as. In this episode Pam, as the stereotypical neurotic wife/girlfriend is irritating (and frankly a little insulting) and while the story line could have been, if only slightly, redeemed by Jim doing something sweet and funny to squash her insecurities, instead it just fizzles to an end.

    Also side note- the intro really bugged me with the whole “pretend important phone call”. Hello, they did that same thing with Michael and Pam. Come on Office writers. Stop being so lazy. Seinfeld managed to come up with new material for nine seasons. The same goes for the first episode this season (The List). I found that to be pretty damn close to the episode last season titled The Inner Circle. The office is divided into the haves and the have-nots, and then one of the “favorites” gets ousted from the bosses’ good graces and tried hard to get back into A-team. It is too formulaic. The Office needs to step it up, fast.

  • Jason

    I actually thought this episode was hilarious.

  • Susan

    I really liked this episode. Not so much the language of this review:

    First, It’s strange that you would write people off, even boring fictional ones, as ‘not worth hanging out with’ as if social encounters were to be thought about in terms of profitability;
    Second, its unclear what it means to be ‘imminently’ skilled at a musical instrument. I.e. wrong usage: imminent means ‘about to happen’, at hand, impending.

  • Brett Harrison Davinger

    Katie- I commented on that in my The List recap. In particular, how Kevin was part of both cool gangs.

    Susan- I meant eminently, but must have missed it while editing. As for the first comment, someone can be “worth spending time with” without concerns to “profitability.” It has to do with how you want to spend your time.

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