NBC’s hit sitcom The Office is wrapping up its ninth and final season. Since its pilot six episode season in 2006, the show about a small paper company in Scranton, PA and its naively incompetent manager (played for seven seasons by Steve Carrell) has been my consistent favorite, providing countless hours of laughter – most significantly during a dark time in my life when it was the only thing that could make me laugh.
With Steve Carrell’s departure two seasons ago, the quality of the comedy has steadily declined: while it still has its moments of hilarity, I watch it now more out of loyalty and habit than for the comedic value. As the writers’ creativity seems to have diminished, they have relied more and more on simple, crude sexual jokes as a source of humor rather than the thoughtful, clever character interactions that have been the hallmark of the show. Though never a model of virtuous family fun, the show has become increasingly shocking in its portrayal of sexual deviancy, and thus sadly has gone the way of most contemporary sitcoms in which sexual immorality is trivialized by making sexual promiscuity and marital infidelity as source of casual amusement.
The most disturbing example of this trend has been the relationship between Angela, a self-righteous, uptight hypocrite (and the one professing Christian character on the show) and her husband, known just as “the Senator” because he is a local state senator. Angela’s co-worker and friend in the accounting department, Oscar, who is a gay Mexican-American, begins to suspect that “the Senator” is gay himself, and eventually they enter into an affair – unbeknownst to Angela, of course. After having a child with her husband, Angela, who herself slept with another co-worker just before she was married, finds out about the affair and ends up leaving her husband to live alone with her infant son. Occasionally, I will watch sitcoms from the 1980s on Netflix, and while even by then sexual immorality was employed for comedic effect, it was rare for it to happen among married people, and of course the topic of homosexual behavior was never even broached.
Set against the backdrop of dysfunctional marriages and romances is the relationship between Jim and Pam. Jim and Pam’s blossoming romance was a major sub-plot of the show for a few seasons, eventually culminating in their wedding and starting of a family. Their sincere love for each other and commitment to their new family is truly the most endearing aspect of the show. This season has revealed some cracks in their marriage, caused by Jim’s new business venture in sports marketing, which often requires him to be away from home while Pam stays behind to sell paper and care for their two children alone. In the midst of their conflict, there have been hints that Pam might be enticed to be unfaithful to Jim, to which my wife and I have cried “They better not do that! I’ll never watch NBC again if they do!”
Fortunately, with a couple of episodes remaining it appears that the writers do not plan to wreck their marriage, but have them taking steps toward restoration and healing. I plan to write a second post in which I describe what they have done and what our intuitive recognition of the beauty of this relationship says about the nature of moral law and how we learn righteousness.