Being Pam Beesly: Part 2 – Wham! Bam! Where’s our PAM?
WHO is this woman and what has she done with Pam?
HOW can they keep Pam around after she has her baby??
And WHAT is the horror we call The Kramering???
Easy now. All will be revealed. Just relax, ease into the Armchair and let’s start at the beginning…
Okay, so last time around, we outlined the problem. And isn’t that the first step to recovery? Admitting there’s a problem? Pop psychology notwithstanding, in Part 1 we came to terms with the thing a lot of us in audience-land are thinking but nobody’s saying…
We’ve fallen out of love with Pam Beesly.
But we at the Armchair don’t believe in calling out a problem without also proposing a solution – that’s one of the best things about being a know-it-all. It may actually be the only thing.
Regardless, let’s address Pam’s problems the way the New Kids on the Block would – Step by Step.
Gonna get to you girl.
1) She’s got no calling. Dwight wants authority. Michael wants to be liked. Andy wants love. Kevin wants to be a winner. Oscar wants balance. Angela wants order. Stanley wants solitude. Kelly wants to be popular. Tobey wants harmony. Meredith wants a good time. Ryan is entitled. Creed is the wild card.
But what does Pam want? What’s her thing? It WAS love. But now she has that. It WAS artistic fulfillment. But they dropped that storyline when she failed art school. So what’s left? What’s her function on the show? At least as secretary, she was at Michael’s beck and call which provided a ton of laughs and more than a few uncomfortable situations. But now that she’s a salesperson, that’s gone too.
The Fix: Pam needs a thing. Something we can identify her character with again. Something she can strive for and be challenged by and grow from. I think the show’s writers identified this void as well, which would explain the new baby storyline, though I’m interested to see how they manage to work that into a show that’s primarily based in a place of work. My guess? I think they’ll start an in-office daycare program. This would solve two problems, how to keep Pam in the office AND what the hell is she doing with her life? (Ooh! And they should bring back Jan to run it!)
Although the whole baby thing is a step in the right direction, I still don’t think that should be Pam’s primary calling, but more on that in Item 4.
(By the way, I realize this may seem somewhat sexist and unbalanced since Jim’s initial calling, which was also love, has also been satisfied without calling Jim’s likability into question, but Jim had a secondary calling as a prankster/slacker to fall back on. Plus, he now has a new calling as co-manager, which is proving to be very effective in the latest episodes.)
This may or may not be an office building in the Andromeda galaxy.
Now, on to the next…
2) She’s not funny. Which, on a comedy show, would seem to be a grave misstep. But keep in mind two things:
First, in comedy, the straight man is a time-honored and very necessary ingredient in the comedic formula. Second, Pam as a character was never designed (nor cast – no offense to the lovely Ms. Fischer) to be funny.
Pam was designed to be stepped on, humiliated and pushed around. That’s why you feel for her and that’s why you care. Think back to all the times you felt most strongly about Pam Beesly…wasn’t she in some kind of emotional distress? Wasn’t she longing for something or someone? Wasn’t she attempting something and failing?
The Fix: When you try to make Pam into a funny character, she fails. Her function is to reflect the ridiculous going on around her. So keep her there for reaction shots. Let her be a sounding board, a voice of reason that ALWAYS goes unheeded (headed?) Let the funny happen around her and let us see it through her eyes. Unfortunately, her lot in life is to be laughed at, not with. And whenever you stray outside that formula, the character falls flat. And not in an endearing way.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one…
Which brings us to number 3…
3) She’s happy. And for a character whose appeal rests primarily upon her misery, this is the kiss of death.
Sure, we’ve all taken sitcom 101. “Who’s the Boss?”, “Moonlighting”, “Cheers”, the list goes on. Whenever the two main characters of a show get together, the show immediately loses its appeal.
But this is advanced sitcom theory. Here we know that the above formula only applies if the character’s only draw was wanting to fall in love. Jim had more going for him, so he’s safe. Pam did not, so she’s in the red.
But this is more than just the rules of entertainment, this is human nature at its most raw. We are entertained, interested and compelled by conflict, by challenge and by non-completion. Look, when you’re at a party or in the office or at the bus stop, no one wants to hear someone tell stories about how they came out on top, or how great their job is or how well their relationship is going, right? Who wants to hear THAT? We want to hear about the near misses, the almosts, the coulda-beens -and yes, the humiliations!
Same applies here, especially in Pam Beesly’s case.
The Fix: Pam needs some new challenges. Pam needs to be in situations where her perfect relationship isn’t at the forefront of our minds. And while no one wants to see her and Jim fighting (at least not yet…my guess? Season 7), things like having her forget to raise her hand in support of Jim’s attempt to gain the employee’s respect is a good start. Pam must almost always come out on bottom. She has to get the short end of the stick, under heel, put upon. If there’s a way for something to go wrong, it must go wrong for Pam. If she knows better, no one can listen to her. Pam was someone we related to in terms of our boring jobs and the jackasses we work with. After all, when Pam rises above it, we don’t feel that’s something to aspire to, we just feel bad that we haven’t risen too. Come on, Pam. Join us down here in the dregs. There’ s an empty seat at our pity party waiting just for you…!
Mind your source material…!
And lastly, we have something less Office-specific, but nevertheless an obstacle with which we must contend. An immutable sitcom law that simply cannot be avoided…
4) The Kramering. There’s a thing that happens in sitcoms over time. I call it the “Kramering.” When a show is set up, you have your NORMIES – the ones you’re supposed to pull for and relate to (your Jerry’s, Elaine’s and George’s) – and you’ve got your WHACKOS – the nutty characters that introduce a little chaos into the normies’ lives and usually push the story forward by bending the rules of reality to suit the story. These whackos are easily identified by their unusual wardrobe, ridiculous haircuts and total lack of self awareness. (and apparently their permanent placement on the far left side of the group shot)
It may be the quirky maintenance man…
…the whacky neighbor…
…the forlorn neighborhood nerd…
…or the office kiss ass…
But over time, a very strange phenomena occurs. We stop identifying with the Normies and begin associating ourselves with the more fun, more funny Whackos. To compensate for this, show writers begin to transform the Normies, slowly but surely, into Whackos. Until finally, by the end of a show’s run, you may not be able to discern one from the other.
Instead of thinking Michael Scott is ridiculous for bringing a homemade video to a financial report meeting, we start thinking everyone else is stuffy and humorless for not going along with it. That’s the Kramering.
When you wish Jim would just lay off and let the employees role-play a murder mystery during office hours, that’s the Kramering.
When you feel like Pam is really stepping out of bounds when asking fellow coworkers to help accommodate her pregnancy, that’s the Kramering. (although, having her husband, who is now everyone’s boss, standing next to her while she made her case, did make it feel more like an order issued by an entitled princess than a friendly request).
The Kramering in “The Office” is particularly severe because over time they’ve transformed most of the Normies into Whackos, so now they actually outnumber the Normies (6 to 9 by my count). Because of The Kramering, no matter what Pam, a certified Normie, does – we like her LESS than we like the Whackos. You’d think the answer is to turn Pam into a Whacko as well, but remember she’s NOT funny!
So what do we do?
The Fix: This is a tough one, but not unsolvable. I hinted earlier that I think they need to avoid making Pam’s focus strictly around the baby. Instead, I think they should continue something they started in “Business School” (“watch out world, ol’ Pammy’s getting what she wants”) and continued in “Beach Games” – and make her primary calling her quest for self esteem.
Within those boundaries, it’d be perfectly acceptable to see Pam trying out increasingly wacky ways to feel good about her failing career, impending motherhood and unsure future. There’s a ton of potentially funny ground to cover there and I think as long as she fails most of the time while occasionally making tiny strides forward, she’ll find the sweet spot.
Remember, you can’t stop the Kramering. You can only hope to slow it down.
So that’s it. A simple four-step program courtesy of the Armchair guaranteed to get Pam Beesly back where we like her…on the bottom. We understand that Pam, just like any well-drawn character, has to grow. In fact, this is the strength of The Office. It’s not like things get reset at the end of every episode like other sitcoms. Actions have consequences (hell, Jan got written right off the show!) and characters grow and change – sometimes into people we don’t really like – just like in real life.
But unlike real life, the show’s continued existence relies on us either loving these people or at least loving to hate them. And I don’t think Pam would serve well as the latter. So let’s hope the boys and girls in the writer’s room take a cue from the Armchair and let Pam be what she’s great at – what we need her to be: A flower blooming in a closet – beautiful and undiscovered. The kind of girl you make your famous cheese sandwich for.
The kind you wanted to marry a long, long time ago. Pretty much the day you met her.
The wedding of Jim and Pam. The begining of the end? Or just the end of the beginning?