Great Love in Primetime

Soon the summer days will melt into earlier evenings and cooler mornings. You know what that means: the end of reruns.

This fall, I’m in a particular conundrum. When I moved into the house I currently inhabit, my Thursday nights were unoccupied by a TV addiction. My roommate, however, watched Grey’s Anatomy faithfully, and I soon learned that by not watching, I was accidentally excluding myself from a sizable portion of American society. So I started watching.

When Grey’sentered reruns, I started watching The Office, and now it’s the show I rarely miss. Now: my roommate and I lack the technological capability to watch both shows—no DVR or TiVo or even a VCR. So when the new seasons start, we’ll have to start watching webisodes of one of them, or maybe alternate between the two, or just kibosh one altogether until they hit reruns.

If, however, for some reason we had to choose between the two shows, I would probably lobby to keep Steve Carell and lose Ellen Pompeo. Sure, Grey’s is addictive in a guilty-pleasure way, but two specific areas give The Office an edge in my book.

Exhibit A: The underdog guy. Grey’s features George as its endearing shy-awkward character; the parallel Office resident would most likely be Jim. In season one of Grey’s George was lovably in love with Meredith, but lately he’s been acting like a jerk. Jim, on the other hand, is painfully perfect: his only flaw is that he doesn’t actually exist. True, he was a bit of a jerk to his booze cruise date, but even that somehow cements his awesomeness because he is rendered jerky only by his feelings for Pam. Krasinski wins.

Exhibit B: The romantic plot(s). The big love narrative in Grey’s is the Meredith-Derek story. They’ve been together rather blissfully all season, after a season or two of “No, you’re my boss” and “Oh, wait, I’m still married.” But now, the season finale hints, there is trouble in paradise. In the final episode, Derek even laments to Burke, “I think it’s over” with a little sigh, like Vivian Leigh. Quite honestly, I just don’t have the energy for any more ups and downs between these two.

Meanwhile, George has decided that he’s in love with Izzie, even though he’s married to Callie. It is obvious that the show’s producers expect me to want him to ditch Callie for Izzie, and I don’t. Dangit: I like Callie. I know she’s only a slight departure from the horribly stereotypical big-girl-with-big-personality, but I don’t care. She’s cool. If George was still holding out hope that he could be the guy on the arm of Meredith or Izzie, he just shouldn’t have gotten married is all. Love the one you’re with, that’s what I say.

And this is the problem with the romantic plotlines in Grey’s: they’re almost stupidly about some great love. Derek offers Meredith stability and helps heal her of the emotional wounds inflicted by her mother. Similarly, if George and Izzie were together, one imagines, George’s underlying feelings for his closest friend could finally be realized, and she would finally have gotten over Denny and be able to experience love again.

Pretty much everyone wants love like this—love that’s deep and meaningful and about something. I admittedly want this too. But right now, in my actual life, I know maybe—maybe—two people who have had their souls touched to any degree at all by a significant other. I want to believe Amos Lee when he says he’s been saved by a woman, but to tell you the truth, I’m not sure such a great romantic love even exists in reality.

Of course, The Office has a love plot or two of its own. Jim-and-Pam is pretty much the main vehicle of the show, and it too possesses shades of great love. Jim and Pam are “supposed” to be together—everyone knows that. And it looks like they will be. Theirs will be a courtship like that of Ross and Rachel, only (hopefully) less self-important. And it’s this realistic quality that makes the Officemates the winners in the romance category.

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Plus, Dunder Mifflin is home to other, funnier trysts. Dwight and Angela form a quirky, erratic, nonsensical couple, while Michael carries his workplace obtuseness into a hapless dating life. To me, this is an obvious real-world principle: sometimes love is weird.

Incidentally, I think it’s notable that great love storylines are only possible with characters like Jim and Pam and George and Izzie. Every one of these characters is someone we’d like to be—they’re sympathetic and good looking, and their flaws are somehow not flaws. Izzie’s a model/surgeon, and her only real flaw is that she gets “too involved” with her patients, which is really a virtue. Likewise, if I were a character in the Office universe, I would most want to be Pam. She’s detached from the banalities and stupidities of work, she’s the girl everyone seems to have a latent crush on, and she gets to be friends-plus with John Frickin’ Krasinski.

Angela, in contrast, serves only a comic function. She’s prissy, inflexible and judgmental. No one wants to be her, and that’s why she can’t have great love, because the point of watching great love on TV is to project oneself into the story. Michael, as the buffoonish boss, could never be a great love guy. It just wouldn’t make any sense. It would be like giving a complex Jean Val Jean storyline to a polar bear.

In light of all of the above, I’d simply rather watch Jim and Pam than George and whomever. But maybe I should catch a few episodes of Grey’s this fall. Maybe life requires both idealism—a belief in things like great love and other matters of soul—and a willingness to step back and laugh at our surroundings and ourselves.

Seriously, though: Dwight beats McSteamy any day of the week.

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