The Office solves a problem no one had

April 14, 2012


Finally, The Office got around to answering the question that was on everyone’s minds after Andy’s  reunion with Erin: What’s going to happen to Jessica?

To be fair, the more prevalent question was probably “Jessica? Who’s Jessica?” Or possibly “What’s the name of that woman Andy was dating?”

As Jessica, Eleanor Siegler had appeared in three episodes of The Office prior to this one: Pool Party, Christmas Wishes, and Special Project. I have vague memories of her in the first two, and no recollection of her being in the third at all. I can’t remember any memorable lines or scenes she may have had. The entire character was introduced off-camera, when Andy told Erin about a woman he’d been dating for several months. We’ve known virtually nothing about her, and the entire reason for her existence is as a barrier between Erin and Andy.

I don’t want to be one of those people who’s always comparing the show to how it used to be, but I’m going to do it anyway: In Season 3, The Office showed it knew how to set up a love triangle. From a pure plot point of view, Karen Filippelli was an obstacle between Jim and Pam, but she was also a real person: She was a perfect fit for Jim, and she developed a personality away from Jim, even becoming friends with Pam and interacting with other members of the cast. Even if you were cheering for Jim and Pam to get back together, you felt bad for Karen when the inevitable happened.

There’s no such empathy for Jessica. Granted, not every character has to be fully formed and three-dimensional; we need walk-ons and bit characters, too. But the idea of Jessica as a vague, distant person – a dating concept – doesn’t support the idea of dedicating half an episode to writing her out of the series, never mind introducing a bunch of her friends. There’s very little of Andy and Jessica’s breakup that couldn’t have been covered in a two-minute phone conversation, or a series of poorly-planned voicemails.

(Granted, part of the point of the scene was to allow Andy to demonstrate his affection for Erin. But we already covered that when he drove all the way to Florida for her.)

The attempted elevation of Jessica to Real Person status is even more puzzling in comparison to the show’s farewell to Cathy.

(Yes, yes: What farewell? Who’s Cathy? This is my point.)

Cathy was Pam’s maternity-leave replacement. She had almost nothing to do for the entire season, prior to announcing she was going to seduce Jim while they were in Florida. She got one episode in which to be semi-interesting, which is one episode more than Jessica ever got.

(I’ve heard that some more interesting Cathy scenes were cut and made it to deleted scenes, but I can’t verify that: NBC geo-blocks Canadian users, and Global doesn’t put any extra content up.)

It appears that Cathy didn’t return from Florida, or, if she did, she came back and quietly exited, neither noticed or mentioned by anyone. Which, under normal circumstances, would be perfectly fine: She had a near-zero impact on the show when she was there, so why should her exit be significant?

But along comes Jessica to remind us that every character, no matter how insignificant or uninteresting, deserves a proper sendoff. And now, all of a sudden, I am offended on Cathy’s behalf.

In light of Jessica’s spotlight, I must now demand equal treatment for whatshername. That woman, you know, the one who filled in for Pam, she deserves a Going Away Party, too.

At the very least, I should think the Consequences of Cathy deserve some followup. Did Jim tell Pam about her? Did Dwight ever figure out what was going on?

But alas, Cathy shuffles off into oblivion while Jessica rides off into the sunset, and I’m left wondering how I ended up writing over 600 words about two of the least-significant characters on television.