Jim Halpert And Stringer Bell Are The Same Person: An Investigation

Binge-watching ‘The Office’ and ‘The Wire’ together has brought about a revelation hiding in plain sight.

I binge-watch. Like, a lot. It’s just one of the things I have the privilege to do as someone who works from home 100 percent of the time. I’ve spent endless hours watching new shows and movies whether I’ve liked them or not. Whole seasons breeze by in a matter of days, playing in the background while I type away at whatever I’m working on. But something strange happened during COVID: I found myself wanting the comfort of shows I was already familiar with. I don’t know what exactly brought about this phenomenon but it seems like everyone was on board revisiting their favorite shows while quarantined, whether that be Mad Men, The Sopranos, The Good Place, The Americans or anything else that I used to obsess over.

For me, the summer binge was a cocktail of The Wire and The Office. By day I was devouring the story of Baltimore and the towers. By night my wife and I were unwinding while finding laughs with the crew from Scranton. But as I watched the two shows, I’d start to get this weird feeling of déjà vu. I wasn’t quite sure where it was coming from as the two shows couldn’t be more different. Then it hit me: when I watch Stringer Bell and Jim Halpert on screen, I’m watching the exact same character. Which may be why I hate them both equally.

Let’s break it down.

Jim Halpert and Stringer Bell are two of the most famous second-in-commands in TV history, though it took Jim a little while longer to rise up the ranks. They shared the ambition of wanting to be something more than what they were: Jim wanting to move beyond the world of selling paper, and Stringer wanting to be something more legitimate and established than a millionaire drug kingpin. Not only did they want to transcend their surroundings, they thought they deserved to be elevated beyond their peers, mainly because they felt so superior to everyone around them. That superiority complex was unfounded and part of their insufferableness—and ultimately their downfalls.

On the surface, Jim Halpert is infinitely smarter than his bumbling boss, Michael Scott — who, might I remind you, puts his damn foot in Foreman Grills. Stringer Bell thought he was smarter than Avon Barksdale just because he was going to community college and read more books or whatever. Their perceived intellectual superiorities made them feel like their bosses were unjustly holding their top positions. But when Halpert and Bell were tasked with even a fraction of the responsibilities their counterparts had, they were outmatched.

Stringer Bell could never quite grasp the street business when Avon was in jail — using his Econ 101 analytics to drive his decision-making and getting himself tied up in faulty treaties and cornered by enemies at every turn. Avon was constantly explaining to him why his plans were going to go awry and was right every time. Halpert made his way to being Michael Scott’s equal, and found himself getting played by Dwight Shrute while the office fell apart.

What Bell and Halpert didn’t understand was that Michael Scott and Avon Barksdale were geniuses in their own right. “I’m just a gangster, I suppose,” Avon told Stringer towards the end of their relationship. While Avon didn’t know the basics of supply and demand graphs, he knew how to manipulate and anticipate everyone’s next move simply by knowing how people function. Michael Scott had a similar genius, though it wasn’t as obvious as Avon’s. But he was a master salesman, showing how he worked his way up to Regional Manager. And while he would drive his office to the brink of Armageddon, he always knew how to pull them back.

But none of that mattered to Jim and Stringer. They were both classic narcissists. Just look at how they disregarded the women around them in pursuit of their bloated manifest destinies. Just look at how they carried themselves like the smartest people in the room even when they’d provided no evidence to back that up. Stringer was no smarter than Slim Charles just like Jim was no smarter than, say, Oscar. There was never any shown work from them to warrant their inflated egos and sense of entitlement. Stringer thought he should be king because he took a class? Jim thought that his stupid business idea was going to get him rich and that selling paper was below him? There’s a difference between wanting to better yourself and feeling like something you haven’t earned is owed to you.

Jim Halpert and Stringer Bell are the same person. And they’re as easily hate-able as any character on either of their respective shows. Now excuse me while I go watch the end of Season 3 of The Wire for self-care.

Level Sr. Writer covering Race, Culture, Politics, TV, Music. Previously: The Undefeated, The Atlantic, Washington Post. Forthcoming book: The Movement Made Us

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store