After five seasons of flirting, of navigating each other’s other relationships, and after a courtship that led to an engagement, a new house, and eventually, Pam’s pregnancy, Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly are set to marry on tonight’s episode of “The Office.” Here’s what you can expect: Kelly will probably try to hook up with Ryan; Andy will probably try to make a few moves on the new receptionist; and Michael Scott, undoubtedly, will make an unwanted, embarrassing, and uncomfortable speech. But here is what will not happen: Neither Jim nor Pam will get cold feet. No one will utter the wrong name in the vows; and the wedding absolutely will not, under no circumstances, be broken off, postponed, or cancelled. By the end of tonight’s episode, Jim and Pam Halpert will leave for their honeymoon, and the audience will be left with a huge lump in their throat.
Jim and Pam may not be the most realistic couple of television (that honor, in my mind, belongs to Coach and Tami Taylor), and whether you agree or not with my assessment that they are the greatest couple in television history, there is no denying, at least, that they are the sweetest. Their relationship began five years ago, in the Scranton office of Dunder Mifflin. Pam Beesly was in an eight-year relationship with a warehouse worker, Roy Anderson, a relationship that had begun in high school, and had led to a three-year open-ended engagement. Pam was a reticent receptionist, often nervous, and perpetually frustrated with her boss, Michael Scott, his screw-ups and his sexual overtures. Jim Halpert, a salesman at Dunder Mifflin, had been in love with Pam since the beginning — a thief of glances through the first few episodes of “The Office.” Their relationship began innocently — they started out as mildly flirtatious best friends, prone to playing pranks on Dwight. And then in the first episode of season two, Pam won a Dundie award, got drunk, let her guard down, and kissed Jim.
Everything after that was inevitable.
Granted, there were obstacles along the way — Pam had to break off her engagement to Roy. Jim left, for a time, to the Stamford branch of Dunder Mifflin, and even had a significant relationship with Karen — which resulted in a period where Jim and Pam were distant. But since Pam announced to Jim at the beach that she’d called off her engagement to Roy for Jim, and Jim left an opportunity to be a branch manager elsewhere to go on a date with Pam, it’s been amazingly, sweetly, generously, wonderfully hiccup free since.
What’s remarkable about Jim and Pam’s relationship, however, is that — unlike other television couples — theirs has never been characterized by bickering, cheating, reservations about one another, fear of commitment, “breaks,” Hallmark sentiments, big speeches, or even torrid sex in a supply closet. Jim and Pam’s relationship has been about small moments: Holding hands, Pam falling asleep on Jim’s shoulder, air high-fives, knowing glances, sandwiches in the break room, moral support, and kindness. Unbelievable amazing, wonderful unrelenting kindness.
The biggest reason why Jim and Pam are the greatest television couple ever, however, is because of the care that Greg Daniels and the writers of “The Office,” have taken with the couple. Crucial is the way the writers have used our own expectations of sitcom relationships — created by everything from “Moonlighting” to “Friends” — and turned them against us. It’s the reason, in my mind, that the Jim and Pam episodes since they have gotten together have been the best of the series. It’s because, based on those sitcom conventions, we think where we know their relationship is heading, but Daniels flips those expectations. Take, for instance, the arc where Pam moved, briefly, to New York City go to go art school. She ended up becoming friends with another male at the school. And from what we know of sitcom storylines, the push and pull, and the desire of showrunners to keep the couple apart as long as possible, I think a lot of us expected that this guy would come between Jim and Pam, even for a brief few episodes. Jim, growing ever insecure, even contemplates rushing to New York to see her, to put his mind at ease, and to erase his doubt, but ultimately realizes that “they aren’t that couple.” A few episodes later, we’re presented with another sitcom obstacle when Pam realizes that she’ll never make it as an artist in Scranton. What are our expectations? Knowing Jim, we perhaps expect that he’ll sacrifice, that he’ll give up his relationship with Pam if it means her achieving her career dreams. Because he loves her that much. Or, perhaps, Pam will break it off with Jim because she doesn’t want a relationship to get between her and her desired profession. Because at the end of the day, she can’t bear to be a receptionist any longer.
In the end, though, she quits school, and returns to Scranton the “wrong way.” Because she loves Jim. Because jobs, professions, and careers are great and all, but her real dream is to be with Jim.
And that’s what we do, folks. We sacrifice. We sacrifice comfort. We sacrifice our cushy living arrangements. We sacrifice our dreams for better dreams. Because when a couple loves each other, when they really fucking love each other, long distances can be gapped, jobs can be changed, ambitions can be rechanneled, and we can settle for imperfect houses.
Jim and Pam may be the first television couple ever to truly embrace that notion. “Settling” for jobs at a crappy paper company in a strip-mall city in the middle of Pennsylvania isn’t really “settling” if it means being together, being in love, and possibly living that happily ever after. Of course, happily ever afters rarely make for good television, but most of us have seen enough of “The Office,” and Jim and Pam’s relationship to know that they aren’t like other television couples. “The Office” is the first sitcom, perhaps, to prove that you don’t have to keep a couple apart to keep your viewers interested. Romance is more than big you-make-me-a-better-man reconciliation speeches. It really can be about the small things, about sitting in lawn chairs and watching fireworks together. It’s about making each other laugh. And about finding comfort in simply being.
Jim and Pam belong together. They always have. They always will. And tonight’s episode is about more than just a big ratings-grabbing wedding. It’s the culmination — the crowning achievement — of five seasons of missed opportunities, of heart-ache and heartbreak, and of the smallest, sweetest romantic gestures ever recorded for a television sitcom. And regardless of what happens in the future of “The Office,” Jim and Pam are heady reminders that there is passion in kindness, and love in friendship.
Cheers to the Happy Couple.