TV couples: Jim and Pam are not Sam and Diane

A cautionary note here for anyone who happens to be a writer or producer for The Office:

Many of the iconic TV couples thrive on relationship drama. Sam and Diane on Cheers. Dave and Lisa on NewsRadio. Ross “We were on a break!” and Rachel on Friends.

Jim and Pam are not one of those couples.

All those other couples were as funny and charming on their own as they were together. Sam and Diane had a wonderfully complex “can’t live with, can’t live without” relationship. Dave and Lisa were amusingly dysfunctional.

Few viewers could’ve been too disappointed to see these relationships fail. Sam and Diane were just too different to work out in the long run, and Shelley Long’s decision to leave the show freed the writing staff from an awkward situation. Dave and Lisa’s relationship really couldn’t be taken seriously — they were the kind of couple who would prompt wedding guests to start pools on how long the marriage would last. Ross and Rachel both found decent relationships elsewhere and only stuck together when their history became so overwhelming that no one else could’ve fit into the picture.

You could argue that NewsRadio, more of a farce than a sitcom or “dramedy,” didn’t need to treat its relationships realistically. On Friends and Cheers, which aimed for the heartstrings as well as the funny bone, the relationships were believable. Everything made sense.

But “dramatic” is not the same as “realistic.” And if The Office wants to keep its status as a funny yet sympathetic view of ordinary life, it shouldn’t be tempted to twist a realistic relationship into something else.

Sometimes, staying together is more realistic than the alternatives.

Really, does anyone think Pam would be tempted to stray from Jim by Toby? If it were some sort of casual relationship with a new co-worker, maybe. Not in this case.

Yes, I see myself in Jim. I was thinking marriage early in the courtship of Mrs. MMM, and we’ve had an easy road together. As Harry said in When Harry Met Sally: When you’ve decided to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

Hollywood often wants us to think “realistic” means “dramatic.” That’s not always the case. And the beauty of The Office is that it finds beauty in unglamorous locations. That’s why the upbeat theme song works so well.

Don’t be The Simpsons, which now threatens to break up Homer and Marge a couple of times a year even though that storyline hasn’t been really funny since the bowling episode 17, 18 years ago.

Jim and Pam can still have difficulties. But they don’t have to face difficulties within the relationship. Couples find plenty of drama outside the relationship, and they face it together. It can be funny. And it’s uncharted territory for most comedies.

Please, folks. Give it a try.


3 thoughts on “TV couples: Jim and Pam are not Sam and Diane

  1. I haven’t seen a single thing on The Office this season to suggest that any sort of Jim/Pam rift is on the horizon. Yes, they run the risk of becoming boring, but fans would much rather have that than some phony reason to up the relationship anxiety.

    And, truth be told, having Jim and Pam together frees them up to be funnier. While I didn’t love the Job Fair episode, it gave us a chance to see Jim and Pam dealing with their own storylines and yet come together as a unit at the end.

    It’s simple math, really; now we get 3 forms of comedy in the form of Jim, Pam, and Jam.

  2. I was thinking marriage early in the courtship of Mrs. MMM

    Sooooooo good for you that you didn’t communicate that to me early on. Glad you were smart enough to realize you needed to keep that little nugget to yourself for a while longer.

    And you’re right on Jim and Pam. Just let them be together like a normal couple. Hilarity will still ensue.

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