The "will they or won't they" trope has been in sitcoms for years. So how did "The Office" do it best?
In the early 2000s, America was obsessed with whether or not Jim and Pam would get together. From the moment we saw the flirtation in the pilot of The Office, we wanted them to kiss and have lots of babies and all that sappy stuff. But it was a different show. It relied on tropes to hook us, but it let Jim and Pam subvert the usual beats to keep us hooked.
While their plotlines were not always perfect, the show took big swings with the characters for big payoffs.
The romance at the center of The Office follows a ton of classic sitcom tropes laid out by shows like Cheers, Friends, and even Murphy Brown.
Today I want to talk about what made Jim and Pam different and go onto how those subversions can help you.
Welcome to Dunder Mifflin.
Analyzing Jim & Pam from The Office: Will They or Won't They?
Jim and Pam were great central characters in The Office. The show was defined by their romance in the early seasons but wound up living past it because the show knew it had to be about more than the romance going forward. Still, the only way The Office survived was that they could subvert enough tropes to keep us interested.
For that, they needed a foundation built on the expected.
The flirtation years
Jim and Pam started off with the expected. The majority of season one and season two are built around them flirting back and forth. There was the Christmas episode where Jim got her the special teapot. Pam watching him ball it up in the gym, and even the fateful voyage at seas where Jim revealed his feelings to Michael.
We even had Jim dealing with Roy once news of Jim's "crush" got out.
These are all fun things that kept the audience involved.
But there were things the show did to keep them guessing too.
The trope subversion
Jim professes his love at the end of season two. I remember waiting for an entire summer holding my breath. No one knew what The Office had in store. You assumed it would be the culmination of the dating and flirting we had waited for but when the show returned...
Jim and Pam were NOT TOGETHER.
This seems like the most obvious move, but it's not. So many shows just let their characters be together that it's revolutionary to think that after Jim poured his heart and soul out they would deny us love. The show picks up with Jim in Stamford and Pam eating the food from her wedding that didn't happen.
This blew audiences away and held tons of surprises. We still had to flirt from afar. Voicemails. Glances when names get mentioned. But we were exploring new territory.
It didn't stop there.
Once Jim was back in Scranton, he had a new girlfriend.
See, what the show understood was that the romance hadn't brought the actual things we needed for a payoff.
Pam had to grow.
Pam as a trope subversion
Pam brought out the best in Jim. But was Jim bringing out the best in Pam?
Instead of just letting these two be together, the show knew they had to grow. Especially Pam. Once she was over Roy, we needed to see her pursue art, graphic design, and do things that took care of her for the first time ever. This growth not only provided some excellent plotlines, but it also kept the audience on its toes.
Jim had revealed all his vulnerabilities, now it was Pam's turn.
Once she does at Office Beach Day, we get her coming into her own.
And still, it took another season cliffhanger to truly get them together for a first date. And another cliffhanger for the ages.
The together years
From season four through the end of The Office, Jim and Pam were an official couple. Sure, they did long distance, but there were almost no true rough patches (more on that later). Instead, the show reveled in them getting along.
Their wedding was fun but stressful. They were a team when Pam's parents broke up and when Michael dated Pam's mom. And they also both outgrew Dunder Mifflin together.
So how did the show stay fresh?
The trope acceptance
In the later seasons, the show leaned into the tropes set forward. The couple got married, had kids, and both found lives away from Dunder Mifflin. Pam worked in sales for the Michael Scott Paper Company and Jim became a sports agent. The show was at its best when it kept us guessing, but in the later years, it struggled in this area.
Jim and Pam get a new obstacle in a boom operator who has the hots for Pam. It breaks the fourth wall of the show and makes things a little awkward. It never feels like this guy is a threat, and it feels like Pam sometimes loses her common sense hanging with him.
Jim gets it a little worse. The usual thoughtful guy accepts jobs that take him away without talking to her and seems a bit derelict in his duties.
Many of the later seasons try to emulate what worked earlier with different characters. Andy goes for the receptionist, Michael falls for HR, and an intern winds up with Erin. Still, none of these match the magic of Jim and Pam.
The show brings them back together and stronger than ever, but when it really sings it's surprising us.
Like when they decide to move.
Where it ended
Jim and Pam head to Austin at the end of the series. Their romance, like any adventure, had totally been centralized to Scranton. They had never left together, and the show finally seemed ready to let it happen. Even at its most unwieldy, The Office came back to what worked best; us rooting for a couple trying to make it work in a world where we can't get rich quick or get what we want right away.
Their struggle, subversions, and adherence to tropes proved great writing can always excite audiences and keep them tuning in.
So pick your tropes carefully and always find ways to surprise the reader.
Your story matters.
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