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Relationship woes for Pam and Jim on ‘The Office’ sour the sitcom romance formula

Updated: May 8, 2013 5:28PM

For an often absurdist comedy about a medium-sized paper company in Scranton, Pa., which was the subject of a documentary some nine years in the making, “The Office” often surprised us with moments of authentic emotion.

Just a few examples:

† Dwight allowing Pam to win in the owner/tenant battle after he overhears Pam telling Jim how she’s depressed over one broken dream or lost cause after another.

† The cast singing “Seasons of Michael” (a takeoff on “Seasons of Love” from “Rent”) as their lovably inept boss prepared for his exit.

† Andy’s quixotic quest to tell Erin he loves her.

† Dwight trying to critique Michael’s recommendation letter without getting choked up.

† Pam rushing to the airport to catch Michael before he leaves Scranton forever, and embracing him outside of the ever-present documentary microphones.

A good percentage of the genuinely emotional moments were mined from the friendship, courtship, romance, breakup, marriage and family life of the lanky and laid-back Jim Halpert and the woman he fell in love with from the moment he first saw behind the receptionistdesk — Pam Beasley.

Theirs was a sitcom romance at least the equal of Ross and Rachel on “Friends,” Sam and Diane on “Cheers,” and “Frasier’s” Niles and Daphne. Whether it was Jim silently pining for Pam as she flirted with the loutish Roy, Pam telling the camera she was happy for Jim and his relationship with Karen, Jim finally kissing Pam, a softball injury that led to a trip to the doctor that led to the off-mic revelation Pam was pregnant, or Jim looking at the camera with a look of unbridled happiness after they got married at Niagara Falls, there were dozens of moments over the run of the show when the sometimes cartoonishly outlandish office antics faded into the background as we rooted for this utterly average, utterly normal, utterly special couple.

Making it all the more disappointing when the Jim-Pam marriage started to run off the rails as “The Office” headed into its stretch run.

The Dundie for Best Romance

Spoiler alert for those just catching up with the last two seasons.

We’ve all known that great couple that’s married with kids, seems happy, apparently destined to last forever — and then we’re all shocked when it’s announced they’re splitting. Wow. Didn’t see that one coming.

But do we really want to see a sitcom version of that? I vote no.

The tension started with Jim’s decision to live part time in Philadelphia as he pursued his dream of helping to launch a sports marketing firm. Like his decision to buy his parents’ house, Jim made this call on his own, telling Pam only after the deal was done. All of a sudden Jim was in Philly, shooting hoops with Julius Erving on Dr. J’s private court, while Pam was back in Scranton, enduring the usual office combo platter of madness and dullness while tending to two young children without the benefit of Dad in the house. As Pam might say, it sucked.

After Jim missed CeCe’s recital and Pam screwed up the video after she took a phone call with good news about an art mural project, the subsequent call between Jim and Pam was brutal — just painful to hear. Pam hung up, turned to the documentary crew and broke down in tears while asking what she was doing wrong.

And that’s when we saw the handsome boom mic operator named Brian, who comforted Pam and told the crew to turn off the cameras. Clearly, these two had grown close over the years.

Was Pam going to have an affair with Brian? Would Jim continue to act in a selfish, tone-deaf manner? Did we really want to see Pam admitting to the camera she couldn’t feel the love for Jim that was once bursting from her heart?

Again — yes, this happens in real life. But as “The Office” headed into the final happy hour of its nearly decade-long run, tearing Pam and Jim apart came across as clumsy, contrived and just a little bit mean.

Now it appears as if Pam and Jim are back in a good place, after an unfunny storyline about couples counseling, and a genuinely touching embrace in the Dunder-Mifflin parking lot.

No doubt they’ll be holding hands in the series finale of “The Office.” After that sour patch, one of the most enduring romances in television history should, and most likely will, end on a sweet note.

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