Today's Star-Ledger column, about the current season of "Fringe," is one I'd kind of like a mulligan on, which is why I haven't posted it on-line. It's not that it's bad. It's that I was up against a tight deadline, scrapping for something I could write about quickly, that I resorted to a trick I've used on occasion: assembling bits and pieces of various blog entries about the show into a "new" column. It's fine for the print-only readers, but in this case I wish I hadn't done it, because there was a more obvious topic - albeit one where I would also be recycling thoughts previously expressed early and often online.
In retrospect, I really wish I had written about how happy I am that Jim and Pam's wedding is happening tonight on "The Office," and what I hope that wedding will do for other TV shows, but fear it won't. Fortunately, the blog has more flexible time and space restrictions, so I can write that now.
There has been a school of thought in TV for a few decades now that any show built around Unresolved Sexual Tension (UST for brevity's sake in the rest of this post) will be ruined the second the UST gets resolved and the couple gets together.
This school of thought is misguided at best, idiotic and self-destructive at worst.
The theory is based on the idea that "Moonlighting" died as soon as David and Maddie got together, but as I've pointed out in the past, and as Linda Holmes did a good job of summarizing recently, that's completely incorrect. By the time David and Maddie got together for real, "Moonlighting" was already dead. If anything, I'd argue the show might have kept some of the viewers who wound up fleeing if they had just given everybody a David/Maddie relationship earlier, since the comic dynamic between the two characters would have been about the same.
And before there was "Moonlighting," there was "Cheers," which put together its own UST couple, Sam and Diane, by the end of its first season with no one objecting. Now, "Cheers" would spend the next four seasons frequently breaking those two up and putting them back together, but the writers never artificially tried to delay a hook-up because they felt the audience wasn't ready for it yet.
But because of The "Moonlighting" Fallacy, far too many TV writers and executives have come to believe that resolution=doom. "NewsRadio" creator Paul Simms more or less destroyed his relationship with NBC by having Dave and Lisa sleep together in the show's second episode - they wanted him to tease it out forever, so they'd have an angle to promote - even though he wound up getting several seasons of material out of their affair.
"Ed" was a show more or less destroyed by its belief in The Moonlighting Fallacy. Its creators were so terrified of having Ed and Carol Vessey hook up long-term that they kept throwing one increasingly stupid obstacle after another in front of them. That show betrayed two separate misunderstandings of "Moonlighting." Beyond the obvious one, it ignored the fact that Dave and Maddie, like Sam and Diane, were interesting as a UST couple because they were so seemingly incompatible, yet had an irresistible attraction for each other. Chemistry aside, they made each other miserable and probably shouldn't have been together (and Sam and Diane ultimately weren't), so the constant delaying made sense on some level, even if the show dragged it out too long. Ed and Carol, on the other hand, were two perfectly nice people who got along well and had common interests and temperaments. There were no sparks when they fought, and no logical reason for them to not be together once they were both unattached, and the increasingly-contrived reasons to keep them apart made that show's middle seasons more or less unwatchable. In the final season, they were together, and the show just treated their relationship as a fact of life while telling other, more amusing stories, but by then too many viewers had left out of impatience.
Which brings me to Jim and Pam. Because it took "The Office" writers a while to figure out how to write for their main character, Jim's yearning for Pam quickly became the show's ongoing hook, and the subject of many an NBC promo. (NBC loves to promote its comedies as if they were soap operas.) And based on previous experience, I feared Greg Daniels and company were going to drag out their inevitable coupling beyond all good reason.
And though it took until the end of the third season (really, the end of the second, since season one was only six episodes) for them to get together as a for-real couple, the waiting period never felt forced. Pam was in a relationship with Roy (inspired by the Dawn/Lee relationship from the British show), and then when by the time she wasn't, Jim was plausibly so hurt by her rejection that he moved to Connecticut, and into a relationship with Karen, and the writers mined some good comic and dramatic tension from Pam and Karen having to work together. It felt real, and it felt right.
More importantly, in the two-plus seasons since Jim and Pam started dating, then got engaged, then began preparing for a baby, "The Office" has not been ruined. Jim and Pam didn't stop being funny, or interesting, just because they were together and happy, nor did they begin to dominate the show. There was good material about their (understandable) desire to keep things a secret from their co-workers, and we've seen the staff either resent or make jokes about their relationship, and we've even seen on occasion Pam and Jim competing with each other in spite of their one true love.
And that's why I'm not worried that they'll suddenly become boring after they're married, or after the baby comes. Anyone who's been in a long-term relationship knows there are plenty of things about it to make fun of, and plenty that's dramatic. Keeping two meant-to-be characters apart for a long time isn't just misguided, it's lazy. It's born of the belief that anticipation is always more interesting than fulfillment, or that getting together is the destination, rather than a continuing part of the journey.
So I'll be very happy to watch the wedding episode tonight, not just because I've become attached to these two kooky, fictional kids, but because I hope some writers of future TV series are watching, and taking notes, and thinking, "Hey, maybe I don't need to keep my two main characters separate forever and ever and ever." - Alan Sepinwall