Understanding the OTP, or Why Jim and Pam are breaking my heart right now

With the awesome interaction between Nick and Jess on New Girl earlier this week and the really depressing interactions between Jim and Pam* on The Office last week and this week, I’ve spent a little time mulling over TV romance. What is it about these characters and their decisions that fill us with alternating feelings of joy, angst and despair? What is it exactly that makes fan girls on Tumblr do this:


EXHIBIT A: Frantic, random typing (Click to embiggen)

Or this:


EXHIBIT B: Angry gifsets (Click to embiggen)

Sometimes, TV relationships become so significant to us that we put more time and energy into those relationships than we do our own. I guess time and energy might not be the right words; maybe it’s that we find TV relationships to be more enthralling, somehow more “full of life” than real life.

I mean, whose heart didn’t race when Nick and Jess kissed? Who didn’t melt a little bit when Ben and Leslie reunited in the world’s smallest park? For those who actually watched Dollhouse, who didn’t want to cheer every time Victor and Sierra got a little closer? And who didn’t squee** just a little when Troy and Britta hugged at the end of “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux”?

A couple that thrills us is our “One True Pairing” a.k.a. OTP (Let’s not nitpick the fact that most people have way more than one OTP, sometimes more than one per series, and just go with it here). These pairings drive our passion for shows, and, when the show ages past its prime, the OTP can become the only reason we keep tuning in. (read: Jim and Pam are the only reason I still watch The Office and I’m really upset by this whole Brian situation because Pam just can’t leave Jim for Brian and I got the vibe last night that Brian’s married too and also Jim needs to grow up and stop playing bachelor and remember that it’s good to pursue your dreams but you have to do it with your spouse and family and I hope you read this all in one breath because there’s no periods or commas in this rant. Until just then. And now.)

What I think really draws us to OTPs is that we want to see ourselves in them. We want to be reminded of our first passionate kisses; of how we yearned for our crushes to simply look our way, to spend time with us, to fall asleep on our shoulder during an office meeting (yeah, bringing it back to Jim and Pam). We yearn for our OTPs to succeed because we want to see success in our own romantic lives.

But, if we love these relationships for their victories, what happens when we get past that point? When things go downhill? What makes Jim and Pam so unique is they’re one of few (if not the only) TV couples that have gone way past the will-they-won’t-they into a full-fledged relationship with marriage, babies, the whole shebang. How will fans handle it when Jim and Pam suffer? People don’t turn to their OTPs to be reminded of their break-ups, divorces and big fights. OTPs are a key part of the TV escapism formula; we need them in our lives to get away from stress for a little while.  We can’t escape as easily if, perish the thought, Jim and Pam get divorced.

(I’ll be honest with you, that was the hardest sentence I’ve ever written for this blog. I so seriously love Jim and Pam that typing about their divorce seems like it’s jinxing things. It can’t happen. It wouldn’t happen. …Right, Lone Pam?)

On the plus side of all of this Jim/Pam drama, we finally found out what’s behind that door. You know you’ve all wondered.

*Though the Nick and Jess kiss was awesome, Jim and Pam’s kiss in “Casino Night” is the best TV kiss ever (not to mention that it happened in the best episode of The Office to ever air … an episode that is arguably the best 28 minutes TV has ever given us. Or, it’s at least in the top ten. I may watch it again tonight.)

I still get chills. Their love has to be strong enough to make it through this rough patch. #fangirlfeelings

** Squee – to squeal with glee; a common fan girl response to major OTP events.


– The 30 Rock finale was absolutely beautiful, lovely and perfect. I think I’m going to miss it more than I realized I would.

– HOWEVER, the end of 30 Rock signals the return of Community. Be prepared for my digital freak out on February 7 … oh, and go to thesoup.tv to see an awesome Die Hard-style promo.


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