In the “Passion Package Room” in a Niagara Falls banquet hall — actually the Smoke House restaurant in Burbank, whose wood-paneled walls have been covered with black-and-white photos of the thundering falls — guests for the Halpert party (or “Halpret,” as the sign endearingly misspells) rehearsal dinner are picking at the last bits of their teriyaki chicken as they turn their attention to the evening's main event. It's time for groom-to-be Jim (John Krasinski) to give his toast.
Even though Krasinski is just doing a quick run-through of his lines before cameras roll, the roomful of cast, crew, and extras lets out a genuine “Awwwww” when the star utters these words for the first time: “People told me it was crazy to wait that long for a date with a girl I worked with,” he says of bride-to-be Pam (Jenna Fischer). “But I think even then, I knew I was waiting for my wife.”
Moments later, a genuine gasp sucks the air out of the room when Jim, in a burst of excessive enthusiasm, commits a major faux pas by blurting out something that leaves his family — especially his uptight grandma, “Meemaw” — completely chagrined. Unfortunately, the man who comes to his rescue is Michael Scott (Steve Carell), Jim and Pam's exceedingly unself-aware boss, who tries to smooth things over with a speech of his own. We won't spoil all the awkward awesomeness, but suffice it to say that by the time Krasinski finally raises his glass “to waiting,” most everyone on set is tearing up — from crying, laughing, or both at once. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to witness a wedding, “The Office”-style.
Krasinski's toast could just as easily be directed at the show's fans. They've waited five long seasons for the adorable duo to make one of TV's most touchingly functional romances official, and it finally happens in a special hour-long episode on Oct. 8 at 9 p.m. ET. It's a happy occasion, but one that in TV terms, at least, is also fraught with risky finality, since marrying off “The Office's” resident Ross and Rachel could potentially destroy the couple's plot-generating will-they-won't-they energy. Going ahead with the nuptials — with no end of the series in sight — is just one more way the little sitcom about Scranton's rivetingly irregular Dunder Mifflin paper company has chosen to toss comedy conventions aside.
“It's about keeping this relationship as real as we can instead of making it a television romance,” explains Krasinski. “When you have two characters who are so perfect for each other, it's a little weird for them to not get married. So you have to put that step in, whether it's been done on television successfully before or not.” Adds exec producer Greg Daniels: “We didn't want to do the soap opera-y thing and cheapen it. Besides, our ratings keep going up, so I don't think anyone minds them being together.”
An act of loveRatings have crept up as Jim and Pam have grown closer — from a there-but-for-the-grace-of-network-execs 5.4 million in its 2005 debut mini-season to a respectable 9.3 million viewers last year. There was a time, however, when “Office” producers didn't know if the show would stay on the air long enough for Jim and Pam to share their first kiss, let alone marry. When NBC picked up the sitcom after that initial six-episode run, it was an act of love, not business. For the producers, earning the network's show of faith would require playing the simmering romantic tension between the sweet-but-engaged secretary and the smirky salesman just right. Daniels and company were torn between having Jim and Pam take things slow — or capitalizing on the couple's chemistry to juice viewer interest, and possibly ratings. When the network ordered only six episodes (instead of the usual 13) for season 2, “we considered shooting two endings,” Fischer says. “One where Jim and Pam kissed, and one where they didn't. Greg decided not to shoot the alternate ending [with the kiss] because he thought it would be bad luck. He said they'd have to pick it up to see how it ends.”
The gamble paid off: Jim and Pam didn't kiss, and NBC still picked up the show for a full 22 episodes. When the duo finally did smooch in the season 2 finale, it set the budding lovebirds on a complicated and unconventional course of courtship, featuring love triangles (Jim dated a threateningly appealing co-worker named Karen, played by Rashida Jones), long-distance agony (Pam attended art school in New York), and job stress (Michael persuaded Pam to join the Michael Scott Paper Company, albeit temporarily). “We've been trying to play Jim and Pam as a successful couple over the last few seasons,” explains exec producer (and onscreen HR manager Toby) Paul Lieberstein. “I feel like we've been able to find little romance stories along the way, even within a good relationship.” Carell agrees: “I don't think it's the typical romance you see on TV. It's complicated and it comes out of a difficult place. That's the way relationships are in real life.”
Keeping it real, of course, meant that eventually Jim and Pam would make their way down the aisle. “It's a surreal thing to have even been on [the air] long enough to bring culmination to this,” Krasinski says. “And now that it's happened, it's this weird alternate universe where it's like, ‘Oh my God, we actually have to take care of these characters. They can't keep dating, they need to get married now.’”
Thus came Jim's surprise rain-soaked rest-stop proposal in last season's premiere and the shocking, silent, through-the-hospital-window revelation that Pam was pregnant in May's finale. “That was thrilling,” Krasinski says. “To have these characters who are squeaky-clean facing this very real thing is exciting.” Indeed, it might be their most realistic plotline yet, at least for Fischer: Right now, Pam is only four months along, which means the actress is facing a series of progressively larger prosthetic bellies. “When I sit down, it presses in on my bladder, so I actually feel like I have to pee all the time,” she says. “And it makes my lower back hurt because I sway from wearing it. All that's missing from a real pregnancy is my ankles swelling.”
Despite her delicate condition, Pam (and “The Office” writing staff) had a wedding to plan. Having ruled out eloping, Jim and Pam choose a low-key destination wedding. “We picked Niagara because we felt like their relationship was kind of romantic and retro,” Daniels explains, “and Niagara was the thing 50 years ago.” Of course, the whole Dunder Mifflin gang tags along, and that's when the fun starts. Michael and crony Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), inspired by “Wedding Crashers,” will be trolling for hookups. Office fussbudget Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) will pursue his budding crush on receptionist Erin (Ellie Kemper) by hosting a hotel-room bash. “He was supposed to be sitting next to her at the wedding, but Kevin switched seats with her,” Daniels explains. “So Andy's furious about that.” Tensions will mount between Pam's parents when her dad (Leverage's Rick Overton) brings a young new girlfriend as his date, while her mom (“Port Charles'” Linda Purl) comes solo. (Jim's parents, incidentally, are showing up for the first time on screen, played by Perry Smith and Robert Pine, a veteran TV actor who also happens to be Chris Pine's dad.) And naturally, Jim's rehearsal-dinner gaffe will wreak some pre-ceremony havoc. “When I got married, people told us, You have no idea where it's going to come from, the thing that will go horribly wrong,” Lieberstein says. “That's exactly what happens: Jim ruins his own wedding.”
In typical “Office” fashion, uncomfortable moments will lurk behind every flower arrangement and place card, as when Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) and Oscar (Oscar Nuñez) are mistaken for a couple, and Michael ambushes the rehearsal with his stand-up act. Explains Mindy Kaling (a.k.a. office airhead Kelly Kapoor), who co-wrote the episode with Daniels, “There are a lot of scenes that are just funny alternative comedy, [and] a lot of physical comedy.” Still, there's plenty of sentiment, too: “I think [Michael] feels as if it's two of his children, and he's both proud and excited,” Carell says.
The cast got so caught up in the moment, in fact, that they ad-libbed some of their own heartfelt lines during the wedding shoot. “We're all fans of our own show — maybe we shouldn't be, but we are,” Lieberstein says. “It felt pretty cool to see [the wedding] after five seasons.” Adds Krasinski: “Weddings are a scary prospect in television, but I think it's one of my favorite episodes. It's easier to go to bed at night knowing that the potentially scary episode is a good one.” Once the festivities are over, Jim and Pam will enjoy a week away from Dunder Mifflin for their honeymoon — sorry, no faux-documentary cameras allowed. Says Daniels, “We're giving them their privacy.”
Then comes the maternity leave ...Season 6 as a whole, however, will focus more on office comedy than romance. With Jim and Pam out of the office, Daniels says “the balance of reason has been tipped,” prompting Andy, Dwight, and Michael to turn an innocent visit from an Italian-American insurance salesman into a potential Mob threat. When Jim returns, he'll shake up the power dynamic as impending fatherhood sparks his long-dormant ambition. He and Pam will also face questions of maternity leave and day care, not to mention a birth that should conveniently fall around February sweeps. For the record, producers swear they don't know how the birth will go, let alone how much time off Pam will take, or if the audience will see much of the baby. “I don't think the show will become ‘The Office Baby’,” says Carell, while Lieberstein promises that “we're certainly not going to ignore the kid. But one of the things that's great about being an office comedy is kids don't really come to work with you.” The downside, he jokes, is that “you don't get cousin Oliver from ‘The Brady Bunch’” as a last-ditch ratings ploy, either.
As for Michael's angst-ridden love life, producers say he'll find someone eventually — but not likely this season. (Amy Ryan's goofball HR executive, Holly Flax, whom Carell calls “the real love of Michael's life,” isn't slated to return anytime soon.) When Michael does find the right woman, says Lieberstein, “things will change, and he'll be a little more complete.” As will the show itself, says Daniels: “Michael says something in [the wedding] episode like ‘This is going to be the most important wedding for this branch besides my wedding.’”
Jim and Pam's big day does, in fact, have a rite-of-passage resonance for the cast. Not only are both Fischer, 35, and Krasinski, 29, recently engaged in real life (she to writer Lee Kirk, he to actress Emily Blunt) but they also have the fictional bride and groom to thank for their careers. Since “The Office” began, Fischer's appeared in “Walk Hard” and “Blades of Glory,” and she costars in the upcoming Michael Douglas drama “Solitary Man.” Krasinski — who's gone on to land roles in movies including “License to Wed,” “Leatherheads,” “Away We Go,” and the upcoming comedy “It's Complicated” — wrote, directed, and stars in the indie adaptation of David Foster Wallace's “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men,” out now. (He literally owes that project to “The Office,” having bought the rights to the story collection with his paycheck from the pilot.) Says the star, “This show has given me everything, period, end of sentence.”
Dunder Mifflin has provided other “Office” dwellers with big career boosts as well: Helms hit it big this summer in “The Hangover,” while B.J. Novak, who does double duty on the writing staff and as fallen wunderkind Ryan Howard, has a key role in Quentin Tarantino's “Inglourious Basterds.” Meanwhile, Carell continues to cram a startling number of movies into his off months (including next year's “Date Night” with fellow NBC star Tina Fey). So how long can a cast with so much extracurricular activity stay together, especially when the show has gotten to the point where central characters are starting to marry off? Well, fans can count on seeing a first birthday (if not a second) for baby Halpert, as most of the cast is signed through season 8; and Michael still has time to find love, because Carell is signed through season 7. Krasinski and Fischer say they'll stick around as long as the show does, while Carell isn't quite as clear on his plans. “It's impossible to say,” he says. “I'm not being coy. I'm just trying to live in the moment and enjoy it.”
That said, it seems Jim and Pam's wedding has reminded Carell of the deep connection he shares with his Dunder Mifflin peeps. “I felt very emotional,” he says. “I've been with these people longer than anyone I went to high school with. These are the people who have shared the biggest ups and downs. There's a lot of nostalgia and sentiment wrapped up in this.”
So on Oct. 8, if you cry more than you'd like to admit over the pretend wedding of a fictional TV couple, take comfort in knowing that Michael Scott cries with you.