The Office – “Customer Survey”


“Customer Survey”

November 6th, 2008

My complaint about The Office recently was that it felt inorganic: that between the concerns over Pam and Jim’s future, and the sad departure of Amy Ryan, and the battle between Dwight and Andy feeling like something we’ve dealt with too often in the past, last week’s episode just felt “off.” This week, things are less momentous but, to be honest, more consistent with what I come to expect from the show.

And on all of the fronts involved, we just got a more full-featured storyline: while removing the focus from Michael is rough when Holly brought such a great new dynamic to his character, we got to see Jim and Pam move to the center of the narrative even while entirely apart. The episode’s gimmick seemed like it could be quite lame, but it was used in a couple of charming ways and proved a potent device for the conclusion. Combine with some smart use of Michael and Kelly Kapoor, and you have an episode that just felt more natural to me, even with a bug in its ear.

Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais’ creative partner on the UK Office, directs this week’s episode, and it felt very sharp. This was most clear within the show’s central gimmick, filming Pam and Jim reacting to one another and having a conversation over their “World’s Smallest Bluetooths.” What could have really bombed kept getting used smartly: the writing of the episode was also strong, but it really was sold in Krasinski and Fischer’s performances. Jim was mostly sedate in those moments, but Pam got some really great reactive scenes: in particular, her exuberant and vocal “That’s what she said! That’s what she said! That’s what she said!” was one of the best parts of the episode.

It also worked because we got to see a good story for Dwight and Jim, and one that was more in line with general office behaviour as opposed to a vendetta. Watching as Jim began to discover why, precisely, Kelly would be out to get them was not amongst the funniest storylines of the season, but we got some great interactions between Dwight and Jim, as well as Michael getting to play a much more indirect role. Steve Carell is great in this role, don’t get me wrong, but I do sometimes like to see Michael as more of a supporting player. His ill-advised training exercise, which quickly devolved into an actual delusion in regards to a million dollar sale, was the kind of charming little scene that just works better for me. Watching Michael’s best intentions entirely melt away due to his own ineptitude is better than the quick shotgun mood shifts that sometimes define Michael, so this worked for me.

Interesting that we get our first showcase for Kelly in quite some time, although it’s admittedly a limited story: the two biggest gags (Michael’s hideously inappropriate Schindler’s List parody and the eventual insinuation that Kelly has used the “rape” excuse before) were more or less Michael’s as opposed to Kelly’s, and the end result that she was screwing with Dwight and Jim felt a little flat. There just wasn’t enough explanation of her motivations, but at the end of the day I don’t think it really hurt the episode overall.

This is mainly because of the three developments that have more ramifications for the future. First and foremost, we have the complication of Angela ensuring that their wedding would be held in a two-story tent (with a bridal suite for Andy’s bridal sweet) on Schrute Farms. Considering that the wedding seems like it is going to be a recurring device, and that they’re going to drag out this storyline for at least a while, I like that we’re getting a more direct intervention of Dwight into the proceedings after last week’s storyline never went beyond passive aggressive. Whereas Dwight and Andy’s fight seemed more or less forgotten this week (perhaps further proving the lack of resonance in that part of last week’s episode), this feels more long term.

And the other two developments were certainly more long term as they relate to Jim and Pam. After last week’s anvil of a storyline, as Jim’s brothers teased Pam to the point of cruelty about how hard it is to become an artist, we get a much more protracted and interesting investigation into their future. We learn that Jim is buying his parents’ house in order to help them retire, to his own financial detriment, and that Pam’s friend Alex (Rich Sommer, returning from his brief appearance in the premiere) is pressuring her to stay in New York in order to truly follow through on her potential career in art. There were a lot of emotions flying around in that scene, and Jim being in Pam’s ear the entire time made it resonate in a unique way.

I’m not suggesting that this week’s episode was better than last week’s, but I think it fits in better with where I feel the show needs to go: while last week forced us to say goodbye to a great character that really shook up the formula and had an honestly uncomfortable attack on one of the show’s most likeable characters, this week felt much more realistic. It wasn’t that Pam has no future in art, but that Pam’s future in art might not work in Scranton. It isn’t that Dwight and Andy are entering into a complicated measuring contest, but that Andy is oblivious to Angela’s feelings for Dwight manifesting themselves in her plan to get married at Schrute Farms. These are actual lines of story, as opposed to trifling moments: it’s just a better place, I feel, for the show to be.

Cultural Observations

  • The entire phone gag might be a bit bizarre, but just allowing for their witty banter to run through an entire episode reminds us that this period of separation would have been entirely unbearable if we had not had Michael/Holly to tide us over.
  • In a rare development, this week’s Cold Open actually led into the episode – it was a bit strange that Michael would tell them all he was engaged, and the phone call to his mother was great, but I was shocked to see Kelly come in with the receipt in the following scene. It was the start of a number of great Kelly/Michael moments, including their final commiseration over people not coming to their parties.
  • Also: love that Kelly, again, was going to wear white to a wedding. A great callback to Phyllis’ wedding.

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