Spoilers for last night's "The Office" coming up just as soon as I mix up several gallons of guacamole...
"That's what she said! That's what she said! That's what she said!" -Pam
If I was worried about how the show would be in the immediate aftermath of Holly's departure, I'm not so much anymore. Though there were a few flat spots, there were also so many different funny and clever things going on that I feel confident it wasn't just Amy Ryan carrying the show these last six episodes.
The central gimmick of "Customer Survey," with Jim and Pam secretly communicating with each other via the world's smallest Bluetooths (Blueteeth?) not only allowed for the kind of PB&J interaction that's been in short supply this season, but it allowed for some hilarious running commentary from Pam during scenes she would have no business being in even were she still working at the receptionist's desk. Her exuberant triple-"That's what she said!" was the obvious highlight, but we also got her noting that "Right Dwight is loud," or demanding to know the exact hue of Dwight's shirt, or Pam reflexively humming "Centerfold" after Jim turned off Dwight's car stereo.
The Blueteeth gag also gave us lots of PB&J sweetness, and was another reminder that putting them together in no way damaged the show -- which is why my only concern about the episode was the final scene, with Harry Crane from "Mad Men" trying to talk Pam into staying in New York to pursue her artistic dreams. (And good on the writers for making the guy do it as a concerned friend and not as a wannabe boyfriend, which I think we all assumed/feared would happen at some point.) It was a good speech, but it seems to be setting up some kind of artificial crisis for the relationship. Jim and Pam both reacted as if Jim either wouldn't want to or couldn't move to New York to be with her. David Wallace loves him and could certainly find him a job at corporate, and it's not like Jim wants or needs to stay in Scranton for the rest of his life. The bit about him trying to buy his parent's house could suggest a financial/logistical challenge to him moving right away, but we're reaching the point where one or both of our romantic heroes are going to have to behave massively out of character, either in service of a break-up storyline or to get them both back in the Scranton branch.
But we'll worry about that down the road. Getting back to the content of "Customer Survey" itself, I loved watching how the bad customer surveys forced Jim and Dwight to team up. We've seen in the past (notably "Traveling Salesmen") that they actually work brilliantly together on those rare occasions where they have to set aside their disdain for each other, and the moment where Jim realized Dwight was correct about the sabotage -- and Dwight realizing that Jim was acknowledging his genius -- was wonderful.
And before that happened, we got the role play exercise, where Jim hilariously exploited Michael and Dwight's insistence on taking these sorts of things so seriously. No other people would sit there and indulge "Bill Buttlicker" while he pretended to be taking another call in which he mocked Dwight, nor would any other person seriously contemplate pretend-firing Dwight to get Buttlicker's pretend-commission, but Michael and Dwight are not like other people.
I should also say that, while the teaser briefly made me fear that Holly's absence would return Michael to the over-the-top caricature he's sometimes in danger of becoming, this episode had him dialed in just right. No, he's not on his best behavior anymore, but he was still recognizably human, particularly in his empathetic response to Kelly trying to sandbag Jim and Dwight for not going to her party.
Good stuff all around, and I haven't even mentioned poor Andy now being tricked into paying for his own cuckolding by holding the wedding at Schrute Farms. The writers have accomplished the impossible: they actually have me feeling sorry for Andy.
Some other thoughts:
• "Customer Survey" was directed by Brit "Office" co-creator Stephen Merchant, and like most of the show's Very Special Guest Directors (Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams), he fit right in. Yet there were certain exchanges -- like Michael talking about Jim's "smudgeness" -- that wouldn't have been out of place on, say, "Extras."
• Is Dwight, like Michael, watching "The Wire," or is it just that the show's writers can't stop dropping references like "juked the stats"?
• Perhaps the most disturbing and yet character-appropriate line in the history of the series: Michael telling Kelly, "You can't say 'I was raped' and expect all your problems to go away. Not again. You can't keep doing that."
• Why can't Angela's Nana Mimi stay in canvas for very long? And how old would the east coast's best tentist be if he was involved with Rudy Giuliani's first wedding, back in 1968?
What did everybody else think?