Friday, November 07, 2008

The Office, "Customer Survey": Say hello to my little phone

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?

31 comments:

David Z said...

I loved the photo of the Shrute wedding. The bride and groom standing in their own graves, which was first mentioned back in the Phyllis' Wedding episode.

Grunt said...

One of the things I have loved about the continuation of the Jim/Pam relationship is that the writers have NOT pulled the BS fake problems to keep them apart stuff.

An example of this is last night's episode when Jim gets the bad reviews from Michael he turns off the bluetooth and you think, 'oh-no. here is where the stupid starts' and then during Jim's talking head, he turns it right back on and tells Pam, matter-of-factly, about the bad reviews. (and then Pam telling him maybe he would have done better if he hadn't been makin' eyes at the receiptionist was awesome).

I can also see Jim move to Manhattan and hating it. It's too big, too noisey, too fast (and I'm a native New Yorker, so I should know). New York isn't made for everyone and I don't think it's really made for Jim or Pam.

So I'm not really worried about the future of the relationship. I think it will move on. It's on of the most adult relationships on TV right now, even with Pam screaming "that's what she said" three times in Jim's ear.

Lucy said...

A lot of artists live outside of manhattan. I lived in a community 2 hours upstate and there are a bunch of them. So I think Pam would be able to be an artist and live in Scranton.

Julie Nelson said...

Also, is it possible that Pam isn't really cut out to be an artist? Her art show was nice, but nothing spectacular. Maybe she could be a decent graphic designer in Scranton or something, but how realistic is it for every art student (or writer, actress, musician, etc) to actually see their dreams come to fruition? There are a lot of things Pam could do with art that are better than staying a receptionist, but they don't all involve her staying in New York and being a "great" artist.

I don't know how they can ever get her back into the office setting and have it be a satisfying resolution, however. Unless they need a graphic artist, it would be sad were she to end up back there. It's bad enough to imagine Jim selling paper for the rest of his life.

LA said...

First I feel sorry for Pete Campbell and now Andy Barnett, what's the world coming to?

I loved Darrell volunteering to cover Michael's co-pay for therapy.

justine said...

I found the whole bluetooth thing an obvious setup with a flat conclusion. It is insulting to suggest NYC is the only place in the world an artist can be successful. Uh... right.

I just disagree with how successful the Pam and Jim hookup has been. It has pulled the focus from what makes the show work -- the interoffice politics.

The A plot about the consequences of missing the party was hysterical.

Matter-Eater Lad said...

It's also not like Scranton is THAT far from NYC -- I grew up in Scranton and there are an increasing number of (crazy) people who commute to New York every day, and it wouldn't be that hard for Pam as a freelancer to go into the city when she needed to.

Rachel said...

I don't think Rich Sommer's character's point was that NYC is the only place Pam can be successful as an artist. I think the point is that living in such a rich cultural and artistic environment will help her develop her skills and broaden her artistic horizons.

Anyway, I loved this episode (especially Jim and Dwight working together). I also loved that Kelly had an America's Got Talent finale party and the "rape" exchange. So wrong, but so hilarious.

I thought the reactions of both Jim and Pam to the speech at the end was really well played.

David said...

This was one of my favorite recent episodes. I liked Michael's move away from Jan because I am not the biggest fan of the "awkward" episodes, and also I think Michael showed an inkling of growth -- or awareness, maybe -- in this episode concerning his situation. Jim and Pam were cute and funny, and the Kelly storyline didn't make me want to fast forward at all -- as things like Jan singing does.

kyle said...

oh lord, i was the only of my friends watching to notice the "juke the stats" line (being an official wire-head and all), but man was it great. perhaps a shout out to the recently departed amy ryan?

Dan Jardine said...

Jim: "Worth it."

Perhaps the best line of the night. Made my girlfriend's toes curl.

Anonymous said...

This show is on absolute fire right now and they're nailing every note perfectly.

They set up the Jim/Pam part really well. Jim, subtly, has always been a guy really into his family. He stayed home for school (his U Scranton banner at his old apartment), he's mentioned "playing with his neice" a few times in throwaway lines and now he wants to help his parents retire. I can understand why these things -- along with living with Pam in the house he grew up in -- are more important to him than a career living in the big city. (Also, his one brother was from "near Boston" and the other was from Jersey. So his family isn't a big city thing.)

Pam might not be a great artist in the art gallery sense (from the watercolor show in Scranton) but she received a lot of compliments from a not-yet-totally-insane Jan.

But, yeah. Jim's small-city family dreams vs. Pam's artistic desires is a great source of tension.

The whole episode was great. Loved how funny it was ("I played for keeps") combined with the drama. Perfect blend.

Anonymous said...

The "Jim helping his parents retire" thing is a little contrived, because he's the ONLY ONE who can buy their house? Oh wait, in this market that might be true...

Alan Sepinwall said...

It could also be a situation where Jim has already bought the house (put down a down payment, got a mortgage, etc.), and therefore he's kind of stuck. I wasn't clear on where exactly he is in the process.

Byron said...

Re: right above me - Plus, he has those two brothers who seem to be doing well for themselves.

The language that Pam was exhorted to stay in New York sets it up pretty easily for her to pick Jim instead ("what might have been," "50 years from now"), but that might be more the kind of resolution you see in the same episode (also a little pre-feminist).

zigi said...

Loved this episode :) but actually, I'm here because I'm kind of stuck; I'm translating it to Hungarian, and I've got no idea what this "Nana Mini"-thing means. Can you help me out with this, please?
btw, my favourite part was when Jim said 'I love you' to Pam, and Dwight thought he said it to him :D

Bryan Murray said...

That was a GREAT episode. I was also surprised how good it was even after Amy Ryan left. The entire B.M. Buttlicker conversation was one of the funniest extended jokes they've ever done (and I'm always a sucker for the bathroom humor.)

The only problems I see for the future are 1) Jim and Pam are too smart and fun to be stuck in Scranton forever. It was almost an insult to have the talented Pam continue as a receptionist--no offense to receptionists, kind of. So even though they need to be in Scranton for the show it goes against the characters I think. And 2) the Andy cuckold storyline is a little brutal. I actually like Andy and I'm not sure they should continue his torture. Andy: go for Jan! She would probably like him.

KB said...

Best episode in years! Maybe the bluetooth thing was a little contrived but to borrow Jim's phrase: worth it. It provided some great lines. And Dwight knowing the exact model when he saw it was perfect. This episode felt like a throwback to the earlier seasons when they focused on office politics (in Scranton only) and the Jim/Dwight dynamic. The "you were right!" scene was my favorite Office moment in a long time. Jim has not been this likeable, and Dwight has not been this funny, since season 2. I can't say enough about this episode. Fantastic.

And anyone who thinks that guy only wants Pam to stay in NYC for her art career doesn't know much about guys. He wants her!

Mary said...

I, too, feel sorry for Andy now. Mostly because I foresee him paying for Angela's dream wedding ... to Dwight. Anyone else?

christy said...

zigi: I think "Nana Mimi" is what Angela calls her grandmother.

dez said...

The writers have accomplished the impossible: they actually have me feeling sorry for Andy.

I know! It feels so weird, too! :-)

I also think Angela's maneuvering Andy to pay for her wedding to Dwight. Either Andy's too blinded by love to notice (or just stupid), or he really thinks Dwight is his friend. Or maybe he thinks he's getting one up on Dwight by marrying Angela at Dwight's place. I don't know, but I pity the poor fool.

Michael's "psyche!" and later throwing the bridesmaid dress receipt in the garbage were nice touches.

Julie_from_SoCal said...

As a West Coaster, I'm only guessing at this, but I think Pam's fellow student wants her to stay in NYC because many New Yorkers seem to think that the city is the ONLY place one can have an important art career.

BigTed said...

KB: "And anyone who thinks that guy only wants Pam to stay in NYC for her art career doesn't know much about guys. He wants her!"

I agree. It's a well-thought-out strategy: Appear unthreatening, separate her from the boyfriend, and then go in for the kill.

Oaktown Girl said...

Gee, I've kind of been feeling sorry for Andy for quite some time, even though he's still as big a puts as ever. And not that I don't also want to knock him upside the head for being so blind.

Anonymous said...

my favorite part of the night: Jim frantically searching for those star mugs.

freaking hilarious!!!!

Steve said...

Alan,

you were spot on with the observation that the smudgeness/arrogance conversation could have worked perfectly in Merchant's other show, Extras. But, what does that have to do with Merchant directing the show? Isn't it the writers that created the dialogue?

J.J. said...

I hate the direction they've gone with Andy. I realize part of the joke was always that he wasn't as impressive as his résumé seemed, but it feels like they've made him TOO stupid. He seems oblivious and incompetent lately. Didn't he used to be kind of a paranoid schemer?

And, considering his past conflicts with Dwight, why isn't he more suspicious of Dwight now? Why isn't he more reluctant to have Dwight anywhere near his wedding plans?

Anonymous said...

Alan: I read your blog everyday after 30 Rock, The Office, How I Met Your Mother and Mad Men. Thanks so much for your observations and for making my tv watching a little more informed. I agree with most everything you say. Howeverk, I believe you're a bit hard on how i met your mother. it is still a classic!

david said...

nobody thinks the conversation with pam and her art school buddy was sort of forced? who would ever go to someones workplace to have a heart to heart about big picture future plans? thats a conversation you have over drinks in a bar or restaurant after work. i know they were trying to keep it within business hours to maintain the bluetooth conceit but i wasnt buying it anymore than jim was buying the friends selfless concern for pams future.

Janslike said...

Michael cracking up when Kelly was fakecrying harkens back to what you said earlier about Michael's childishness. He doesn't seem to have learnt anything from his experience with Holly and that's kind of tragic. Add that in with his pretending to be engaged and I feel great pity for the man. The way I see it, this season is about to take a very dark turn.

Helene H. said...

"...and if history tells us anything, it's that you can't go wrong buying a house you can't afford..."
Gee, do you think Harry's wife knows he's lusting in his heart after Pam?