Review: 'The Office - 'Customer Loyalty': Look behind the curtain

Jim and Pam's argument leads to a major change for the series

<p>Pam (Jenna Fischer)&nbsp;gets upset on &quot;The Office.&quot;</p>

Pam (Jenna Fischer) gets upset on "The Office."

Credit: NBC

A review of last night's "The Office" coming up just as soon as I crack the Dunder Code...

Greg Daniels has talked of late about an idea pitched many seasons ago (by Mindy Kaling, I think) that, if they had done it at the time, would have irreparably broken the show — but that he now was going to use because the finish line was in sight.

I don't know for sure if Brian the documentary crew member appearing on camera to comfort a distraught Pam was that specific moment. But it's certainly not something they could have gotten away with in season 2 or 3 if they hoped to stay on the air as long as they did. The documentary crew has been acknowledged from time to time in the past (going back at least to one of the crew members — Brian, presumably — tipping Pam off to Dwight and Angela's relationship), but we didn't hear any of them speak until the season premiere (when we found out they're sticking around to chronicle Pam and Jim's story), and we didn't see any of them until last night. As it is, the idea that a crew has been following this one branch office for this long — and followed the employees not only at work, but at fairly intimate personal moments — has been something of a stretch, so the less light shone on it, the better. But here at the end, I think it works — and this scene in particular worked because moments like the Dwight/Angela one and some others have made it clear that Jim and Pam (and Pam in particular) have developed a friendship with members of the camera crew that we've never gotten to see before. And of course they would have, after this many years of doing it.

The British office made the documentary a part of the story only in the Christmas special finale, where David Brent becomes an incredibly minor celebrity after the show airs (and after he was already fired from Wernham-Hogg). After Steve Carell left, I wondered if we would ever get that moment where this documentary finally airs — it couldn't happen while Michael was a character on the show, because he would be fired in an instant by whomever was running Dunder-Mifflin at the time — and the characters get to react to how they're portrayed on screen. We may still get that, but we've already gotten some allusions to that of late. The cold open for "Customer Loyalty," for instance, revisits an old Jim prank  from what was probably meant to be season 2, but that lay dormant for so long that one of the warehouse guys found the fake Holy Grail before Dwight could.

Jim isn't that guy anymore, and not just because he has a better haircut. He has a career he cares about, and a wife and kids, and a lot of pressure, and all of that leads to that very uncomfortable, but very real fight between Jim and Pam that leads to Brian's moment. There are times when sitcom couples fight over something stupid and contrived, where an honest conversation would solve the problem in a hurry. This was not that, even though both Pam and (especially) Jim are coming from a place where they don't know exactly what the other is dealing with. This felt like an actual fight between an actual couple, where Jim is really brutal to Pam, who wasn't remotely expecting the conversation to go that way. (Her earlier talking head where she talked about how he would say "Beasley!" set us up for this particular sucker punch.) And it would take something that rough, most likely, to get Brian to finally drop the anonymous objectivity, go to comfort Pam and tell the other guys to shut the cameras off.

Like Brian and the crew, I'm mainly still here for Jim and Pam. There have been some good moments for the rest of the cast this season, particularly once Andy got on the boat and went away, but I'm still mainly of the mind that the show would have been just fine ending with Michael Scott in the airport. The chance to give Jim and Pam — who were never the leads of the show, but were the heart of it for so long — their own ending seems a decent reason to keep following "The Office" for a few more months. "Customer Loyalty" was forgettable in the long middle, but the beginning and end made me glad I'm still here.

What did everybody else think?

Alan-sepinwall-sm
Alan Sepinwall
Sr. Editor, What's Alan Watching
Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "The Revolution Was Televised," about the last 15 years of TV drama, is for sale at Amazon. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com
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