The Office "Customer Loyalty" Review: The Fight... and the Documentary Crew That Filmed It

By Nick Campbell

Jan 25, 2013

The Office S09E12: "Customer Loyalty"

Two things:

One, The Office must have some sort of workshop, committee, or think tank that specializes in creating content for unrequited and forbidden love stories on a weekly basis. Obviously, they did it with Jim and Pam. They tried it with Dwight and Angela. Then Andy and Erin. They even did an arc with Darryl and Val for a while, a time in their lives I guess they'd like to forget since Darryl inexplicably wants to leave Val behind when he goes to Philadelphia.

But that committee seems to have lost its touch in the past few months. They've inserted scenes for Erin and Pete to flirt with each other, but that relationship isn't building like Jim and Pam's did, nor does it contain the gray areas Dwight and Angela explored. It's stagnating, in some holding pattern until all the players can get together and make this thing explode.

And while their not-yet-a-relationship is frozen in time, apparently everything relating to them and Andy is, too. Nellie's story this week involved being torn between a loyalty to Andy and seeing these crazy kids get weird together (thanks, Phyllis). Nellie apparently has a loyalty to Andy? Listening to her mention how Andy "just started" being nice to her, evidenced by the letter to the adoption agency, was like dredging a swamp of history and finding forgettable artifacts.

While October doesn't feel like ancient history to some of us (we all probably have condiments in our refrigerators that are older than that), it's been a long time since Andy has been gone, and even longer since he's deserved any modicum of loyalty. The lasting impression he left was the one that Toby brought up for us (in a particularly creepy outing for him): He was a terrible lover to Erin. The show has spent a fair amount of time villainizing Andy in his absence, so Nellie bringing up the adoption letter was like trying to walk back the work the writers have put in to create the love triangle in the first place (if Andy was great, no one would understand why Pete would be in the mix), with a character that 9 out of 10 fans of The Office feel is the living worst. It's frustrating.

Where "Customer Loyalty" did succeed was in establishing the office's general knowledge that Pete and Erin are flirtin' around. The meeting on loyalty that turned into a conference on the perception of what Pete and Erin were doing was a good save for a scene that was almost ruined by terrible loyalty metaphors. I liked that Kevin was the one to bring it up since he is usually such the classic definition of a clueless character. It hit on how obvious it was and almost spoke to us as an audience. Everyone was watching it just like we have been and they were all like, "We get it. You like each other. Just bone already." Take some advice from Meredith and that fantastic wig.

The resolution to the story was completely impotent, however, since nothing came of the outing. Nellie reinstated the Youth Task Force so they would have a reason to hang out together without the prying eyes of the office judging them. I was hoping the awkward tension after getting dragged out like that would lead to some sort of progressive moment. But nothing but private smiling, not even to each other, ended the episode. So we're back where we started.

Onto that second thing: The show played its documentary crew trump card WAY too early and for something that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The past few weeks with Jim and Pam have been marked by examples of these two trying to make it work while Jim chases a dream. The trouble is that Jim and Pam surmount obstacles fairly easily (remember the Jim-lied-to-Pam-about-taking-the-job story?), so,even with distance and family struggles and occupational setbacks, none of what is happening seems at all hopeless or concerning.

Maybe it's the physical distance between Pam and Jim that reminds me of the first time they they worked in different locations, but the phone call recalled my favorite call between them, the one at the end of "The Initiation," when Pam talked about renting 28 Days Later and Jim told her she totally got taken for a ride with her one-kitchen apartment. Watching that call makes this one feel petty. I'm not one to say Pam shouldn't feel her feelings. They did have a fight, and Jim was certainly a jackass. But choosing this time to put Chris Diamantopoulos on the boom and have the documentary crew break their anonymity for a "turn the camera off" moment was a little ridiculous.

I've mentioned before that I never want to see the film crew and the show never seems terribly interested in it themselves since they never take into account the eyelines of multiple cameras—which would include other camerapeople in the shots if they were all shooting at the same time—though that's endemic of the television mockumentary format (Parks and Recreation and Modern Family have the same problem). But I'll admit there's a power in revealing who is behind the camera and getting personally involved with the subjects. Showing that to us should demonstrate the power of the moment, that we are in crisis and if a film crew recognizes that and shuts down operations out of the goodness of their hearts, we should pay special attention to the situation.

Granted, Pam has long had a special hold on the crew. They were the ones to tip her off on evidence that Angela and Dwight were knocking boots. They also told Jim and Pam at the beginning of this season that they want to see how it all works out, the connotation being between Jim and Pam specifically. The show has made it clear that the crew is invested in Jim and Pam (narrative reasoning for why we always get their smirk takes). My only issue is that the film crew has been through so much more with the couple, much of it far more upsetting, than this fight. Yeah, it was a fight between two people who rarely argue so emotionally, but it was still just one fight. I don't see an unraveling here, definitely not one that would deserve special fourth-wall smashing.

In the first episode of the season, Pam set the table for Jim taking the Athlead job by saying that, with the job and two kids, that nothing interesting was going to happen to them for a long, long time. I venture to say there's still nothing happening with them.


– The Dwight/Darryl storyline was a snoozefest. Also, that song by fun. is officially dead now, right?

– CreedWatch: "Let's try it out." Erin, that man could teach you so many things. So many frightening things.

– I liked the Dunder Code teaser, if only because it meant we got a whiff of old Jim and because the whole office got involved in the search. My only sadness was that it was just a teaser. I could've used a whole episode of that. "I expected more from Young Halpert." Me, too, Jim. Me, too.

– "Probably your heart. And a little bit your penis." Kevin saved that entire sequence. Creed's nodding helped.

– I completely forgot that Nellie and Toby kissed, too. Why is Toby such a creepshow around women? And Nellie? Doesn't he know we all hate Nellie?

– I loved Pam bringing up Jim's celebration for her accomplishments. "Beesly!" A sweet nod to their relationship and, I suppose, a moment that was supposed to help set up the phone call later. But there were so many terrible set-ups by Pam this episode that negated this one. Pam in the car about to call Daddy? I thought I was about to watch a Sync commercial. I think I would've preferred if it were a Sync commercial, actually.

What did you think of this episode?

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  • rogeramccoy Feb 05, 2013

    "My only issue is that the film crew has been through so much more with the couple, much of it far more upsetting, than this fight. Yeah, it was a fight between two people who rarely argue so emotionally, but it was still just one fight."

    True, but the subjects of the documentary have never called to one of them (by name) for help before. Pam was the one who broke the fourth wall; the cameraman was just trying to figure out how to react to it.

    This is hardly the first time the camera crew's interfered either. E.g., they helped Pam figure out what was going on between Dwight and Angela.

  • LukeTaylor0 Jan 31, 2013

    No mention of Clark and the dot matrix printer? I laughed out loud at that. Was that this episode?

  • Ted_Heller Jan 28, 2013

    The fact that the show’s producers cast a good-looking and somewhat known actor to play Brian the boom-monkey makes me think they might actually be indicating there is something between him and Pam. That would suck. However, the truth is that, from a chronological standpoint, Jim and Pam are very close to “seven year itch” territory. So, if Jim’s spending all of his time in Philly trying to untangle his new company’s jock strap while Pam is stuck back in anthracite-alley raising kids and working full time, then it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if she has taken an interest in Brian… and, perhaps, his boom.

  • Faithin1 Jan 28, 2013

    Actually, I get Pam's breakdown. As a parent, when you go from having help with even one child, to coping with everything on your own, it can get difficult. My husband's work schedule changed over a year ago, and I went from having help with an infant every morning, to handling two kids and everything every morning. Once you get used to it, it can have some bad days, but it is now easy. The first month or two I was beyond stressed. To all of a sudden not have help is hard. Pam went from likely taking care of just half of the responsibilities, to all of them. Then she's trying to cover to keep Jim's focus on his work. Between dealing with a lice outbreak to making sure dinner, dishes, trash and everything else is done, and then still not even being able to share your stresses with your best friend because you don't want to worry him, and then she can't even share her triumphs, I get it. It wasn't that this fight was the worst, or that they haven't overcome much worse obstacles, they always did those things together. This is Pam having to do it on her own, and it was the proverbial straw. I understood her breakdown, because when you need help and it isn't there, things can seem far more overwhelming, then you finally adjust. This time is before Pam' has been able to adjust, and she's doing everything alone. She feels betrayed by Jim when he yells for missing the video, because he was supposed to be there. I actually loved the scene.

  • NicholasCampb Staff Jan 28, 2013

    I think Jenna Fischer did a great job with it (Krasinski was merely okay) and she is justifiably upset, both from Jim's jackassery and the stress of her situation. Did it justify the film crew intervening? Did they intervene when Michael was heartbroken, playing that James Blunt sample over and over? Did they intervene when Meredith shaved her head even though they knew Pam was the lice culprit? Pam is right to break down but the film crew choosing this to shut the cameras down is inconsistent with their "let life happen" approach.

    Now, that being said, if this is motivated by something else, like Brian's heavier involvement in their lives that we've never seen before and we dedicate some time to explore the Brian is a key player and much more involved, it makes that inconsistent argument moot since Brian is a variable to the film crew's constant.

  • LukeTaylor0 Jan 31, 2013

    I think it comes down to Brian's personal feelings for Pam. If this were real life, would you feel close to Michael or Meredith? If they were real people, and I'd seen the things I'd seen, I would wave hello each morning and keep my distance. Pam is clearly a genuinely sweet and warm person, who I would care to become friends with.

  • Faithin1 Jan 31, 2013

    Yes! Michael was funny, but so shallow. Pam is sincere, as is Jim, which is why the breakthrough made sense to me.

  • Faithin1 Jan 29, 2013

    I actually agree and see your side, but I think Michael's heartbreak never felt as sincere. Maybe it was inconsistent, but it felt organic to me. I couldn't agree more with the assessment of the performances. Maybe that was why I thought it fit. With your examples, though, it doesn't really seem consistent. Especially knowing Angela's husband was gay and cheating...

  • BGTrumbo Jan 28, 2013

    This reasoning for the intervention, along with what Television4me said. Although we don't know for sure that the film crew hadn't talked with them when we went to commercial before, it would not only seem silly to cut there, but also silly to not come back to it. If they cut there because it was inappropriate to keep filming, like they did in this episode, then all that happened this time was that the cameraman didn't turn it off when he should have. I think it's highly unlikely that in the past, they simply filmed the fight then abruptly left the room without saying anything, especially if they developed a relationship with the two.

  • fierdog2818 Jan 27, 2013

    just now
    I'm just catching up on the new season which I have to say is an improvement on the previous one, if only because Nellie is sidelined and there is a lot less Andy/Erin and that hopeless indifference we all feel about them.

    I'd argue they already ruined the whole mockumentary thing a couple of seasons ago. In the UK office, the second season begins with Tim telling us that his family have seen his flirtations with Dawn. In the US version, the recognition that if this really was a documentary, then the characters would see what we all see - for example Dwight bugging Jim's office, Jim's pranks on Dwight, etc ad nauseum - is missing. But it's not until Michael leaves that we find out that none of the episodes have aired, which begs the question - who is funding this camera crew?

    On this particular episode, it's about time Jim and Pam had a proper argument, although Jim comes across uncharacteristically douche-y. The camera crew should not have been added in, other than in their "off camera" role. An actual character could have still been in the office to comfort Pam - Merideth perhaps?

  • saxyroro Jan 27, 2013

    I'm sorry. Like some other shows, this one just needs to end. We're in Weed's territory here.

  • BobPadilla Jan 27, 2013

    I agree with a lot of this, but you completely missed the boat on the fun song. They used it specifically because it is played out. This was Dwight's pathetic attempt to make the job fun.

  • NicholasCampb Staff Jan 27, 2013

    I absolutely agree with you. Dwight using the song is the official death knell. Anyone still remaining that doesn't recognize the song is dead has to because Dwight used it here.

  • thorthorsen Jan 27, 2013

    They should not have shown the crew at all.

    I liked the subtlety of Michael's goodbye episode, where you realized there was actually still a crew behind the camera without forcing it.

  • legersem Jan 26, 2013

    Completely and totally disagree about the Jim/Pam storyline in this episode. That last scene is going to stay with me for a while. Watching Pam break down like that (Jenna Fischer was amazing BTW) was simply heartbreaking. I could feel the buildup to that fight throughout the entire episode. And, unlike the reviewer, I'm actually really excited for them to delve into the camera crew, and if they're going to do it anyway, I think this was one of the most natural ways for the writers to introduce them. Everyone else had gone home. Pam was overwhelmed and very upset. Of COURSE she'd turn to them for comfort and of course they'd respond to that.

    On the other hand, I agree about the whole Erin/Plop storyline. That thing isn't going to go anywhere until Andy returns from his stupid boat trip that he should never have gone on in the first place. Seriously, if Ed Helms wasn't going to be available for a little bit, I think they should have come up with a better way to write him off. Because at least Plop isn't treating Erin like a nobody.

  • joebien3 Jan 26, 2013

    The "fourth wall" wasn't really broken since the documentary crew is also fictional but that is the least objectionable of the commentary on here. It was pretty obvious to me that Pam and Brian talk and have some sort of emotional connection. At the very least I would say that Pam has talked to Brian about the problems with Jim going off to work in Philly. What are we not seeing? That was the bombshell for me. Maybe Pam is having an emotional affair that we are not privy to. How much footage has the docu crew shot that we haven't seen? I thought it was a very interesting turn.

  • NicholasCampb Staff Jan 26, 2013

    When we say the "fourth wall is broken" in this episode, we mean the show within the show, not The Office itself. By the crew making itself a character in their own production, it removes the artiface that the documentary-watching audience is watching real life as it happens instead of a produced film. As the audience of The Office, the fourth wall won't be broken until Brian Wittle comes out and consoles Jenna Fischer for something happening in her non-Pam life.

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