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

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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.



NOTES


– 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.


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