The Office "Promos" Review: They've Been Filming the WHOLE TIME?!


Your opinion of the quality of this episode is predicated on one thing: Whether you believe that the people being filmed for ten years had no idea of the ramifications of being on camera.

If you can ride with the Scranton branch not understanding what "being filmed all the time" means, this might have been a pretty funny episode. If you can't buy the idea that such simpletons exist as to not realize what "television documentary" means in this day and age, after seeing The Bachelor, Jersey Shore, and Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Island of Fresh Meat Inferno Sexes, then the premise of this episode is pretty awful.

Jaded and cynical as I am, I can honestly see both sides of the coin. But mostly because some people were more ridiculous than others.

Kevin staring into the camera and putting on his toothless kindergartner face to proclaim that he thought they were in a zoo was an encapsulation of everything that is wrong with his character. There's still the essence of what started off with—him being kind of dimwitted—but  he's devolved over the years into being legitimately considered retarded. Not only did the joke not land (because it was barely a punchline), but the delivery was so juvenile that it undermined the comedy of an adult not understanding he was being filmed for a documentary that everyone's known about the whole time. Of course he didn't know. I bet that plant doesn't know it's in a documentary, either. How can we be ready to laugh at anyone whose whose vision is so perplexed and weak?

But Kevin's apparent visit to Beekman College wearing off is passable, considering how often he's been remanded to being a child-like simpleton in the latter seasons (we're used to it by now). It's Oscar who surprised me.

Oscar, the cynic/realist who can't help but be the stick in everyone's fantastical mud, thought the confessionals would be kept off the record? You would have to have had your head under a rock for the past 20 years to not know what a confessional means for a documentary, particularly one made for television. Obviously, it's the simplest, yet most effective, weapon a producer has to paint his characters like drunken, selfish animals. You could be a nun-in-training who only spoke of Jesus in that little room, and you better believe your conversation with the camera is airing all cut up beneath a montage of vaguely judgmental glances at the house whore. Which could be a fellow nun. Producers can do anything.

The point is, Oscar believing he was telling these people secrets that would be kept under wraps while they held a recording device and a microphone in his face is about as antithetical to someone as careful as Oscar as you can get. Oscar isn't stupid like Kevin, or comfortable with the crew like Jim, or naive like Phyllis can be. He's had every reason to be his hypercritical self, opening up his gloomy linings playbook to find what evil it being wrought. Him sharing anything with the crew is stretching the character a little thin, but the fact that he didn't think anyone would use it is just a level of ignorance generally not present in him.

Though, to play devil's advocate, you can say that there's a series of phenomena that comes with the territory of, we'll call it what it is in the context of the show, reality television. People forget about cameras eventually and act close to normal. Oscar may have been so self-involved with his own problems that he saw this fixture of his stable life (his job) as safe (especially since it seems like the crew gets friendly with the staff). And the length of time that this crew has been shooting this group might make you forget anything is supposed to come out of it at all.

Poppycock. As a character who so often voices his opinion of Knowing Better, I found it hard to believe he didn't know better here.

Pam, however, showed an earned and valid response to both the history that's been captured and privacy that's been invaded. We're supposed to believe that Jim and Pam have been strained lately and, for them, awkward conversation is the marker for something being fishy. Their out-of-sync phone time being such an obvious establishing scene notwithstanding, there's supposed to be turmoil in House Halpert. Pam asked Brian if he thought Jim had changed since taking the job in Philadelphia, but it was more of a way to voice her concern than the audience getting Brian's approval. I think we can all collectively agree Brian wants to find his way into those cotton underthings, and Brian telling Pam that Jim changed over the course of Brian's tenure as a paid stalker can only be regarded with an asterisk.


Fitting, then, that she would look to the scenes of the early seasons to remember the good times (much like we do—ZING!). Pam and Jim are in the unique position that their courtship was captured on film. Watching those promos was like watching old wedding videos. Which she can also do when she watches the documentary. While Jim focuses on his new job, she wants the floppy hair, the teapot treasure, the iPod play to get closer to her for the length of a song to come back.

The moral outrage against her invasion of privacy (the same invasion that documented the blossoming of her love with the father of her children) was also valid, but mostly because of the new information that she and the others weren't as clever as they thought they were. Had she gotten huffy and left after asking how much did they get (to which Brian replied, "just about all of it"), it would've been just as bad as Oscar and Angela's whining. But because she asked about things like turning off the microphones, a ploy they used in this episode but one that felt organic to people living on television, and got a response that no amount of clever insurrection was able to stop the crew from documenting the stupid things they do, she earned her violated exit. She may have thought she was able to beat the system and curate her own presence in the documentary, but she was out of control the whole time. That can be upsetting.

Whether or not you felt the show was being honest with itself in its characters' reactions to the true invasiveness of their collective privacy, "Promos" had its moments. As we're starting to see more clearly that this series is going to end with a screening of the documentary, a meta episode like this (is it meta if the filming is part of the show?) was inevitable. Whether or not the themes of "Promos" will continue through the last two months remains to be seen. The Pandora's Box of self-awareness seems to be open, but we'll see how it goes next week.


NOTES

– You have to wonder how the office would react if it was Erin was writhing in self-pleasure? With disgust or with undivided attention? That's probably an everyday thing for Meredith.

– Meredith: "Sooner or later, she'll finish." The Everyone Poops of office masturbation..

– CreedWatch: Not really much to report other than his enthusiastic approval of Phyllis's ecstasy. He likes to watch. Who knew?

– As the Scranton branch began its trek back to self-awareness, there were some nice nods to Episodes of Offices Past. The appearance of Michael Scott and the sweet feelings coming from the group was nice. Stanley with the pretzel reminded me of one of my favorite episodes of the series (and the fact that I've been waiting for my place of employment to start a Pretzel Day). Jim and Darryl reading from Ryan Howard's script was a great turnaround on "The Client" where the officemates read Threat Level Midnight.

– It's important to note that this may be the first time all season that Andy wasn't completely annoying, and that's mostly because this show does very well when writing one of its characters falling on his or her face. One of the biggest problems with Andy's Snidely Whiplash schtick is that he's always basically won. The man was gone for months without telling anyone at HQ that he went on a boat trip sabbatical, and he's still a regional manager. For someone to exploit Andy's trademark vanity (and for that person to be a much better written Nellie) and tear him down is necessary to reduce Andy from hyperbolic villain to hyperbolic fellow employee is a great move and made Andy far less annoying. But maybe that's because Andy wasn't in it all that much.

– The farmgirl storyline was so meh and made for an even meh-er coda. It gave Clark a chance to shine, but that was about it. I'd almost rather have had Dwight say, "You guys are watching promos? Lame. I'm going to go pick beets," than watch that story. Wake me up when Angela cares.


What'd you think of "Promos"?

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Hey Nick, just wanted to let you know that your episode reviews are fantastic and you have an amazing way with words.

Also, I agree with you that Andy's role in this episode was really well-done. I've been watching a lot of Youtube videos lately and reading the comments has left me with a little bit less hope for humanity. But watching how they showed Andy as the man behind the "comment wars" and how he got so emotionally involved over it was pretty hilarious.
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one thing however. the language they spoke in the danish clips was certainly not danish :D was like some german guy trying to pronounce danish word, really incomprehensible
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I believe this is actually considered to be meta, despite the fact that filming is part of the show. Not sure if you've heard of "Glamorama" but it's considered meta and involves the main character acknowledging several film crews and it's up to the reader to figure out if part of the plot is real or a movie being shot, or a movie about a movie being shot.

I continue to really love this idea that a guy on the crew taking an interest in Pam, unlike the idea that the characters are so stupid they wouldn't know the impact of being on film, this is actually a really intelligent idea for a Pam/Jim love triangle. As opposed to it just being some guy she meets, she's known this guy for years but we haven't.
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Nick, you're right on the money in saying that the characters would never be stupid enough to not know everything could be shown. I've been impressed with this season so far but the idea that those behind the show would think the audience is that stupid really disappoints me.
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I want to say Kevin didn't start out as stupid but that the way he spoke led people to think he was. So it was a little more complex (and actually humorous) of a premise initially than the one note simpleton character he's turned into. Not only that but it makes it completely unbelieveable that he would work as an accountant. I think he's the absolute worst character on the show and I wish he would have left a long time ago.
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Sure it's not as good as it was in the first few seasons but I'm cool with it. I like the characters and there is always heart. It's ending, just roll with it.
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When they showed clips of Michael in it I almost forgot that it was the same show. So much has changed...I still feel The Office has lost all its purpose when he left.
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It might not have been all Michael Scott's fault. True enough that the show lost its bearings a bit when Michael left but it opened up a new opportunity to shift the focus of the show. What they decided to do was jam Andy into a Michael Scott-shaped hole and try to force the character into the vacant role. Jim and Pam might have been able to help fill the void as the beating heart of the show but they hadn't been interesting since the wedding.

I think it's important the the better episodes of this season were when Andy left and the focus was _forced_ to shift to the other characters. When JIm and Pam _had_ to be the compass north and every one else had to have larger roles to fill in the empty spaces. Some of them were misses but some of them were hits like the old days (Dwight and Angela's redvining conversation with Toby comes to mind). The opportunity was there to redirect the show.
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I don´t even know where to start so I jump right in. This is definitely not the Office that I loved over all these years. It is still fun to watch from time to time but to be honest at this point I wouldn´t mind if the show is on or not so you can say it´s definitly a good thing that the end is near. The hole Jim working in a different town thing is stupid I mean who the hell is making fun of Dwight. The story is simlpy heartless written like they fired the original writters already and they replaced them with the same guys that also work on Community right now. For me it´s sad and dissapointing that this great show gets such a weak final season. Oh and by the way I would have loved to see a The Farm spinn because in my opinion this still would be a lot funnier than certain other TV shows on air this days
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You're right. Without Jim around, who will keep Dwight in check? It's a good thing he's been distracted by Angela and Esther or else his ego would grow out of control and Scranton would be doomed. Jim is the Jacob to Dwight's Man in Black.
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So does NBC have some weird product placement deal with subway? First community then this, I know it's used as a joke but still
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Don't forget Chuck. It might be Subway found a bit of success with this kind of product placement and NBC has no problem accepting money from Big Sandwich.
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Did anyone think Pam's reaction to Brian dying they got ALMOST everything may be setting up some final Pam/Jim hurdle? As in there may be mor to the Brian/Pam relationship in the past ten years?
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i totally thought that her reaction was related to something she had been hiding, like a relationship between her and Brian.. do you still think that? her reaction is like she is personally pissed off at HIM for allowing something secretive to be filmed... Let me know what u think! this is bugging me !
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Maybe a dalliance with Brian sometime between Roy and Jim wouldn't be out of the question. They're definitely trying to sell us on this distance thing. Here's hoping that, by the end of the season, we see Jim pop Brian one for scamming on his lady.
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It is pretty difficult to buy that Oscar didn't know about the confessionals. The only thing that would make sense is if he thought they would respect him asking for privacy, or if he believed they wouldn't out a gay politician for fear of legal retribution. Dwight and the Ryan Howard stories didn't really land, but Nellie vs. Andy and Phyllis' 50 Shades of Grey joke was hilarious.

As for Jim and Pam it seems like the writers haven't ever been able to figure out what to do with them since they got married. They keep introducing side characters to "test" their relationship instead of relying on the very sweet moments that have always characterized them.
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I buy the fact that everyone figured that no one was ever going to be watching this documentary, since they are just a small paper company in Scranton. If I worked there I would assume no one would ever have watched a show about me working.
The story in "Promos" almost makes up for the previous Pam/camera-man story arc, up until Pam went to that dude's home to talk about her marital problems, ugh.
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I like how Nellie pointed out that when she first arrived, she wanted to seem like a villain,
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I'm tired of complaning about every episode sucking so I'll just simply say this episode F -..... The only one that's been good in the past 8 or so episodes was the one where Andy brought back Gabe and Pete's ex
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Dwight and the farming community storyline, coming from a failed spin-off, being shoe-horned into the main show is incredibly weak to me. There have been an incredible number of weak story-lines and forced character development in the past few seasons but this is just too far for me.
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I wish Catherine Tait was still alive
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And not dead inside from being a dulling character like Nellie?
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I think the moment they all realized they were being filmed and overheard even when they thought they were clean, when they all gazed at the camera together, that's when I bought this episode and it was funny. Then the Ryan Howard stuff brought it to a screeching, unfunny halt by being written too stupidly, and it was already on thin ice.

If you watch Hell's Kitchen or The Real World, it's clear these people eventually forget about the cameras and go back to being real... often by doing something exceptionally stupid on camera. The Real World had the bathroom thing where they'd run off to hide from cameras yet we'd still overhear. That seems passable as human nature, after getting comfy with the cameras and not seeing the results one can get used to them and go back to acting normally.

Oscar didn't think the confessionals were part of the show? I don't remember that bit, that is pretty damned sloppy writing. They showed moments of him talking to the camera candidly, those I could believe he wouldn't think they'd use, but confessionals? No way, that is too stupid. And yeah, that's coming off of Kevin's head-slappingly annoying stupidity.

Still, Oscar and Angela leaving that voicemail was a hoot, I laughed heartily at that one.

Kinda felt like the Brian scene was him setting her up, that there was an orchestration going on where he was a plant by the doc crew to ingratiate himself into her world. That's probably looking for conspiracy where none exists, but it also could be a sign of how clumsy that scene was.

Heh heh, "I'm gonna go pick some beets", you are right on the money with that one.
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Oscar has taken the crew aside and asked them to be discreet about the relationship between him and the Senator ("The Boat") but he's also discussed those issues openly in confessionals, particularly when he thought Angela was exacting revenge on him ("The Target"). That's why it was so surprising to me that he was so upset after being "very candid" with the crew. Maybe the understanding is that, with the first conversation, Oscar thought it was a blanket pact with the crew for all other conversations on the subject. Or the explanation that maybe he never thought it would air. There are a lot of rationalizations that I'd have to make after the episode is over in order to justify Oscar's actions. I didn't buy it.

The scene with Brian was definitely clumsy and, although possible, I'm kind of hoping there isn't an ulterior motive for his involvement with Pam seems to have a power over men in that office. A plot by the doc crew might be too much. But not out of the question.

I'm with you on the screenplay reading. I thought it was funny only for its relationship with Threat Level Midnight but that was the entire subplot and it didn't work. Though Ryan Howard did fine for an athlete acting in a sit-com.
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I understood, Pam and even Angela's shock because turning off their mics should have given them a bit of privacy and they had no reason to think they were being stalked from behind shelves and plants. However I agree that Oscar shouldn't have been surprised at the confessional stuff. Overall, I liked the episode.
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Opening skit was funny. Some parts after that were soso funny.
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I don't mind the behind the scenes story line coming forward but yeah the naivete was ridiculous for sure. I really wish they could have written Clark a lot better. He has so much potential but they never push him more. Can't stand Pete and is a waste.

Maybe someone younger can answer me but it's always where the young (new) Office staff is always taken back "rolling their eyes" by crazy, silly middle age bosses or older employees. I really never had true office experience but I'd think just the opposite in real life. Of course it's just a TV show but just curious since everything is taken to some part by real life. Ryan of course but now Pete and Clark.
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Yes, this was a depressing episode because when they were watching the promos and those great moments from the early seasons it was reminding me when I looked forward to see a new episode and now I just watch it because I want to know how it ends ... That Jim in Philadelphia angle is so lame ... well, all the characters are boring and stupid now, really ... I was so sad seeing MICHAEL SCOTT in the promos ... remembering the good times !
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I like the point made about Pam's reaction being believable because she asked about the mics being turned off. I think the same could have been applied to Oscar pretty easily, and it was a missed opportunity. The obvious justification for Oscar spilling secrets in the confessionals, which I agree is otherwise out of character for how careful he usually is, is that the crew had been filming for *10 years* at some point he must have begun to suspect it would never air.
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