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.
– 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"?