Friday, January 25, 2013

Who's Filming The Office (And Do We Care)?

So last night we saw the fourth wall come down on The Office.  Well, I guess maybe the third-and-a-half wall…it's not like we saw Greg Daniels pop on camera and say, "Great take Jenna, that's a wrap."  Anyway, I'll recap the situation just in case you gave up on the show post-Steve Carell, a decision that I can't really blame you for making. 

The main story arc of this season has been Jim working part-time at a new job in Philadelphia, a job that he wasn't totally upfront with Pam about taking in the first place, and the two of them are struggling with him being away most of the time and (not a minor point) having a significant amount of their money invested in this new business.  Things all finally came to a head in this most recent episode, when Jim & Pam had a big fight over the phone, leading to Pam just breaking down in tears after hanging up, a scene that Jenna Fischer really knocked out of the park.

Then things got weird.  As you know, the gimmick of The Office is that we're seeing a documentary about the lives of the Dunder-Mifflin employees.  We've seen this narrative conceit get incorporated into the plot a few times over the years, but in this particular case, the documentary crew actually halts filming while one of the sound guys comes over to see if Pam is okay.  It's the first time we've actually seen the crew directly interact with one of the character and the first time we've actually seen them on camera, to boot.  Needless to say, it was a jarring moment, made even moreso by the fact that it was coming immediately after a raw moment between Pam & Jim.

I'm of two minds about this development.  On the one hand, you could argue that it's a very fresh angle to take on a show that, in its ninth and final season, has pretty much exhausted all possible storylines.  The "documentary" is not a new twist, of course, since it's been a part of the show since day one, so naturally it would make some sense to resolve why, exactly, Dunder-Mifflin was being filmed anyway.  (The Onion has touched on this.)

On the other hand….geez, it really was jarring, wasn't it?  It's one thing to peripherally acknowledge the documentary crew, it's another thing to actually see them in action.  Other shows that use a mockumentary format (Arrested Development, Modern Family, Parks & Recreation) just use it as a format, without any conceit that it's actually a documentary about the extended Pritchett family or Pawnee City Hall.  Aside from those characters having talking-head interviews or making JimFace reaction shots at the camera, there's no sign* that a documentary crew actually exists in those realities.  Even if you take into account that such filmmakers pride themselves on their non-involvement, suddenly The Office has about a thousand plot holes if the crew is a living, breathing entity.  They didn't get involved when, say, Angela tried to hire a hitman to kill Oscar earlier this season?  Half the cast has been cheated on or been cheating at some point in the series, so nobody got mad that these infidelities were filmed and not reported to them by a camera crew?  These guys never caught the Scranton Strangler* in the act?  Or hell, even in this very episode, the trigger for the Pam/Jim fight was that Pam had messed up filming their daughter's ballet recital and couldn't send the video to Jim; if they're so tight with the crew, couldn't Pam have just asked one of the camera guys to send Jim some footage? 

* = now that I think about it, I suspect AD probably did have a joke about the crew at some point or another, just because that show made meta-textual jokes about everything.

** = The Strangler has been mentioned so often that I'll bet he/she will be revealed as a known character before the end of the series.  Not a major character, but a supporting player who we've seen a few times but don't know much about.  Maybe Gabe, or Todd Packer, or one of the warehouse workers, or maybe Toby has a split personality like the guy on 'Do No Harm.'  Man, that show looks terrible.

It's a can of worms that The Office has chosen to open very late in the game, and while you could argue that it's the last season and all bets are off, it still seems like a pretty major element to bring into a show at this stage.  The quick reaction, naturally, is that we don't care about the documentarians --- we want to see how the characters resolve themselves, not deal with this huge new factor in the series with 10 episodes to go.  It makes me worry how far down the rabbit hole we're going to go here if we're delving into the documented nature of the show itself.  Is Brian the sound guy going to get a talking head where he discusses some of the footage "they" didn't show since it didn't fit the narrative?  You don't want to do something in the final few eps that makes us question (or essentially ruins) everything we've seen in the previous nine years.

So, presuming that Brian The Sound Guy doesn't end up being the 'face' of the documentary, let's move onto more pleasant thoughts.  Who would be the funniest possible choice to be revealed as the producer of this documentary?

* Christopher Guest, the modern master of the mockumentary format.

* Along those same lines, Rob Reiner, in character as Marty DiBergi from "This Is Spinal Tap."

* Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, playing two British dudes bemoaning the fact that they were stuck spending almost a full decade on a documentary about an American paper company for BBC9 or something.  It'd be a funny way to bring the series full circle with a nod to the original version, though I'm not sure the idea would work anymore since Gervais has actually been on the show as David Brent.

* Werner Herzog.  Needless to say, this is the best possible option.  Doesn't even matter if he's playing a character or playing himself.  I'm not just saying that because I'm a long-standing Herzog fan, but also because it actually makes sense.  If you told me tomorrow that Herzog had been filming the daily lives of paper company employees, I would totally believe it.  That guy's nuts. 

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