One of the most shocking, out-of-no-where moments for me on The Office (US) broken into one of its most sentimental. When Michael Scott was at the airport and telling the documentary crew “I guess this is it”, I thought “Wow, that’s right. If you had this documentary crew in your office for as long as Michael did, you feel very sad to see them go.”
But when Michael added “Hey, will you guys let me know if this ever airs?”, the show acknowledged something it almost never did: that the documentary crew was compiling a lot of footage for some reason. I wondered why, after six full seasons, the producers of the show would bring something that had only been acknowledged in passing, to the center of the discussion. But it was there and gone, until this past summer.
That was when Greg Daniels said we’d get to met the documentary crew, and again I wondered about this. Granted, at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t as invented in the because of how bad season 8 was (James Spader, really?) When I heard it, I thought “Why?” If the show didn’t improve creatively, no one would care.
But the show has improved creatively, in no small part because Daniels is back running it. Surprisingly, Ed Helm’s absence hasn’t hurt the show either; if anything, his absence kept show from making bigger mistakes. Daniel wrote big, multi-episode arcs for his characters, the thing that made the show successful back in the day. Even the Jim-Pam marriage strain is believable, and good.
So that brings up the question of whether or not revealing who is behind the documentary is relevant to the story. The fact that Daniel’s is going to reveal it all speaks to how television has changed since Lost. Ten years ago, people would have cared who was filming the documentary because, in the eight seasons the show has aired, the crew has barely impacted the story of the characters. When The Office first came on the air, I heard of people who watched the show for three or four years and didn’t know there was an unseen documentary crew filming the characters. In fact, it was a while until I realized that the crew was asking an unseen question to Michael, Pam, and Dwight during the talking head-cut scenes.
The American Office has sought to be less of a documentary than its British counterpart. While it ignited the ire of TV critics, Daniels went for a brighter look and a more buffoonish boss, which gave the show a longer life and more appeal. On the original British Office, the characters were people who you believed actually worked in an office called Wernham Hogg Paper Company. The characters on the American Office are like the people you believe work at Dunder Mifflin.
So that leads to the question of the barely-referenced documentary crew, and whether or not it should be revealed. While the British Office didn’t reveal its documentary crew, it did show the fame David Brent gained from the broadcast of the documentary in the Christmas special. While I have reservations, I think it could be done, and done in a way that’s interesting and that makes sense. Whatever way it’s done, less is more because it’s back story, and, as Stephen King wrote On Writing, the key word with back story is “back”. We don’t need ten episodes devoted to who the documentary crew is, but it could be interesting, as long as it’s not sold as this huge “reason for the series” (ALA Lost).
I do think that there could be a mockumentary that is the opposite of what The Office is: a show that brings the documentary crew into the foreground of the show, and lead cameraman is a series regular. The Office choose to be a different kind of show, and for its sake, let’s hope it knows how to break the fourth wall.