Last week’s episode of The Office pulled back the curtain on the show’s documentary in a way longtime viewers had never seen. We were introduced to Brian (Chris Diamantopoulos), a boom mic operator who has been following the lives of Dunder Mifflin’s employees for over eight years alongside the rest of the documentary crew.
But it wasn’t Brian’s mere appearance that had fans buzzing after the episode — it was the intimate moment that led to his reveal.
At the end of the episode, Pam got in a fight with Jim that, on the surface, was about a dance recital video she failed to record for him. When they hung up and she began to cry, Brian, at that point unseen, attempted to comfort her from his post behind the scenes. But as she continued to sob, he set his boom mic down and stepped in front of the camera for the first time — despite a warning from his fellow crew member. Unfazed and feeling bad for Pam, he made another bold move, and asked the crew to shut off the cameras — another show first.
“When I first watched the cut of that, I got chills because it just felt like I was suddenly not watching a television show,” executive producer Greg Daniels recalls. And he wasn’t alone.
But along with goosebumps, Office superfans were left with questions — like whether Brian, a character that was inspired by the show’s real-life boom operator Brian Wittle, will play a role the episodes to come.
At least in the next two episodes, airing back-to-back this Thursday, he absolutely will, says Daniels, adding, “Once you open this can of worms, it’s hard to go back.” And that’s exactly why revealing the crew has been a slow process. Steve Carell’s last episode — which showed Michael Scott taking off his mic — was the first hint that the show would begin pulling the curtain back, and earlier this season, we heard the crew’s voices.
Introducing Brian, however, is more than a nod to the documentary — it’s also a piece of a major storyline involving the show’s longtime key couple, Jim and Pam, who have had a rough time this season. “Pam and Jim have this incredible, intense bond that has developed over years and years of little workplace jokes and conversation, [and] the thing I think is so, like, disturbing, maybe, is the realization that there may have been another guy who was there in an invisible setting this entire time also participating in little jokes with them and killing enormous amounts of hours at work,” Daniels says. “Once you start opening the box of who’s working on [the documentary], you have to picture that when Pam does an interview, Brian is right there, right off camera, holding a boom mic.”
The next two episodes, he says, “really follow that thought.”
Naturally, the appearance of a new man — or, in this case, a new old man — in Pam’s life has also been a cause for concern among fans. Will she cheat? Will she almost cheat? Will Jim get jealous? Daniels wasn’t giving up answers, but admits, “I’m glad that [fans] are worried.” “You know, I think one of the reasons we did it was to kinda shake things up and cause people to wonder and worry,” he says.
In the final season, there has been no point in holding back, and going full steam ahead on some storylines that have been postponed for seasons has, he says, brought out the best in the writer’s room. “We’re having the kind of debates about what comes next [for Jim and Pam] that we had in the first seasons. So for me and for the writing staff, I’m pleased because we’re incredibly engaged in what happens — debating it and arguing it, obsessively reshooting it, polishing it and everything,” he says. “And I think that when we didn’t have these sort of big arcs happening where there was a lot of possible change in their relationship, the show went along and it was a funny show, but the intensity even on the part of the people making the show was a little less. So it’s kinda fun to be this curious and have everybody…debating what’s going to happen next.”
So what will happen next? And exactly how involved will the documentary crew get in the lives of our characters in the final episodes? Despite their best efforts to remain flies on the wall, that might not be the case for long. “We certainly have a lot of that under discussion. [We’re] always referencing that Star Trek law — they were supposed to not interfere with the planets histories when they landed on them,” he says, referring to the Prime Directive. “That holds true for the documentary crews also; they’re supposed to observe without affecting [lives]. But they can’t really. It’s an interesting point — with a documentary, you’re always affecting things.”