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The Office – Garden Party

The entire staff was taking a trip out
to Schrute Farms in the latest episode of The Office, but the
change in locale didn’t mean a major turnaround for what has been a
mediocre season at best. Though “Garden Party” was a slight
improvement over it’s predecessor, there were still some glaring
problems and tragically unfunny moments. The opportunity to get to
know Andy’s family all but fell flat on its face, and it was the
return to Scranton’s foremost purveyor of beets that was responsible
for the lion’s share of laughs.

There is an expected level of
bizarreness when the show heads out to Dwight’s farmland, so unlike
last week’s warehouse fiasco, the over-the-top aspects didn’t feel
completely out of place. Unfortunately, new problems sprung up with
this episode to replace the one that was solved. Ironically enough
the episode began and ended with examples of jokes that simply ran on
too long. The implied phallic graffiti of the cold open was a little
much, but it could have been worth a chuckle if they had left it with
the just the implication, versus having Dwight running to investigate
the billboard he would have actually been embarrassed by even without
the defacement. Going out on a laugh proved as difficult as starting
with one, due to the writing relying on Dwight’s insistence to
announce every guest for about the third time in the episode.
However, it was the very reason behind the event that caused the
biggest issues for “Garden Party.”

Andy has been one of the few saving
graces of The Office in its last few seasons, but as it turns
out, the rest of his clan isn’t nearly as funny. Neither his
father(Stephen Collins) or his brother, Walter Jr(played by crooner
Josh Groban, who only seemed to be cast so the episode could be
promoted as having Josh Groban) earned laughs on their own. Mrs.
Bernard didn’t either, but at least she wasn’t involved in of the
shows most excruciatingly awkward scenes to date. As someone who
loved the original UK version of the series, I’m pretty partial to
cringe humor, the only problem in this case is that the US version
forgot that the humor was an integral part of that comedy style.
Watching Andy uncomfortably try to keep up with his father’s singing
was no more enjoyable for the audience at home than it was for the
one on screen. Things got even worse once Andy was pushed out by his
brother so senior and junior could share the spotlight. The insight
into why Andy is so desperate for the approval of his fellow office
workers that we received near the end of the episode simply couldn’t
make up for having to sit through such a drawn-out and painful scene.

Whether it was from little character
driven bits of comedy or the return of a character altogether,
“Garden Party” did find some moments to shine. Kevin’s toupee
making a reappearance was a nice touch, and silencing the waiter’s
protests as he wolfed down hor d’oeuvres was such a “Kevin” thing
to do you couldn’t help but laugh. Ryan’s toast to the troops -all
the troops- was another moment that seemed right of out of the
character’s playbook, recalling what an odd little hipster the once
temp has become in the past few seasons. It was also good to see Jim
and Dwight back to their old dynamic, instead of acting so chummy as
they did in the last episode. A good prank goes a long way, and
Jim’s(or James Trickington’s) fake guide to garden parties did just
that, producing a ton of material from the one setup. Mike Schur
taking a break from working on Parks and Recreation to reprise
his role as the even odder of the two Schrutes, Mose, was another
highlight, especially his quite literal car jumping. The episode
also found humor in a rather unexpected source, with a character who
had been having about as much material written for him as one of the
office plants.

Gabe finally made his presence known in
this episode and showed there was a reason for keeping the character
around despite Jo ordering him back to Florida at the end of last
season. Since then he’s just been standing in the background and
making us wonder if the writers forgot their own writing. With this
episode though, he was not only getting lines but earning laughs,
most prominently when he perfectly summed up Andy’s unique sense of
style; “I won’t dress like my life is just one long brunch.”
And his comment about wasting time talking to Stanley’s mistress
would have been even funnier if the joke hadn’t just been used during
Dwight’s very vocal welcoming of the guests.

Robert California’s toast just before
the singing kicked off had also come up short in the comedy
department, but he thankfully made up for his flub and actually
garnered the first laughs he’s received since his appearance in the
season seven finale. The marmalade and basil plant incident(Spader
killed it during Robert’s call to Andy) while very odd, managed to
not be outlandish, and felt like just the kind of thing we should
expect from his character. The potential of him getting fooled into
buying some very exotic, very illegal goat meat from Dwight also
created a hilarious moment, as did the randomness of him informing
Ryan he’s become acclimated to Southern Italy.

Though there was actually more good
than bad, what didn’t work was pretty much unbearable and brought
down the episode considerably. If The Office wants to only
create moments that are tolerable, let alone funny, then its best bet
is going to be avoiding awkward humor until they have a better handle
on it, and also avoid running jokes into the ground.


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