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The Office – Lotto

Season eight of The Office had
been difficult to judge from its first two episodes. Should the show
be dropped for all its flaws, or held onto for its few redeeming
qualities? Well with “Lotto” the bad has officially outweighed the
good. A lottery winning turned out to be one of the episode’s more
grounded plots, as low-key humor didn’t so much take a back seat to
wackiness, but was practically thrown from the car.

The episode was off to a rocky start even
before the title credits rolled. For a while now, Oscar has been the
only remaining voice of reason in the office, but with this new
season of more outlandish moments than ever before, even he is no
longer immune to the plague of irrationality. Watching him sacrifice
his sanity in The Office’s latest over-the-top attempt at
humor would have been less painful if he – or anyone else for that
mater – had been sharp enough to catch the fact that the sun roof was
open the entire time. Oscar taking one of his “principal stands,”
as Pam has called them in the past, was right in line with his
character, but it just shouldn’t have ended with him vandalizing a car.
The cold open did at least set the tone for the episode, as it was
the same reliance on ridiculous premises and adults using the
judgment of children that spoiled most of “Lotto.”

With the warehouse crew off to blow
their lottery winnings, some of the office staff were trading in
their white collars for ones of blue. Unfortunately, the foursome’s
efforts to gain laughs were no more effective than their efforts to
load the truck. The fact that Jim and Dwight spent the majority of
the episode getting along like old friends led to more
head-scratching than knee-slapping, especially since the storyline
started out with Dwight determined to silence Jim’s claims of being
the strongest in the office. But that fizzled out right along with
the humor around the time Dwight decided to pull a “Michael Scott”
and wreck the forklift. It wasn’t enough to have a character
literally drive into a wall, clearly a grease slick was called for if The Office writers were to ensure the show turned into the
first ever live-action cartoon. That may be harsh, but the plot did
have all the elements of a Wile E. Coyote trap; all that was missing
was an “Acme” rocket. If the “Señor Loadenstein” bit never
went past Erin vehemently telling Kevin to drop the idea, it would
have earned all the laughs it did otherwise. Instead Jim, who like
Oscar was also once a rational member of the office, leads
the Four Stooges into a horribly unfunny plot.

There was some good to come from the
warehouse workers jumping ship, and like most of The Office’s
best moments, it was with the little things. Oscar actually managed
to redeem himself for coming up short in the cold open when he scored
a laugh by ogling Bruce, “the most well-defined man in Scranton”.
The show would be much better off if it stuck to the simplicity of
having Oscar stare through the conference room window, rather than
busting out taillights in the parking lot. Another great moment came
in the the quick shot of Pam surfing the web for her dream home in
New York, a subtle call to her and Jim debating their perfect
life. It’s no coincidence that these moments came within the normal,
mundane, everyday confines of office life, while the episode’s worst
came in the more outlandish scenes. We’ve all spent time fantasizing
about what we would do if we won the lottery (especially while at
work) or let our eyes do a little wandering on an attractive visitor.
It’s how you get through the day, just as it used to be for the
Scranton branch. Only now, a typical day at the office for them is
more like a day at the circus.

The main plot of “Lotto” wasn’t any
more successful at entertaining than the subplots that surrounded it.
Andy’s day spent pulling Darryl out of the doldrums did create a few
laughs, but they weren’t enough to save the episode, and the
storyline had problems of its own. Andy had been doing an excellent
job of filling the shoes of Regional Manager, but in this episode
he was outright imitating Michael, rather than taking the role and
making it his own as he had been. The Mr. T impersonation felt right
out of the Scott playbook, only serving to remind us of what we lost
when he left, not what we gained when Andy took over. Darryl
wasn’t doing much better, though he did strike a chord with one piece
of dialogue. The randomness of him bemoaning the “taco air”
stinking up his basement and the sincere delivery Craig Robinson
brought to the moment created the episode’s biggest laugh. Taco air
is heavy. Darryl didn’t manage to go out on such a high note
however, as the closing scene of him addressing the camera with a
renewed sense of determination felt more forced than heartfelt, as
did his “black balls” joke.

You can’t punish a series for choosing
one form of comedy over another, but you can knock a show for
completely altering the style and atmosphere.  Though it didn’t
all happen in this episode, “Lotto” was a perfect example of why
a little crazy goes a long way. The Office has all but given
up on finding humor in the commonplace, which is all the more
disheartening since, as a few moments of this episode showed, they can
still pull it off when they try.

Rating
6.0

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