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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.