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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.