14
Oct
2011
The Office: Season 8, Episode 4
Garden Party
Michael Richardson
Most sitcoms flounder when they leave the primary setting of the show itself. The ur-example is Cheers, which stayed in the bar for almost the entirety of the first season, drawing enough humor out of one location to make it one of the best sitcoms ever. There was no need to leave, because it allowed the characters to interact in a space without gimmicks. The Office is fairly consistent in its use of the titular building - most episodes take place entirely within its walls. But where most sitcoms take a dive when they leave theyre primary setting, the Office does so so sparingly that those special episodes are typically good. I'm thinking of the greatest episode of all time, "Dinner Party", or great episodes like "Beach Games." Then again, there's always a wedding episode to prove otherwise. "Garden Party" may not be as good at the first two examples, but it's far better than the gang's Niagara trip.

Episodes like this could be a gimmick, but for me it was an easy way to show off Andy's home life and, as Oscar might put it, to discover his "Rosebud." Like "Dinner Party" before it, it was an episode concerned with the Boss's fragile mental state, the result of rejection and indifference apparently from the womb onward. Competent Andy from last week is gone, instead replaced by somebody who is so dependent on some positive feedback from good ol' dad and his perfect brother that he's willing to throw a whole party just to impress them. And to hobnob with the boss of course.

That was only one of the stories going on tonight, however. All in all, there were about 4 plots: Andy impressing his dad and the boss, Pam and Angela's competition over baby names (for the record, Phillip was the name of Angela's favorite cat, not just some dead grandfather. Points awarded.), the Office's opportunity to make inroads with the boss, Dwight's newfound love of hosting duties. That may seem like a bit too much, but each one produced some worthwhile moments. Andy's plot gave us the most cringe-worthy moments, pregnant Pam is still amusing (for the time being), and Gabe, well, Gabe still exists, so that's something.

If there is something to bug me about this episode (and there always is) it's that saccharine ending, where the whole office gathers around the fire to cook hamburgers. They're all the last to leave, the closest knit family unit any of them have available. That should be an incredibly depressing moment, but it's treated like the best possible outcome, that even if Andy's father will never respect him at least he has the people he hands pay checks to. The show has lost the distance, the ability to critique the idea that, going back to the earliest work-place sitcoms, everybody should be treated like family.

I'm also starting to worry about a big problem - Andy Bernard might not be an interesting enough character to hold the show together. The basic Daddy-issues storyline here is pretty trite, but all it does is attempt to explain character quirks that we have already accepted as normal in the world of The Office. Michael Scott didn't need explanation - we just needed to see the consequences of his actions, the character moments that came from his personality. When we get an image of Michael as a kid who wears a suit to school every day, it didn't suddenly explain why he is the way he is - as a character, he's always been the same. That's comforting, as far as silly fiction goes. But because the writers expect Andy to be more human, somebody we can easily relate to instead of overcoming obstacles to relate to, he needs this kind of hackneyed back story, so we understand his weirdness comes from somewhere. Thats going to make the comedy suffer, no doubts about it. Here's hoping they reverse course.

Grade: B

Miscellaneous:

This is the second NBC sitcom to have a character reading a book about party hosting this week. Little coincidences like that make me think producers compare notes, but I know it's just dumb luck.

Tags: The Office
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