The Office: Season 8, Episode 15
Michael Richardson
After last week's poor showing, The Office manages to start doing what it does best: a lot of silly jokes built on a solid if uninspired storyline. Half of the gang is down in Tallahassee to attend to a conference on a storefront, led by the one and only Catherine Tate. My goodwill for this episode may exist only because of Donna Noble, but it's good enough.

The main story this week is continued from last week: Dwight and his gang of misfits have headed down to Tallahassee to attend a conference run by Catherine Tate. Dedicated viewers of The Office will remember her character from the run-up to Michael Scott's departure, where she was one of the people contesting for the position. Behind the scenes, the staff apparently favored bringing Tate on full-time as the boss, but her schedule made it too difficult and we had to settle for Andy. I'm not sure Tate could have saved this season from it's structural problems, and her character here is extremely broad. I can't imagine her hyper-sexuality playing well week-to-week, though it might have been more tolerable than Andy's aggressive blandness. But there's no use wondering about what could have been. Instead she's here for what might be a pleasant getaway from the Scranton branch. This week's episode also marks the return of Todd Packer, who is still unbearable. If you're character is supposed to be humorously repellant, it's probably a good idea to make sure he is not actually repellant.

Tate is offering up a position for Vice President in her division, and is looking for someone to wow her enough to fill it. This is right up Dwight's alley, except for one minor problem - his appendix burst, and he finds himself in great pain at the conference. I love a good "covering-up-pain" gag like his screaming while setting up the projector screen, but the show finds difficulty in justifying a situation where any sane person would have called an ambulance a long time ago. It makes sense that Dwight would postpone his treatment, but the people around him probably should have stepped up. Eventually he collapses to the floor, and he's wheeled off to the hospital. For about a minute. Then he's right back at the conference, toting around an IV dressed up like a backpack.

The plot line is incredibly broad, and probably wouldn't work if the writing weren't a bit more solid than normal. The gags are especially good and rapid-fire. Florida Stanley is an inspired bit of character work, as his normal laziness is expanded by degrees, drinking rum and listening to music as others work around him. Erin has had another good episode as Dwight's number two. And Jim's assholery has been toned down by quite a bit. Most surprising is that, with the right writing, Dwight can be the center of attention and not be too grating. This episode deserves credit as well for refusing to add a lot of unnecessary plotting. In the B plot this week, Andy takes over reception and finds out he loves it. It's an excuse for two or three mild jokes, and it might take up 3 minutes of screen time total. The jokes are all down in Tallahassee, and the writers were smart enough to keep us there.

This episode feels so light and non-essential that it's hard to draw major conclusions about it. I'm a bit surprised having enjoyed an out-of-the-office episode, but perhaps this is what the show needs right now - to be shaken out of it's element, mix and match different characters and see what kind of stories they'll be bale to tell if any of their principal actors move onto other projects. After last weeks poor-showing and the consistent problems this season, I find it hard to imagine there's any place to take this show other than off the air. But it also proves that any improvement looks better by comparison.

Grade: B-


An enjoyable cold open, in which the people in Tallahassee receive their wake-up calls from Dwight. And a call back from Pretzel Day!

Cathy has an idea that each store should have a theme like tropical vacation or winter getaway. It is one of the worst business ideas I've ever heard, but I'm not sure if the show wants me to think that.

Tags: The Office
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