The Office: Season 8, Episode 17
Test the Store
Michael Richardson
So the Office finally gets around to making fun of Apple, bloggers and hipsters. Cutting edge! How do they do it!? If 2007-me had frozen myself and thawed out immediately before this episode aired, it would have blown my fucking mind how sharp the satirical minds at the Office really were. And their jokes were so up-to the minute too. Did you know Zooey Deschanel makes music? Crazy!

Yes, after a couple of decent episodes the Office manages to deliver another poorly premised episode, which is pretty much par for the season. Perhaps it was because there was so little Florida Stanley (seriously, that would be a spin off worth watching), or perhaps, as discussed above, the things they're making fun have been so thoroughly explored as to leave nothing to joke about. Or maybe the show just has some kind of chronic malaise, where the characters shuffle around but nothing actual happens.

It's hard to pinpoint where the Office stands on over-the-top satire. The show can be over the top, certainly, but it's never had the aura of cartoonishness like 30 Rock or Community, who might have been able to get away with directly parodying the iPad and iPhone. The tone is generally not consistent with the kind of satire that the Office normally excels at. Small, restrained work place satire is why the Office became so popular to begin with. But the idea that major tech publications would make their way to Tallahassee (because what major technology company wouldn't want to plan a meeting where nobody in technology or publishing actually lives) to cover this product in a store that looks smaller than your average Radioshack is just too far outside of the shows range. Community's writers could pitch an episode based solely on the character making fun of Apple. The Office's writers can't (and shouldn't have) because they need to connect their characters to it in some way, because that is the precedent they have set. It's just not the style of humor the show does.

This stands in stark contrast to the B-story, which is basically a variation on last week's B-story. Andy and Pam were attacked by a group of rowdy kids, and the Scranton folks pile into the conference room to hash out what happened and how to defend from assault, without knowing that it was actually kids who gave Andy a huge shiner. It's a bit boring, a bit low key, but it's a basic Office-y plot line that would have been much funnier if we were talking about Michael Scott. The show still seems to think him and Andy are the same people and so write the same jokes to be delivered in the same delivery. But this section actually had some good, quick writing (as well as a great Creed gag, always welcome) that actually showed off what the show does well. Between the rape flute, an imprint of a ring pop on Andy's face and Andy's escalating excuses for the fight, it's a great segment full of actually hilarious jokes.

It's like the episode was custom made to highlight it's own flaws. On one hand, half the show is basically just a list of funny jokes with a weak plot line spreading them together. In the other half, there's a strong (in the sense of having a great deal of narrative thrust, not in the sense of it being good) plot with a lot of poorly conceived jokes. How hard is to combine the best parts and get rid of the lazy parts? Apparently very difficult. That's what's so frustrating about this show: given the right elements, we know that it can be great. For years it was one of the best comedies on television, so we know that the problems don't lie with the characters or the setting. It's the over elements, reliant on good writers, editors and producers, that have gotten more slipshod as the season goes on. Sometimes they can make it work, but it seems now that those occasions are just flukes. But if they just want to go and write jokes on the same level of the best ones of tonight, it'll be enough to limp through to the end of the season.

Grade: C+


Hey, I almost forgot, now James Spader is leaving the show. Boy, wasn't his presence this season just fucking pointless. I'm reminded of the great Simpsons Anniversary episode, where they promote that the show will continue indefinitely filled with different weddings and babies. Turns out that is actually a viable plan for a lesser show.

Tags: The Office
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