The Office "The Farm" Review: Try Not to Laugh When We Say "Backdoor"

The Office S09E17: "The Farm"


I almost wish I hadn't known the backstory to this episode before I watched it.

"The Farm" began as a backdoor pilot for a Dwight spin-off, but when NBC decided to pass on it, they converted it to a regular episode of The Office. I'm inclined to say that NBC made the right decision but, really, they should be George Costanza-ing everything these days. Tuna on toast isn't working out for you guys. It's time to get the chicken salad on rye.

In any case, in the process of converting the episode to something that could fit into this final season of The Office, they combined it with new footage to create a Frankenstein episode. And I'm curious as to whether I would've noticed the seams so easily had I not known anything beforehand.


The reason for my knowing either way is that so many sitcom trope characters were introduced on the Dwight side of things: the snobby sister, the cute kid, the nitwit brother, the all-you-need-to-know-is-I'm-pretty love interest. Badger. Actually, I'd watch a show about Zeke and Mose carousing.

But, because it was half a pilot, it had a gravity to it that seemed unnatural to the rest of the episode. Dwight made a new life for himself, one completely separate from the rest of the Scranton clan both physically, with a very conscious exit from Scranton's only representative, Oscar, when Dwight started firing shots into the coffin, and stylistically, with a different sentimental tone than that of The Office (mockumentary's tendency to make the camera an active character sometimes subverts some of the sentimentality).

To give credit where it's due, the Dwight portion of the episode did an especially decent job establishing tone, characters, and direction in literally half the time usually allotted. The kid felt like sort of a cheap play, something critical audiences and those accustomed to the normal beats of sitcoms are familiar with, particularly since that's a recurring trick in television even recently (The New Normal and the late Ben and Kate leap to mind), and the love interest had very little focus. But the siblings, the neighbors, and the feeling for what it's like to hang out in the Schrute neck of the woods were impressively demonstrated. 

The ending was the one thing that I think would've clinched it for me believing this was a backdoor pilot even had I not known. First, any cold open or coda that doesn't end in a strong physical or ridiculous punchline on The Office is always suspect (think back to a few episodes ago, when Brian and Pam talked in front of the unmanned camera). Then there was the open-endedness of Dwight walking onto the farm with his brother and sister, the beginning of the new life. The tone didn't match. None of this was necessarily bad on its own, but because we know what we know, it came off less like a weird outing for Dwight and revealed the stitching of people trying to patch in a standalone episode... which by mere approach made it feel larger and grander, the seams of the monster.

And in those seams: cupcakes that make you poop.

While Dwight and his rural folk learned to live, die, and play catchy music on a country porch at sunset (because even the bumpkin parts of Pennsylvania know The Decemberists), the rest of the Scranton branch suffered a Packer attack that included laced cupcakes. While it was nice to see Packer again (and, just like I requested in my first round of dos and don'ts for The Office's final season, there was no Packer abuse and he got his very own episode instead of a brief mention), compared to the Dwight stuff, everything contained within the other plot seemed trite and blue. But with that being said, because of how the Schrute story felt like it was on fast-forward, the Scranton story just felt like any other mediocre plot from the past two seasons.

Though I should've, I didn't realize Packer was up to something until he made his way back out of the office. And then the things that happened because of the drug-laced cupcakes, or at least the stories people told the morning after, didn't really inspire much laughter. I feel like this was mostly because of the people telling those stories. Phyllis and Nellie had bad trips that fit their characters (of course Phyllis would buy a bunch of American Girl outfits) but neither one was especially funny. Even Andy and Kevin's flashback sequence was fairly lame; between Andy's fake DJing and the two trying on each other's clothes, it was a poor flex of the writers' comedy muscles to get through this story. I feel like more interesting things happened when they were all on espresso.

Why didn't Creed or Meredith or even Erin speak up? Their stories would've been far more interesting. At least Clarke squeezed in a funny: "It wasn't my best night. But it wasn't my worst."

Maybe we should look at the unintentional (or maybe intentional) effect of this episode that showed Dwight moving forward, how much gravity that entails, and how it was a complete tonal shift from his life in paper sales and the comparative absurdity and triviality of life at the Scranton branch. I felt a flutter of sadness watching Dwight descend that hill, even though I know we have another couple months' worth of episodes. As we prepare to say goodbye to these characters, maybe we should be looking forward to themes like this, ones that aren't writers going through the motions of filling time with toilet jokes and working blue but honest ways of saying farewell.



NOTES


– Dirtball. I'll allow it.

– CreedWatch: "$3.75 a cupcake, actually. $3.65 if you buy a dozen." … "I never forget a number. Names: in one ear and out the other. Places: nope. Faces: that's rich. But numbers: I have a gift. I guess that's why I'm an accountant." It was a bit of an esoteric turn for Creed's punchline tonight. If you're not a superfan of the show, you might just assume that Creed actually IS an accountant, at which point this joke would just seem to ramble for no reason. Even knowing that Creed isn't an accountant didn't help. Really? He couldn't have said anything after tripping all night?

– Any show that wants to include Badger is a friend of mine.

– The shotgun blasts into the coffin were almost certainly the edgiest thing The Office has done since Packer did unspeakable things to Michael Scott's office carpet. That Oscar ran away in horror was the icing on the cake. He was the perfect character for that scenario. That would've been too much for Jim and Pam to smirk at the camera while Dwight pumped his aunt full of lead. Nellie might have also been an interesting choice for that scene.

– Do you think the pilot would've worked? It's hard to tell for me. There are so many successful spin-offs in the history of television, but so many more terrible ones. Compare Cheers with Frasier. Both good series independent of each other, and Fraiser worked at least in part because of how different it was from its predecessor. It was still a multi-camera that took place on only a handful of sets, but the tone of the show was completely different. Now look back to Joey just after Friends ended. The shows were too similar and it eventually fell into NBC's very full cancel-it-quick outbox tray. It's hard to tell what the style of the Dwight series would've been since they were trying to blend it together with The Office, but a big part of it would've been dependent on that.

 From my observation, the only continuity issue I see is between Dwight essentially asking Angela to run away with him last time we saw this show and Dwight being enamored enough with a local girl to perform weird, gross courting rituals. Come on, Dwight! You might already have a Schrute baby!

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This should be a 6 episode Netflix series, but not a full 24 episode NBC one.
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I think the spin-off part of the show was better than most of the last two seasons.
Exchange Angela for the kid (her trying to cope with Dwight's family, learning 101 uses for road kill and maybe a Mormon style plural marriage?) and it would work IMHO.
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I figured out this was the setup episode to a Dwight spin-off the second they brought siblings in for him. But wait, NBC is not picking it up? So no spin-off? I guess I'm a little disappointed but if that episode was the premise for it then eh, probably for the better. It was good, but too much cliche stuff like Nick said : the dumb slacker brother, the normal uppity sister, and her son because she is a single mom, and siblings coming together to work for a "family business". The only one not cliche is Dwight, the character they developed for him is too good for that story line. It was a little harsh with the shots into the coffin but totally something that family would do so it was pretty funny, and Oscar running did make that scene.
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I have to speak for Creed and correct what was written above: It's actually $3.67 for a dozen cupcakes, not $3.65.
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There is now shame on my family. Thanks for the correction.
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NBC really made a mistake with not picking up the farm. I absolutely love Dwight and was looking forward to the show even though I wasn't sure how they could realistically move in that direction. However after seeing tonight's episode it was very real, and everyone could see how this would become Dwight's life. In fact, after seeing it the thought of him going back to work in the office is almost depressing. It was a beautiful set up and seeing it you can tell it would have been a smooth transition and a hit.

The rest of the episode felt very blah. The minute those cupcakes came out I knew they were laced...come on... its Packer! (Okay, so I had my doubts but it was the way he handed it to Clark and was like... I think you'll really enjoy this...) I was waiting for Jim to get a text saying not to eat the cupcakes! The next morning stories were as boring as can be... give it up writers - you made Andy into too big of a jerk, I will not soften my outlook or dull my disgust with him.

Also, I know that they wouldn't have really worked at the funeral but I was really hoping for at least one of those brief glances at someone that means more to Dwight than he lets on (like Pam or Jim). Though then I would have missed out on that great psych out when he hit Pam in the face, the dirtball, and when he asked Oscar why he was there and he said because he threw red dirt at him the grin on his face when he said "oh yea." Great Dwight moments.
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What a weird effing episode that was.... It just felt completely out of place and seemed like NBC was cheap and decided to throw the pilot in their anyway with a TV show within a TV show type deal. Still Dwight seemed almost like a completely different character in this one. I liked not knowing that much about Dwight’s personal life it made things about his character cooler in this episode he was almost like the leader of the group which just didn't make sense. There were some funny moments in the episode but overall just felt very out of place and very disappointing after a really strong episode a few weeks back.
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It's a shame that this season wasn't in the coffin.
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I thought this episode was a return to form, just thinking about it afterwards it makes me smile. I usually hate Packer but I found him not only tolerable but his stuff resulted in some real funny stuff. And I really liked The Farm stuff, I think it had definite potential and I wish NBC pursued it. The only complaint I have is like you said in the notes they should have done something with Creed afterwards, like shown he was completely unaffected by the cupcakes because his body's already so drug soaked to begin with. Something small would have been fine, it could have taken fifteen seconds and that would be enough time, just a missed opportunity is all.
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I hate to admit I enjoyed the Dwight stuff. I don't know if I'd have been an avid watcher of "The Farm", but I'd have given it a shot. I do think they'd need to abandon the documentary style of "The Office" because I felt that part didn't quite work. Maybe work it more into how "Parks and Recreation" does it, where it feels it's only there part of the time? Not sure. I do think they needed a straight person there to keep the oddballs in check. I thought it may be Dwight's sister (was good to see Majandra Delfino on TV again. Maybe someone else can get her back on TV) but she had some quirks, too. Oscar can't be there every day, but give it a format closer to "Arrested Development" and it maybe could have worked.

Oh well.
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The Dwight storyline felt threadbare, the crazy world Dwight's always talking about doesn't translate well to real life, it feels like a few people standing around doing characters and being nutty on a Hollywood backlot. The California brother and the free spirit sister and her kid were utterly inauthentic to everything though, they were meant to be there only to act as audience surrogates and they stuck out horribly as misfits from the generic casting department.

The Todd Packer storyline was just stupid, this was a gag that telegraphed miles away, Jim even gave it a sideways look, and yet it got past that to deliver a pointless, awkward confrontation of who cares.

As for Creed tripping, he's been there before, it probably didn't even affect him. The fact that Pam isn't calling the cops on Todd is a clumsy misstep, giving them laxative is one joke but giving them illicit and dangerous drugs is entirely dangerous and criminal and way above and beyond.

I think Jim or Pam would have given the camera an "oh my gosh!" big eyeball look during the shotgun blast.

God no the pilot wouldn't have worked, there was nobody an audience wants to spend time with there, and not a rich enough or real enough world to be compelling beyond a single joke. And it wouldn't even be the real Dwight Schrute, the beet farmer who daylights as a paper salesman - that guy works because he's a fish out of water who thinks he's better than everyone from the "big city" of Scranton PA. None of that would remain true had The Farm gotten picked up, so who would he have been then? A big-farm farmer, a surrogate dad, just another wacky hill-people person?
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I actually think it was smart to not have a "Creed tripping" story - both because there's a good chance it wouldn't have measured up to his Creediness (his whole essence has been built upon small lines and reactions rather than really showing all his zany, creep stuff) and because the man's probably tripped and worse a hundred times with better stories.

Also, his numbers-memory thing is actually great. I'm sure a lot of people just nodded their heads and moved on like it was a slightly throw-away, unfunny line - but it's a bit of a smirker if/when you do realize he's a salesperson (it's not like we really ever see him doing anything - but it's funny to think he thinks he's an accountant).
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But he is not a "salesperson". Creed does quality assurance.
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I'd watch Majandra Delfino on television again. She's one of the few actors from "Roswell" that should have worked again.
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Dwight has always been my favorite character, so I could watch him all day.
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I thought it would blow, but now I'm sad there's not more. Dwight as the manager of the office could never have worked, but Dwight as the king of a beet farm, other family members to balance him out... from what I saw, it seemed lot it would have had a lot of heart if it had been allowed to thrive. Like the show would finally have been laughing with Dwight instead of at him. In fact, it seemed like it would have made a great companion to Parks and Rec; it had more in common with that than it does with The Office.
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That's a good point about the tone of "The Farm." It did feel more like an episode of Parks and Recreation than one of the The Office. I'm not sure if it was the twee feeling that it gives off, the warm fuzzies it wanted to work so badly, or just the small-town/rural community around this close-knit neighborhood of Pennsylvania farms. But there was definitely something about it that made it feel more like they were in Pawnee than outside Scranton.
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I was expecting way more from this and was very disappointed. Many seasons ago this would have worked but the writing is terrible now. I had usually loved the farm based stuff but they blew it this time. The Packer cupcake stuff was abysmal. Let's see, at least we have only 5 eps about before it's all over. Then time to go back and watch it when it was great and rid myself of this last season. I'll actually give last season a break but thought that was bad but nothing beats all of this year.
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I thought this episode was fantastic.
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The Farm sounded like a pretty bad idea as a spin-off/continuation of The Office, but after seeing this episode, all doubt is removed. Dwight works good as the odd man out at the office, but as the centerpiece to an all oddball cast? not so much. with a brand new never before mentioned extended family, (I thought the sister was supposed to be the normal one popping in to "remember" what these odd traditions mean but it just didn't His Aunt who we just saw living in a small house in a small neighborhood a couple episode back now has a 60+ are farm to leave the whole family? (as long as they get back together for wacky hijinks) they're not even trying to stick with the story, just pulling ideas out of a hat and hoping something sticks.



Dwight needs the normal atmosphere to work, he needs a foil like Jim to work, heading up a clan of brain damaged inbreeds was just sad to watch.



The B-story of packer coming back was just as bad but thankfully a lot shorter. any episode with Packer is already dragging for me to so make him the center of the side story in this farm episode was just an anchor dragging this story all the way down. the only thing sadder than The Office wrapping it up is them wrapping it up like this. this show deserved better as it painfully crawls to the finish line.
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Keep in mind the Friends spinoff attempt "Joey."
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Must I?
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