Review: ‘The Office’ – ‘The Farm’

A review of last night’s “The Office” coming up just as soon as this blog spins off into one about Myles McNutt…

As you probably know, “The Farm” was made as a backdoor pilot(*) for a spin-off about Dwight, to star Rainn Wilson and be run by Paul Lieberstein. NBC declined to order “The Farm” to series, and Greg Daniels decided to retrofit it(**) into a slightly more traditional episode of “The Office.”

(*) TV 101, for those who don’t know: a backdoor pilot is a case of turning an episode of a popular series into a test case for a new series, sometimes built around a pre-existing character on the original show (on “Grey’s Anatomy,” Addison moves to California and joins her friends’ private practice), sometimes built around entirely new characters (“JAG” hero Harmon Rabb gets investigated by a team from NCIS). TVTropes, of course, has a pretty good list of examples.

(**) He also seeded earlier episodes this season with characters from “The Farm,” including cousin Zeke and Dwight’s aunt.

I don’t know what the original version of “The Farm” looked like, but if I had to guess, I would think the dirt-throwing teaser was the only real time spent at Dunder-Mifflin, and that the Todd Packer cupcake story was added just to give the rest of the cast something to do. Whatever its origins, I’ve not really been a fan of any post-Michael Scott appearances of Packer, who really only worked as a foil for Michael – and even then only in the show’s early days. (The further Michael moved away from being like David Brent, the harder it was to buy his idolatry of an American version of Finchy.) And Kevin’s insistence on eating Pam’s cupcake after he knew it was laced was yet another example of how the show has completely sold out that character in search of any and all laughs.

And perhaps in the episode’s original form, it did a better job of introducing and fleshing out the other members of Dwight’s family who would come to join him on the farm. (And perhaps also explained why Mose wouldn’t be around frequently, other than Mike Schur’s busy schedule and hatred of false neckbeards.) In this version, though, they were barely sketches, which meant the burden was shifted entirely onto Dwight. And what this episode (or this version of it) demonstrated is that, as good as Rainn Wilson has been for so long in this role, you can’t build a series around Dwight in this context. As a surreal, occasional accent on the mundane world of “The Office,” Dwight’s beet farm and the weird Schrute family traditions can be incredibly funny. As the center of a show, though, I reacted to it in much the way Oscar did when Dwight started pumping shotgun rounds into the coffin. Even the scene where Dwight teaches his nephew how to milk an animal, while humanizing, wasn’t enough to compensate for the cartoonishness elsewhere.

What did everybody else think? Are you sad that we’ll never see more of “The Farm,” or do you think this episode demonstrated that NBC made the right call?