Despite a lame cold open involving the office fretting over a dog locked in a car with the windows up (but the sunroof open), tonight’s The Office was one of its best episodes in a long while. Possibly in seasons. The characters are dialed back, the scenarios are down to earth, and the episode features some of the sad reality that made this show better than the typical workplace sitcom at its genesis.
Entitled Lotto, the episode proper begins with the warehouse crew winning the lottery via office pool. Six people win barely $100,000 a piece (before taxes), and, unbelievably, they all quit. Unfortunately, warehouse foreman Darryl stopped contributing to the pool once he moved upstairs and lost his chance to win the money, which sends him into a depression. The main plot revolves around Darryl, who must consider where he is in life while being unwilling/unable to hire a new warehouse staff. His relationship with Andy also takes center stage as the new branch manager needs to talk to Darryl about his issues since lacking a warehouse staff affects the performance of the office as a whole.
Later Darryl warns a conference room full of warehouse worker applicants, “Don’t just take the first job that comes your way ’cause next thing you know, it’s ten years later and you’re still there. … Think about this carefully. There’s better lives than this one.” After that, Darryl pleads with Andy to fire him, and Andy refuses because he doesn’t really know what Darryl really wants.
At the end of the episode, Darryl and Andy have a blow up where Darryl confesses that he wants Andy’s job. He is still bitter since he believes that he was next in line and could do the role better than the new boss. In response, Andy offers legitimate answers as to why Darryl didn’t get the job, such as his lack of business experience and lack of initiative. (As he explains it, the former CEO who first recognized Darryl’s talents also noticed that he “stopped pushing.”) Darryl realizes that Andy’s right and, in a talking head moment, explains: “My future’s not going to be determined by seven little white lotto balls, it’s going to be determined by two big black balls. I control my destiny.”
This plot could have been treated as Darryl whining and Andy giving a pep talk that convinces him to keep on trucking. Instead, Craig Robinson, Ed Helms, episode writer Charlie Grandy, and episode director John Krasinski treat this storyline with actual sincerity. Robinson doesn’t perform Darryl as someone with shock-eyed hopelessness with a need to break stuff or take out his aggression, but as a man fed up with what his life has become. His line about destiny isn’t about appreciating what you have or hoping that things will get better, but believing that things might get better. Maybe. With some work. Helms, whom I’ve previously criticized as being too bombastic as Andy Bernard, tones down his character significantly. He is not the “Nard Dog,” but someone who acts like a boss, not the star of his own show. When Andy realizes that he needs to help his friend and co-worker (for both their sakes), he doesn’t try to involve the entire office in making his colleague feel better, he goes about it on his own and unapologetically forces Darryl to face truths about himself.
Elsewhere in the office…. The B-plot. Because Phyllis has a very important client who needs its order shipped by the end of the day, Andy requests volunteers for warehouse duty. They are Erin, Dwight, Jim, Kevin (who complains, although he originally applied to be a warehouse worker). Now that Jim has mostly moved beyond tormenting Dwight, the episodes where those two are friend-ish tend to work the best for both characters. They form a camaraderie based on mutual smugness, and in tonight’s episode, they share a good moment commiserating by speaking condescendingly about the former warehouse crew before remembering the cameras and trying to cover it up with pathetic euphemisms that praise “physical intelligence.”
As expected, this crew is incredibly poor at lifting boxes onto trucks. Dwight (who, considering his farm life, probably should know better) drives a forklift into a wall and none of the four know about the manual lift, so they decide to do it one box at a time. Realizing the countless man-hours it would take to complete this task, they adopt Kevin’s idea and grease the floor so they can slide several boxes to the truck at one time. They call this system ‘Señor Loadenstein,’ “porque,” as Jim explains, “es muy rapido.” The four receive a dressing down by Andy and Darryl due to the destruction of property and inefficiency of this method. This sequence, surprisingly, also works and calls to mind episodes like season’s 2 Office Olympics where we see how the officemates try to have fun and pass the time while doing incredibly mundane work. Nevertheless, Phyllis loses her client.
In a C-plot, Jim and Pam discuss what they would do if they won the money. Jim wants to move to Maine and own a bike or kayak shop, Pam wants to move to a townhouse in Soho (which they probably couldn’t get for $1 million), so they try to compromise on what they want out of a fantasy life. It sounds like the type of sickeningly sweet Jim and Pam nonsense we’ve had to put up with since they got together, but it’s not that bad. It doesn’t take up a lot of screen time, and it’s not done just to show how cute they are together.
• When Pam discusses her dream, Ryan says, “Soho’s mostly lofts, but okay.” It’s a good line that plays to the strength of his pretentiousness.
• I do realize that at the start of the episode Darryl had not made any calls towards hiring a new warehouse crew. At the start of the second break, presumably before lunch on the same day, the conference room is full of potential applicants.
• Erin and Kevin also share a nice moment in the warehouse that actually gives Kevin back some of his lost humanity.
• During the closing, we get what Creed and Toby would do if they won the lottery. Both answers (Creed already winning the lottery because he was born in the U.S. of A. and having hold of a Swiss passport, and Toby planning to launch a true crime podcast) fit the characters and thankfully lack the over-the-top dream quality one would expect based on how this show has gotten