Tonight is the episode of The Office that I’ve been waiting for: “The Farm.” This is the pilot for the defunct Dwight spin-off, the news of which led to the Internet being chock-full of references to the classic Simpsons episode, “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase.” When NBC decided not to pick up the show, the producers opted to re-purpose it into a conventional episode of The Office. And here we are.
I was wondering how they were going to present it. If it was going to feature the documentary crew pitching it to producers as a follow-up now that their original project is over and Dwight is the most viable lead for a new series? (The Office being one of the few shows that can conceivably handle a backdoor pilot in a quasi-logical way, especially now that we’ve seen the people behind the camera.) Or if it was just going to be awkwardly shoehorned into a conventional Office framework. Of course, if they took the former tactic, they’d need to wait nine years to air it because The Office would be a prequel to the more “modern” Farm being broadcast simultaneously. It might be very disconcerting (or quite innovative) to show one character literally a decade older, probably airing against himself a half hour apart. Not to mention, through The Farm, viewers would probably learn what happens to characters from the original series long before they reached their destinations on the main program. “Jim and Pam do get together,” audiences would say happily. “Who’s Andy?” they’d query. Unfortunately, The Office chose the latter method.
The most important thing to remember about backdoor pilots is that they aren’t for current viewers. They’re for future generations who will be watching the series in syndication and wonder “why is Married with Children suddenly about Felicity (or Elizabeth Jennings, if you’re prefer to be more contemporary) running a college radio show?” (“Radio Free Trumaine,” S9E24) or “why is Webster focused on a retired country singer running a foster home?” (“Almost Home,” S3E21). Now let’s see how “The Farm” (previously The Farm) continues this tradition, and if Dwight moves into his own apartment with two sexy ladies.
It’s always hard to judge a show by the quality of its pilot. This becomes even more difficult when it has horrible and obvious editing to include a subplot completely unconnected to the show itself. (Yes, “The Farm” contains a decent-sized B-plot of office antics.) I’d like to say that from first impression The Farm is bad, but I think that would be unfair considering how the extent of office material clearly disrupted the flow and tone of the pilot. However, from the little we did see, I can say it seems to have a little potential. Definitely not worth saving or protecting, but not worthy of disdain.
The genesis of The Farm comes from the death of Dwight’s Aunt Shirley. From his co-workers, he only invites Oscar to the funeral, which leads to the episode’s biggest laugh- that if this got picked up, it’s likely that Oscar, of all people, would have been its “keep at least one eye open because his best friends, the Simpsons, just might pop in to wish him luck.” At the funeral is Dwight’s too-attractive brother Jeb (Thomas Middleditch) from California; his too-attractive sister Fanny (Majandra Delfino) from Philadelphia; Fanny’s nerdy bastard son (name not in press release); his cousin Zeke (Matt Jones), whom we previously met in “Junior Salesman;” Mose; and other various Schrutes and Schrute relations.
After learning about Those Crazy Schrutes! and their crazy funeral rituals (such as blasting the corpse with a shotgun to ensure death), we go to Aunt Shirley’s video will. A video will seems out of place considering how we just spent an entire scene showing how weird and old timey the traditions of the entire family (save for Fanny and Jeb) are. Regardless, it serves its purpose as ridiculously blatant exposition. Don’t know who Fanny and Jeb are? Well, one is a “street pusher” (pot farmer) and the other is “a single mama in the city!” What’s the point of this series? “If you come back home, I will leave you my farm.” Thank you dead Aunt Shirley.
While Jeb is enthusiastic about the idea, Fanny is hesitant. She’s an overachieving city gal into city things, but seems primarily concerned with an inability find a husband in the sticks, which totally makes her an empowered female. (That this element is brought up makes me wonder if a husband character was in the initial version of the episode but was cut out.) However, after her son shakes hands with Dwight, she decides to stay, because I guess he never bonded with anyone or something. Maybe Dwight would have become her new lover.
The episode concludes with a typical pilot “the adventure’s just beginning” ending. As the Schrutes look across their land, Fanny says, “Whoever’s managing this thing is going to have a hell of a job!” The two siblings claim “Not it!” as Dwight, staring magnificently across his acreage, proudly declares “It.” It’s no “Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go, sir.” … “Oh no, number one. I’m sure most will be much more interesting,” but I enjoyed the cheesiness. The scene even has what I assume would have been the series’ horrible theme song, which ups the corniness but in a strangely good way.
A problem with The Farm would have been the Schrutes heritage. The Office did a mostly decent job of keeping it in the background and throwing out new information relatively sparingly. This episode placed such a heavy emphasis on their zaniness that I wondered if The Farm’s writers might feel constantly compelled to play a “what’s the craziest thing we can do?” game. It would take away from the novelty of Schrute weirdness, and while it was never entirely realistic, this would push it a lot further into goofy rather than warped. Additionally, from what we know of Dwight and Mose’s upbringing, there would be no way that Jeb and Fanny could have come from that household. Maybe one could have run away early and appear normal (though psychologically damaged), but both of them are far too sane and commonplace.
Back at Dunder Mifflin, Todd Packer returns. Claiming to be in recovery for alcoholism and narcotics addiction, he also says he’s in the step where he apologizes for all his wrongdoings. To get forgiveness, he brings everyone cupcakes from the best cupcake store in town. However, he also asks for amends through backhanded compliments. Everyone wants to eat the cupcakes, but Pam doesn’t trust him because he’s still mean.
In the conference room, she convinces everyone not to give him the satisfaction of eating the cupcakes. Unfortunately, no one in the scene accuses Pam of treating a man who has hit rock bottom poorly. After all, he might be naturally rude, but that doesn’t mean he’s not trying to improve himself. All they care about is the cupcakes. Also unfortunately, Pam doesn’t bring up the idea that along with faking his recovery, he might have laced the cupcakes with something…, which is precisely what he did. But they agree with Pam and hold off on consumption until he leaves.
When Pam, the only one who didn’t eat her cupcake, returns to the office the next day, everyone is hungover-ish and telling horrible stories of what the drugs (“some legal, some illegal”) did to them. (Thrice unfortunately, we don’t learn Creed’s response.) This segment closes with Packer bringing cupcakes to Darryl and Jim in Philadelphia at Athlead. Maybe this entire venture was to float Todd Packer in Spite-Filled Vengeance. Now that has spin-off potential.
• The editing of The Farm was particularly egregious in the scene in the middle where Dwight tries to convince Fanny to stay on board. Her body and head position switches so often that it’s obvious a lot of bits were cut out.
• Why wouldn’t Dwight invite Angela to the funeral?
• During the “What Happened Last Night” sequence, we cut to Andy and Kevin having zany adventures in the office, such as trying on each other’s clothing and crying into each other’s arms. These scenes are a lot dimmer and greyer than the “present” scenes, and I don’t think the show ever used that trick before on “flashbacks.” I guess they needed the guiding hand of Brian the Creepy Mic Guy to hold back on that pretentiousness.
• Zeke, easily the best potential Farm cast member, probably had the line of the night with “Dwight was the cool one and Mose was the visionary so I had to be the comedian.”
• To the best of my knowledge, we do not see Uncle Nazi
• I hope that over the next few episodes Dwight talking heads plot descriptions from potential Farm episodes. “This week, Fanny and Jeb tried to use a new thresher. Meanwhile, Zeke taught Child how to make friends at school.”