“Sometimes I feel like everyone I work with is an idiot. And by sometimes, I mean all times. All the times. Every of the time.”
You know The Office has truly turned itself inside-out when the only character left with any real lasting intelligence is Kevin, and that was the case in last night’s episode “Fundraiser” which, despite a few tiny funny moments, turned out to be one of the most lackluster episodes this season. Sure, it had (as always) a strong cold open when Ryan brags about being the first one to read a news item about Smokey Robinson’s death that turns out to be a hoax, or Oscar’s continued gaydar tests with the senator, or when Nellie attempts to eat her very first taco, but with too much extended focus on Andy and it being yet another “outing” episode (Robert’s mansion, Andy’s family party, trivia night, Florida…too many trips, not enough work!), last night on The Office seemed to wobble by without much focus.
As if things haven’t gotten meta enough this season (see Toby’s admission that he has no power over inappropriate office antics last week), “Fundraiser” was all about cluelessness, between Oscar misinterpreting his conversation with the senator as flirtation, Dwight having no idea what “silent auction” means and accidentally making over $34,000 worth of winning bids, and Andy thinking that adopting twelve elderly dogs will convince his former coworkers and himself that he’s totally not having a mental and emotional breakdown after having been fired by Robert. If it weren’t for Kevin’s gems of clearheaded knowledge, “Fundraiser” probably would have been a much more grueling view, but thanks to him at least there was some logical thinking, like when Andy says that taking in a dozen old dogs on a whim is the best thing he’s ever done and he’s doing great. “He’s not doing good, he was fired,” Kevin says. “This is terrible. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, not the best.” When Erin tries to comfort Andy by telling him he’s okay, Kevin cuts in again: “No, no he’s not.”
A smaller takeaway from “Fundraiser” was the much quieter arc between Nellie and Darryl, where Darryl’s contempt for Nellie slowly turns into acceptance and maybe even bemused tolerance. All it takes are two interactions – when they chat in Nellie’s office and she learns where the warehouse is really located (yes, it really is downstairs), and when she says she wants “real food” at the fancy auction dinner so Darryl makes a trip to “Taco Hut” for her then breaks a smile when she attempts to vertically shove it into her mouth (she admits to the camera beforehand that she’s never eaten one and hopes that “please God, don’t let them have eyes”). One-by-one, Nellie is beginning to share sincere connections with all of her employees while Robert has faded more and more into the background to prepare for his already-announced exit at the end of this season.
But even Nellie couldn’t save this one like she did last week. “Fundraiser” ends up feeling like more of a check-in than a story – we just get to watch Pam and Jim chuckle at Dwight’s unexpected ignorance about how silent auctions work, and we’re meant to smirk along as proud and peppy Angela declares that the auction is “going to be a who’s-who of the northern 22nd district.” Yeah, I guess it’s cute that everyone at Dunder Mifflin ends up adopting all of Andy’s dogs and Andy’s happy about it but still not rehired as the boss or even a salesman, but with only two episodes left this season, The Office will really need to pack a punch into these next two weeks to make up for last night. You could even look at “Fundraiser” as an apology to fans where The Office uses the 12 old dogs as an analogy for the mindset of their cast and writers, who have spent plenty of years soothing their emotionally taxed Thursday night fans but are just…so…tired, and incontinent these days. Sometimes I’d swear these old dogs have more than a few tricks left to keep us laughing, but sometimes euthanasia seems humane for all concerned, except Nellie! Please let her run wild as in weeks of old!
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.