When I think of The Office’s past party-themed episodes, I think of Michael humiliating himself, almost ruining everything, then somehow pulling everyone together in a brief but sincere moment of Dunder Mifflin unity. Mostly I just think of “Christmas Party” from season two, when he buys a bunch of booze after the Secret Santa game turns sour and Pam almost doesn’t get her special teapot present from Jim. Party episodes always involve some level of drama, too – Jan smashing a flat screen TV with a Dundie award, a wasted Meredith exposing her breasts to Michael, Michael disconnecting Gabe’s cable in a jealous fit over him and Glee – but in last night’s episode “Garden Party,” the only real drama is Andy’s continual struggle to find confidence.
In “Garden Party,” Andy hosts a party at Schrute Farms in attempt to impress his visiting brother and parents, played by Josh Groban, Stephen Collins, and Dee Wallace in probably one of the least buzzed-about triple cameos in recent Office history. Groban did fine as Andy’s much more comfortable and confident brother, Collins played an excellent distant tough love-style father, and Dee Wallace either played a good repressed mother or didn’t have enough lines. I found the guest stars slightly underwhelming save for the scene when Andy passive-aggressively demands his dad sing a duet with him in front of everyone (“I’m eating Andy,” Mr. Bernard complains, but when egged on, he’s happy to put Andy in his place by showing what real harmonies are with Groban as Walter Jr.). Andy’s dad looks down on him because Andy cares that he’s being looked down upon – Michael’s narcissist hijinks from past seasons were at least “adult” on some level, but Andy is still trying to shoehorn his father into some after-school mold. I guess there’s not much about a stuffy perfectionist family that inspires immediate excitement. I’m not sure whether the opportunity to show Andy’s family was not used to its full potential or just too sad for me to find amusing, but I did appreciate the scene where he preps everyone in the office with a list of garden party rules – “No burping, no slurping. When you’re eating, small bites and chew with your mouth closed.” “What happens when we’re done chewing?” Darryl asks. “Do we spit it out on the floor or keep it in our mouths the rest of the time?”
There were plenty of memorable, however disconnected moments in this episode, like watching Mose speed Toby’s car into a cornfield, Oscar being forced to realize Darryl may know more about Citizen Kane than he does, a crow swooping down and snatching Erin’s fancy party hat, Dwight’s “courtly dance” and other official garden party etiquette as masterminded by another prank by Jim, and Ryan and Kevin (wearing a toupeé for the fancy occasion) on the see-saw: “It’s not broken Kevin, this is how it works.” My favorite part was the toast scene, which starts with Andy toasting to all and candidly referring to himself as “the boss man” in earshot of his parents but also everyone else including Robert. Darryl, maybe still bitter with Andy from last week, stands up and toasts to Robert, then it all unravels with Angela and Pam toasting to their soon-to-be-babies (both named Phillip – Pam after her grandfather and Angela after her cat), Ryan toasting to “all troops,” and more toasts for Robert from Kevin and Gabe. This scene had great pacing, cast participation, and came to a perfect end with Robert California toasting to his employees and calling his job “the easiest job in the world,” which is the only time Andy’s parents look impressed at all. It’s no stretch to say that Robert California and Andy’s father are the only real adults of this episode.
Over the past few weeks on The Office, Andy has passed several checkpoints on his road to proving himself as a good Dunder Mifflin manager. First it was the way he admirably stuck up for Robert California’s list of losers in “The List,” then it was the way he pushed the office to double their sales numbers in “The Incentive,” and the way he handled Darryl’s frustration about not getting the manager position in last week’s episode “Lotto” was one of the best moments yet this season. “Garden Party” was packed with a lot of great little moments from characters I’ve been missing (finally some Ryan, Kelly, Gabe, and even Mose!), and it addressed the source of Andy’s awkwardness – an unhealthy need for pride and approval from his father. Once he learns that approval will come when he stops begging for it, he’ll be on the road to Robert California-like wisdom. For now though, he’s got as much dignity as an offensively defaced billboard.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.