Successfully spinning off a beloved TV show is trickier than it seems. For every Frasier or The Jeffersons, there’s an AfterMASH, The Ropers, or — perhaps most infamously of all — Joey.
It makes sense, then, for networks to hedge their bets by airing episodes of existing shows that serve as “backdoor pilots” for potential spinoffs. The Cosby Show did it when the Huxtable clan went to see Denise at Hillman College, setting up A Different World; Grey’s Anatomy did it when Addison took a trip to California, visiting the Private Practice she’d eventually join. And last night, The Office did it by setting half of the action at Schrute Farms, where audiences were introduced to a few heretofore unseen members of Dwight’s family — including his weed farmer brother Jeb (Thomas Middlemarch), his single mom sister Fannie (Majandra Delfino), and his bearded cousin Zeke (Matt Jones, a.k.a. Badger on Breaking Bad).
The Dwight plot revolved around the beet-farmer-turned-paper-salesman attending his Aunt Shirley’s funeral, an event marked (naturally) by weird Schrute family rituals. Partway through the episode, a video message from Shirley herself revealed that she was leaving her own farm to Dwight and his siblings. The half-hour ended with the trio stepping up, ready to take on the enormous responsibility of managing their departed aunt’s land.
We’ll never see what shenanigans they get into on the farm, though — because in October, NBC officially passed on the spinoff. At the time, this seemed absolutely the correct choice; the right time for an Office spinoff passed long ago, and an entire show around Dwight’s forced antics sounded exhausting. Having finally seen what The Farm might have been, though, I wonder if your mind has been changed at all. Sure, there was still far too much emphasis on ridiculous Schrute customs — the crow’s beak method of courting, that “dirt in the face” thing from the cold open — but the cast did seem appealing. And if nothing else, they do sing beautifully together.
So tell me: If The Farm had been picked up, would you have tuned in?