I have already done Top 10 lists for two TV shows that I loved dearly growing up, but very few shows in more recent years have brought me as much continued joy and laughter as THE OFFICE.
This is going to be about the American version of the show…but I do want to the stress that the BBC version is an absolute masterpiece. It is just very much in the realm of cynical British comedy and with a relatively small amount of episodes, each episode felt like a gem.
Our version is certainly more happy and joyful despite having a cringe-worthy quality at times, but it did start to improve during its second season when they made important changes to the character of Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and altered the tone to be a little more perky and less brash like it was during the first season of 6 episodes.
I haven’t had a show make me laugh as much as THE OFFICE no matter how many times I have revisited it over the years (and that has probably been nearly a dozen times).
What episodes are the ones I would consider to be the ultimate selection amongst the comedy gold?
The Search (Season 7)
Beach Games (Season 3)
Broke (Season 5)
Did I Stutter? (Season 4)
The Seminar (Season 7)
#10-GOODBYE, MICHAEL (Season 7) Written by Greg Daniels
The only real nitpick I have about this episode is the structure of having Pam leave the office in the afternoon to run errands only to go see THE KING’S SPEECH….the timeline of this doesn’t work, but oh well….I will let it slide.
Michael Scott’s journey had been surprisingly heartwarming. This was a man who had often been immature and inappropriate and lacking self-awareness…and yet there was always this side of him that made me pity him. It might sound like a cliche but this was still a person who just wanted to be loved and give love to someone….a journey I think truly began way back in Season 2’s TAKE YOUR DAUGHTER TO WORK DAY when we witness his childhood plea for a hundred kids so he could have a hundred friends that can’t say no to him.
Having Holly come back was an expected ending for him (and one that I was passionately thrilled about at the time and remain to be so…as evidenced by the fact that two of my honorable mentions are also “Holly’s back” episodes).
Steve Carell never won an Emmy for his portrayal of Michael Scott, which is a crime…especially when around the same time period they showered Emmys upon Jim Parsons when one for that character may have sufficed. The Emmys always vote based on episode submissions…but a lot of time, politics and other factors (along with taste) don’t always make the best winner reign victorious.
Carell joins a group of actors who never managed to win for their truly iconic performances like Jason Alexander on SEINFELD, Garry Shandling for THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, Marcia Cross for DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, Jane Kaczmarek for MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE, and Martin Sheen for THE WEST WING.
#9-FUN RUN (Season 4) Written by Greg Daniels
I remember when this episode first aired. I was about a month into my freshman year of college and adjusting to this brand new stage of my life while also trying to accept so many things about myself.
It was just so nice to be able to sit down and watch the show after feeling so anxious about my life at that moment.
This is the episode that began with Michael hitting Meredith with his car and thus cracking her pelvis…and discovering that she was actually recently exposed to rabies thanks to a certain incident involving Dwight, a bat loose in the office, a garbage bag, and Meredith’s head.
By this point in the series, it almost felt like Meredith wasn’t as fully focused on or defined as a character….Creed may have been less so but I feel like that was the point of Creed as a character.
With Michael wanting to use this opportunity to make it about himself, he organizes a 5K run “for the cure” of rabies….though most of the donation money ends up going towards the enlarged check Michael insists on using for the presentation.
This is also the episode in which we officially see that Jim and Pam are now finally dating…with narration provided by Kevin in one of his best scenes before he realizes the two are actually dating: “PB&J…PAM BEESLY & JIM! What a waste….WHAT A WASTE!”
#8-LECTURE CIRCUIT (Season 5) Written by Mindy Kaling
While Amy Ryan doesn’t appear as Holly, this episode does tie back into Michael’s very erratic year in season 5 after CFO David Wallace sent Holly back to Nashua upon hearing about her relationship with Michael.
I feel like this two-part episode isn’t always mentioned on lists like these but like I’ve said, I am a sucker for the character of Holly even if she is only indirectly involved here PLUS this episode shows the always fascinating relationship between Michael and Pam…which gets set up here very well in the weeks leading up to when she quits her receptionist job to go work for Michael.
Michael is asked to go speak at various Dunder Mifflin branches due to his (somewhat bewildering) success at the request of David Wallace and Pam has been tasked to drive him around. On a whim, she convinces Michael they should drive to Nashua so he can get closure from Holly. It turns out that Holly is also on her own business trip but the receptionist recommends they talk to A.J., Holly’s boyfriend.
Season 5 is such a great season for Steve Carell. He starts it with pure happy abandon, ends up getting heartbroken at Holly’s departure, has so much resentment towards David Wallace for that departure, hates the involvement of new boss Charles (Idris freaking Elba), and then culminating in him quitting his job to start his own company. I have always viewed this episode as the tentpole of the season for that reason.
A lot of the subplots in this episode are quite fun, too:
-Andy awkwardly trying to get with Stanley’s attractive client and failing.
-Kelly’s birthday is overlooked so Dwight and Jim hastily plan a party for her.
-Angela’s nanny cam reveals her even more bizarre relationship with her cats.
#7-GAY WITCH HUNT (Season 3) Written by Greg Daniels
Greg Daniels helped develop THE OFFICE for American TV, and he had a background writing for SNL during its golden age (1986-1993) and then joined THE SIMPSONS during its peak (and writing FANTASTIC episodes such as “Bart Sells His Soul”) before co-creating KING OF THE HILL.
He served as showrunner on THE OFFICE for the first four seasons and then came back for its final season (helping devise the strained Jim/Pam relationship that helped that season somewhat improve after the rather disappointing Season 8).
Several OFFICE writers were great but Daniels never often gets his due, and I feel like this was his crown jewel episode.
Michael, being Michael, makes a rather offensive gay joke and in the process, outs Oscar to the entire office which was something that Oscar never intended to actually do. The scene involving Michael kissing Oscar (an improvised bit) is certainly an iconic moment for the show, to say the least.
This episode was also key for being the first episode to feature Jim working at the Stamford branch following the downfall of confessing his feeling to Pam in the 2nd Season finale CASINO NIGHT and while the dynamic is a little bit wonky at first, we do warm up to those sequences and to the characters of Karen and, to a lesser extent, Andy, whose character will be reworked later on to make him somewhat more bearable.
#6-THE INJURY (Season 2) Written by Mindy Kaling
An episode like THE INJURY is a truly perfect example of how we may find someone like Michael Scott to be absolutely hilarious but if this person actually existed and we WORKED with him, we would probably all go mad.
I used to have a George Foreman grill and any time I used it, I would immediately think of this episode. Michael calls the office in agony saying he needs help because he burned his foot…only to reveal it got clamped in his George Foreman grill while preparing his morning bacon.
MICHAEL SCOTT: “I enjoy having breakfast in bed. I like waking up to the smell of bacon, sue me…and since I don’t have a butler, I have to do it myself!”
Dwight, being the loyal friend to Michael that he is, rushes to go “save” Michael only getting into a car accident that leaves him with a crippling concussion…and yet, Michael is the one who still feels like he is the one in the most pain: “a bloody stump of a foot”.
This was Steve Carell’s Emmy submission for Season 2…and he lost…but it is a classic performance.
#5-GOODBYE, TOBY (Season 4) Written by Jennifer Celotta & Paul Leiberstein
Co-written by Toby himself, GOODBYE TOBY was a big episode as the titular arch enemy of Michael (basically a one-sided hatred) has decided to quit his job with HR and move to Costa Rica.
Toby’s replacement is Holly Flax, played by Amy Ryan…and whom I’ve already gushed about on this post. At first, Michael views Holly as a villain since she is going to be the killjoy replacement but soon realizes she has quite the quirky sense of humor. In fact, the first time Michael realizes this (as they trade Yoda impersonations) I remember beaming at the screen at watching what was sure to be a very lovely relationship.
Amy Ryan getting this role was pure gold. I had already been a fan of her due to her extensive theatrical background, not to mention her excellent Oscar nominated performance in GONE BABY GONE and her memorable turn as Beadie on the brilliant HBO series THE WIRE when she came on in the second season and left an impression despite the fact that season greatly pissed people off at the time.
This episode eventually culminates in a massive party complete with a Ferris Wheel and Darryl’s band that Michael funded with his special “shoe money” and also a wedding proposal to Angela from Andy when we had suspected it to be Jim proposing to Pam.
They do try to tease us with a possible suspicion that Michael might jump back into something with Jan (which infuriated me at the time…lol) because she got pregnant via artificial insemination and knowing Michael’s desire to have a child, she toys with him to possibly join their family.
GOODBYE TOBY was Steve Carell’s Emmy submission for Season 4….and he lost to freaking Jim Parsons…
#4-STRESS RELIEF (Season 5) Written by Paul Leiberstein
“SAVE BANDIT!!!!!” “BARACK IS PRESIDENT!!!”
Airing immediately following that year’s Super Bowl, it was only fitting that the show needed to go big. Thus was the birth of the craziest opening to the show in its history: Dwight catches a bundle of rags on fire in a garbage can and then seals the office off to see how well the gang reacts to the crisis……it doesn’t go well….and it leads to Stanley having a heart attack.
Scenes like this only further pushed forth how insane it was that an office environment like this was responsible for the greatest success within the company of Dunder Mifflin.
The CPR sequence with references to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or the fake movie featuring Jack Black and Cloris Leachman in a rather bizarre May/December love affair also make for a classic backdrop….but it all builds to Michael wanted to stage a roasting of himself a la The Friars’ Club…which ends up becoming more vicious than anyone even realized it would….
#3-THE DUNDIES (Season 2) Written by Mindy Kaling
After coming off of the rather uneven abbreviated first season, the 2nd season opener was a crucial episode in that it had to show that any changes being made to the show were almost immediately apparent.
“The Dundies” is easily one of the quickest and most impressive turnarounds I’ve seen on a TV series….so much so that whenever I do a rewatch of THE OFFICE, I skip the first season. In fact, aside from the first two episodes of the series, I don’t I’ve seen episodes 3-6 in over a decade. Honestly, I probably owe them a rewatch.
This episode really drives home the idea of a Michael Scott that we find insufferable but we also see signs of a man who truly wants to be loved and perhaps does have a soul in there. They even go as far to change Steve Carell’s appearance by making him dress a little nicer (including unbuttoning his top collar button to prevent from giving him a fatter looking neck) and styling his hair to look more full of life as opposed to how it was slicked back to the point where he looked both like he had a receding hairline and could double as a used car saleman.
“The Dundies” is an episode that managed to find the right balance of cringe and a sense of heart…which definitely worked a lot better as it was apparent that this staff/cast weren’t going to be to match the bleaker energy that the BBC version had (no one can do dry, uncomfortable humor like the Brits…and the original OFFICE is a masterpiece).
One last thing…this episode makes me miss Chili’s. They aren’t really around much in the city and it is one of the only major chain restaurants I actually miss. I guess I can go try to find a new place to feel the spirit of God.
#2-CASINO NIGHT (Season 2) Written by Steve Carell
“TOBY: Actually, I didn’t think it was appropriate to invite children, since it’s uh, you know, there’s gambling and alcohol, it’s in our dangerous warehouse, it’s a school night, and you know, Hooter’s is catering, and is that- is that enough? Should I keep going?
MICHAEL: Why are you the way that you are? Honestly, every time I try to do something fun, or exciting, you make it… not that way. I hate… so much about the things that you choose to be.”
There had been little signs over that season and a half of a rather odd energy between the Regional Manager and his Head of HR. A truly legendary (though mainly one-sided) feud between Michael Scott and Toby Flenderson seems to spark a flame here that never ceases to burn out (except for the brief period Toby is in Costa Rica).
Aside from that moment, this episode (penned by Carell himself) gives us the moment where Jim finally confesses his feelings to Pam but she cannot make herself leave her fiance Roy for him…and then their secretive kiss to serve as the season cliffhanger.
This is the primary backdrop for Michael’s ill-conceived Casino Night in which he wants to have the proceeds go towards the defunct Comic Relief organization that Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and the late (god, it never ceases to hurt to say or type that) Robin Williams. He then opts to promote “Afghanistanis with AIDS”, which is a kind of brilliant in its specificity and dark tone.
To further add to all of this, Michael has spent the season bouncing between his boss Jan and his realtor Carol (played by his real life wife and SNL alum Nancy Walls-Carell)…and ends up in a situation where he has both coming to the event as his date. This is a concept that was done to death on sitcoms but thankfully, Carell only makes it a mostly minor event in the grand scheme.
#1-DINNER PARTY (Season 4)
What if Michael and Jan were a modern day George and Martha from WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
That is what DINNER PARTY taps into and it manages to be hilarious and awkward and difficult and tense all at once…and it finally brings the rather erratic and mismatched relationship of Michael and Jan to an end.
I feel like this episode sort of crept up on everybody, including me. When it aired, I sort of remember marveling at it but also not fully grasping how fantastic it was.
Steve Carell deserves a lot of credit for his portrayal as usual but this episode is stolen by Melora Hardin as Jan. While the character of Jan is problematic in how they seem to just strip her of any real kind of dignity as she goes along, you can’t help but watch in awe as she goes through the evening swooning over her former assistant’s record album (implying that she must have seduced him) and passive aggressively insulting Pam because she was told by Michael that the two of them once had a fling.
Jim/Pam and Andy/Angela get to act as the “Straight men” of the situation which is only further made bizarre when Dwight invites himself after Jan forbid Michael to invite him due to the fact that Dwight didn’t have a date nor did they have enough wine glasses: Dwight brought his own along with a date, his elderly former babysitter…oh yeah, and the relationship is “carnal”.
In many ways, this episode was the most “intense” the show had gotten up to this point with Michael and Jan yelling at each other, her throwing a Dundie at his flat-screen TV (which is basically a 12 inch screen), and then the cops showing up to top it all off.
Michael and Jan were not right for one another…and if it took this awkward dinner party to get them to finally end it, I think we can be glad the foursome of Jim, Pam, Andy, and Angela took one for the team.
I basically wrote this on the cuff. I am sure there may be typos throughout and I am also not sure if it even flows that well. I just felt like getting some thoughts written down, not to mention it has been a while since I last posted on my blog. I hope to have more stuff up pretty soon ranging from TV to movies…and I may dive back into Broadway as well.
As for THE OFFICE, I still find it to be a great source of joy and I usually do a rewatch of it once a year (sometimes twice); a tradition that has been going on since 2011 so I’ve probably sat through most of the series at least 9 times. Even after seeing some of these episodes that many times, I still find myself frequently chuckling at certain moments and even laughing out loud almost as much as when I first saw them air. For example, Kevin’s exasperated inspirational speech in “The Seminar” (“Dream…..big……”) might be the hardest I have laughed at a TV series for a sustained amount of time and it never ceases to get old.
THE OFFICE is one of those shows that will always sit alongside many of my childhood favorites as its own beast: the cringeworthy version of comfort food TV.