In 2005 The Office premiered and changed the landscape of the American Sitcom. That’s a bold statement, but I firmly believe it is a true one. It paved the way for 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Community, and Modern Family. It gave us the likes of Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Mindy Kaling, Ed Helms and Ellie Kemper. It will forever be responsible for etching “That’s what she said” into our everyday lexicon. While it waned creatively in its later years, The Office has given us countless laughs, many tears, and made us cringe with embarrassment on a weekly basis for 9 seasons and I will forever hold it very dear in my heart.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to Dunder Mifflin forever. I’m ready to say goodbye, but at the same time I am not ready. It’s a very strange feeling. The show did a LOT of damage to its legacy the season after Steve Carell left the show. Many, including me, felt the show should have ended there. The Office was not The Office without Michael Scott, no matter how much they tried to make Andy into the new Michael. I was damn near close to breaking up with the show in season eight. I’m glad I didn’t, as despite 11th Hour Trickery, season nine has been a return to form, especially in these final episodes.
Well. Aside from “The Farm”. It really upsets me they wasted one of their final episodes on that piece of crap.
As the finale loomed on the horizon, Sage and I knew we had to do something special to celebrate the impact The Office has had on us. So we set out to choose our top ten episodes. I initially thought it would be quite an undertaking, but Sage and I separately made our top ten lists and when we compared them, we automatically agreed on five. We debated on the other five episodes until we had a list that we felt showcased the best of what The Office has done. And when we set out to RANK them, which we both did on our own, and then compared notes, our rankings were almost identical.
It’s a little scary how much we share a brain.
So here we go…episodes 6 -10. Our top 5 will be posted tomorrow for finale day. Enjoy and please share your thoughts in the comments!
10) “The Search” (Season 7, Episode 15)
This episode is the most recent you’ll find in our Top 10. As Kim said in the intro, the show struggled in later years, even before Michael Scott left Dunder Mifflin for good. “The Search” isn’t the episode where Michael says his goodbyes to his beloved work family; rather, it’s the episode that makes us realize that he’s going to be okay when he does.
Michael goes out on an easy sales call with Jim, sulking the whole time because his ex-girlfriend Holly Flax (Amy Ryan) won’t get back together with him. He demands a gas station pit stop ten minutes from the office, and a panicked Jim is forced to leave him there when his mother-in-law calls with a CeCe emergency. Dwight, Erin, and Holly set out to look their cell- and wallet-less boss. Despite Dwight’s finely honed tracking skills, it’s Holly who leads the group straight to Michael, just by following her own impulses.
What a perfect device to bring those two back together. As much as Michael wants to fancy himself a leader, there’s a part of him that’s adrift and needs to be found. Earlier in the episode, he asks Holly why she’s resisting when she knows they’ll start dating again. (“Why is it such a certainty that we are supposed to be together?” “Why does the sun rise in the morning? Why do magnets stick together? Because everybody says so. Everybody.”) Holly is so right for Michael: dorky enough to find him dashing, yet ever so slightly more grounded than he is. (And come on, Amy Ryan is an absolute treasure.) By this point, we’ve seen Michael pursue plenty of ill-fitting relationships, just for the sake of being successful – for the sake of HAVING a girlfriend, no matter who it is. But when Holly walks out onto that roof, Michael’s face shows that he was expecting to see her, because he knew it would be her who eventually found him.
Most of Michael Scott’s mistakes are made in the wild pursuit to have a family – his most desperate dream. Without a biological one, Michael has thrown all of his energy into creating one at work. And he’s successful! But what’s bittersweet about Michael Scott’s last few episodes is that his more astute coworkers realize that he just doesn’t need them as badly anymore. They’ve been rooting for him as hard as we have, and hopefully tomorrow’s finale will bring us all good news from the Flax-Scott family.
Michael: [to puppies] Hey you guys. Listen to me. Don’t get hung up on just one girl because there are a whole lot of other girls out there. Look over there. See? They look cute. [to parrots] Hello! You guys are so beautiful. You’re so colorful. I wish I could understand you. That’s a metaphor I guess. [To snake] You are disgusting. You’ll never find love. Yeck. [To puppy] Do you think she needs more time or is it never going to happen?
9) “Office Olympics” (Season 2, Episode 3)
“Office Olympics” is a perfect example of what season two of The Office was so good at: making the mundane funny. This episode is pure fluff, in the most delightful way. After all, who doesn’t have some sort of game to keep them entertained at work? Who doesn’t want to blow off work and goof around the moment their boss announces that he is taking a personal day. I love how the episode builds from Jim merely trying to avoid working while Michael is out of the office all day to getting the entirety of the office (save for Angela, quietly judging in her corner and adding to her Pam-Pong tallies) gleefully involved in a full-out day of fun. Season Two is where we really begin to see all the supporting players of Dunder Mifflin (Stanley, Angela, Phyllis, Kevin, Oscar, etc…) come into their own as fully realized characters. They are what has made The Office so rich throughout the years. They aren’t faceless drones, they each have their quirks and personalities and the show would not have made it nine seasons without them. One of my favorite moments in “Office Olympics” is when Phyllis oh so shyly volunteers to compete against Kevin in Flonkerton…and then WINS.
“Office Olympics” is also a great episode for Jim. Up until this episode Jim had been a sly commentator but we hadn’t seen him get truly enthusiastic about anything. As Pam puts it so perfectly, “The thing about Jim, is when he’s excited about something, like the Office Olympics, he gets really into it and he does a really great job. But the problem with Jim is that he works here, so that hardly ever happens.” Even back then Pam saw that Jim’s potential far exceeded what Dunder Mifflin was capable of giving him. I felt like last week’s penultimate episode, “A.A.R.M.” had some wonderful callbacks to this episode, from Jim setting up an obstacle course (that Phyllis gamely participates in) in the warehouse to Pam expressing her fears about Jim again. The difference between “Office Olympics” and “A.A.R.M.” is that Jim now has HER, and as he touchingly said, “that is more than enough”. I DO hope though that we see Jim and Pam moving on from Dunder Mifflin in the finale though.
I would be remiss in not discussing the perfect Michael and Dwight storyline that involved Michael closing on his condo. I love the Michael/Dwight dynamic and Dwight’s utter devotion to him. Michael acts all the time like he is exasperated by Dwight, but deep down, you know he loves him. Dwight may tap into all of Michael’s fears about closing on his condo, but he was also the best person to be there for him in that moment. Dwight wants the best for him, even if it often comes out in the wrong way. Dwight’s talking head at the top of the episode sums up the relationship perfectly: “I have been Michael’s #2 guy for about 5 years. And we make a great team. We’re like one of those classic famous teams. He’s like Mozart, and I’m like Mozart’s friend. No. I’m like Butch Cassidy, and Michael is like Mozart. You try and hurt Mozart; you’re going to get a bullet in your head courtesy of Butch Cassidy.”
And the end of the episode is what The Office does best…showing this dysfunctional family rally around one of their own. Closing on a home is a big deal and Jim creating a medal ceremony (complete with paper doves) for it is the perfect way for all of them to celebrate with him. As Sage just said to me, everyone so quickly shifts from having it be about them to being about him and they’re happy to do that.
Dwight: A thirty year mortgage at Michael’s age essentially means that he’s buying a coffin. If I were buying my coffin, I would get one with thicker walls… so you couldn’t hear the other dead people.
8) “Niagara” (Season 6, Episodes 4 and 5)
Jim and Pam’s wedding ranks among my favorite TV weddings of all time. It is a perfect storm of everything that made The Office so wonderful from the vomit filled cold open (Jenna’s look of triumph after everyone vomits is PRICELESS) to Michael’s insistence that he be a major part of the wedding to Andy tearing his scrotum at the pre-wedding dance party to the emotional wallop of the last 5 minutes. Jim and Pam’s flirtation and subsequent romance remains one of my top TV ships of all time, and when there is a build-up to an event as big as this one, you HAVE to deliver. And this episode does.
I previously wrote about Jim’s speech at the rehearsal dinner in my TV Boyfriends post. There’s not much more I can say on that matter other than it’s just wonderful, especially when coupled with him accidentally revealing Pam’s pregnancy right afterwards. Again, that is what The Office has done the best: mixing the poignant and the oh-my-god-this-is-sooooooooooo-awkward. A scene that I think doesn’t get enough credit, because it gets overshadowed by the rehearsal dinner and the wedding itself, is the scene where Jim and Pam meet up right before the wedding is supposed to start. I’m just gonna paste the whole thing right here, okay?
Jim: Wow. You look–
Jim: So beautiful. [Pam's starts to cry. Jim pulls up chair to sit next to her] Hey–
Pam: My veil tore. I knew when we were getting married and I’m five months pregnant that I’m not going to be able to wear the dress that I always wanted or high heels–
Jim: [takes her hand] Hey. You look just as I imagined you would. Pam, you’re so pretty.
Pam: Thank you.
Jim: And who cares? It’s a stupid veil, right?
Pam: No, this was the one thing I was supposed to be able to control, was this veil and– [Jim cuts off half his tie]
Jim: There. Now we’re even. [Pam laughs and mimes taking a picture, they kiss]
Pam: Everyone’s driving me crazy. I know way too much about Andy’s scrotum. And my mom won’t stop freaking out about my dad’s new girlfriend. This is supposed to be our wedding day. Why did we invite all these people?
And the actual wedding? I burst into tears the moment that “Forever” started playing. It’s just SO JOYFUL. And then when they revealed that Jim and Pam had snuck off for their own private wedding on The Maid of the Mist? Forget it. I was a mess. It was all so perfect: Jim and Pam got their own dream wedding that will forever be for just the two of them which allowed for their co-workers and friends to have THEIR wedding. They were there with Jim and Pam every step of the way, and they deserved to celebrate it too. And Jim and Pam KNEW that and they let it happen, and their glorious faces reflected that as they watch their friends dance down the aisle. I remember laughing through my tears as well (“My favorite emotion!”) as each member of the Scranton crew got their dancing moment…Dwight kicking Pam’s sister in the face. Kevin stumbling around in his tissue box shoes. Andy hobbling down the aisle with a walker. Stanley getting his groove on (seriously…watch the scene and revel in Leslie David Baker’s face of JOY). The cheers when Jim and Pam are finally pronounced husband and wife. Everyone is SO happy for them. LOOK AT MICHAEL’S FACE:
He’s beside himself with joy. If you aren’t moved to tears by it, then you are dead inside. And finally…screw you and your amazing facial expressions, John Krasinski.
Jim: I bought the boat tickets the day I saw that YouTube video. I knew we’d need a backup plan. The boat was actually plan C. The church was plan B. And plan A was marring her a long, long time ago. Pretty much the day I met her.
7) “Beach Games” (Season 3, Episode 23)
This episode is such a wonderful showcase for Jenna Fischer. Pam had it ROUGH in season three. She sat and watched the love of her life fall in love with someone else…and the even more terrible thing was that the someone else was a NICE person. She sat there KNOWING that it could have been HER in that relationship with Jim, had she been a worse person, so she suffered in silence. She also felt increasingly invisible and unsatisfied in her position at Dunder Mifflin. Up until this episode, Pam had always been a bit of a doormat. She never stood up for herself when she was wronged or taken advantage of or ignored. Not being able to participate in Beach Day was her breaking point and her wonderful speech after the she did the fire walk is the turning point for her character for the rest of the series. Jenna is magnificent in the episode as you see Pam’s rage building up over the course of the day until she finally (finally FINALLY) explodes.
Everything in this episode is so fun. There are great Jim and Dwight moments as the former gleefully ribs the latter by naming his team Voldemort. The sumo wrestling provides one of the most hilarious Stanley moments of the series, as he charges at Jim after being emboldened by the prospect of being named Michael’s successor (would that I could have found a gif of that). Angela and Dwight’s secret romance was rarely more delightful than when she showed him she knew the art of sabotage:
Angela: What? What are you saying? Did you say sandwich?
Dwight: No. I was saying that before. Not now. Now I am saying sabotage. The ancient Dutch art of screwing up your own team.
Angela: I knew you were saying sabotage. I was giving you an example of it. I will misunderstand everything that Andy says until he goes insane.
Dwight: If Michael organizes some kind of group hug, stand next to me.
The resulting visual gag of Andy adrift in the lake, stranded by Angela in the giant sumo costume is PRICELESS. All in all, “Beach Games” uses every member of the ensemble in a perfect way, plays to the best of the cast’s abilities, mixes the silly moments with heavier ones in a seamless way and is the perfect lead-in to the season finale. Any new sitcom should always sit down and study seasons two and three of The Office: it is comedy at the top of its game and firing on all cylinders.
Pam: Hey! I wanna say something. I’ve been trying to be more honest lately, and I just wanna say a few things. I did the coal walk! Just, I did it. Michael, you couldn’t even do that. Maybe I should be your boss. Wow, I feel really good right now. [pause] Why didn’t any of you come to my art show? I invited all of you. That really sucked. It’s like sometimes some of you act like I don’t even exist. Jim, I called off my wedding because of you. And now we’re not even friends. And things are just like weird between us. And that sucks. And I miss you. You were my best friend before you went to Stamford. And I really miss you. I shouldn’t have been with Roy, and there were a lot of reasons to call of my wedding. But the truth is, I didn’t care about any of those reasons until I met you. And now you’re with someone else. And that’s fine. It’s, whatever, it’s not what I’m- I’m not- Okay my feet really hurt. The thing that I’m just trying to say to you Jim, and to everyone else in the circle, I guess, is that I miss having fun with you. Just you, not everyone in the circle. Okay. I am gonna go walk in the water now. Yep. It’s a good day. [she runs away]
Michael: Pam! That was amazing! …But I am still looking for someone with a sales background.
6) “A Benihana Christmas” (Season 3, Episodes 10 and 11)
Obviously, there was much debate over which one of The Office‘s excellent Christmas episodes would make it onto the list. I fought hard for “A Benihana Christmas,” not only because it’s immensely quotable, but also because it’s a perfect example of how the series could set up ridiculous situations and then sneak-attack with feels.
Michael’s relationship with Carol crashes and burns when he takes it upon himself to send around Christmas cards created from an altered version one of her family photos. (“It’s a bold move to Photoshop yourself into a picture with your girlfriend and her kids on a ski trip with their real father. But then again, Michael’s a bold guy. Is bold the right word?”) Left with nothing but a broken heart and two all-inclusive tickets to Sandals Jamaica, Michael has no choice but to cancel Christmas. And maybe New Year’s, if Stanley keeps it up. Andy sees his chance to buddy up to the boss and inspires a guys lunch out at, you guessed it, Asian Hooters.
We’re almost halfway through the 3rd season here, and the Stamford branch, including Jim’s new girlfriend Karen, has been integrated into Dunder Mifflin Scranton. While the 2nd season was all sexual tension and unrequited love, these episodes have Jim and Pam fumbling their way back towards some kind of friendship. Pam realizes that she hasn’t been very welcoming to Karen and decides to befriend her by way of engaging in a Party-Planning Committee coup. That’s the thing about love triangles. They’re less public fights and dramatic speeches, more trying to appear casual in everyday awkward situations while hopefully maintaining a modicum of self-respect. While Jim is enjoying some moderately priced Korean BBQ, the women in his life are plotting to steal the Christmas party crown from a power-tripping Angela.
The good news: Michael and Andy manage to pick up two young ladies from Benihana and bring them back to the dueling office parties. The GREAT news: Michael can’t tell them apart and secretly marks his girl with a Sharpie. Because you know how “all waitresses look alike.” Despite his inability to distinguish her from her friend (“Are you going to tell me that Stevie Wonder doesn’t love his wife just because he’s not sure what she looks like?”), Michael impulsively and disastrously invites Cindy to Sandals. Jim and Michael’s heart to heart at the end of the episode is one of my favorite Office moments ever:
Michael: That waitress was the one.
Jim: No. She wasn’t.
Michael: How can you be sure?
Jim: Well, for starters, I’ve known you as a couple since the beginning of the relationship, which was approximately [looks a watch] three hours ago.
Michael: Don’t make fun… You’re making fun of me.
Michael: I guess, I didn’t know her very well. I marked her arm.
Jim: You what?
Michael: I, I put a mark on her arm. [Laughing] So I could tell them apart. I don’t… I know, I know. I can’t believe I gave her my bike!
Michael: Oh, why do I feel like crap?
Jim: You just had a rebound.
Michael: I had rebound? Yeah.
Jim: Yeah. Which, don’t get me wrong, can be a really fun distraction, but, when it’s over, you’re left thinking about the girl you really like, the one that broke your heart.
Despite outward appearances, Michael and Jim are kindred spirits in plenty of ways. They’re both hopeless romantics, both too creative for their jobs, both trying to build a bigger life from their own corners of this little paper company. Because of those similarities, they’re actually able to give each other some unexpected perspective. (And some hope to Jam fans everywhere.) I see this relationship advice from Jim as his recompense for the talk Michael gives him on the booze cruise. Sometimes we know it, but we don’t know we know it until we hear it from someone else.
“A Benihana Christmas” was one of NBC’s “Supersized” episodes, so it’s stuffed, much like Dwight’s Christmas goose, with plenty more goodies. It has a classic cold open, which The Office used to excel at; some of the best talking head dialogue we’ve seen; Kelly serenading Ryan with Pat Benatar; and a bit of a cliffhanger with a mystery woman accepting Michael’s vacation invite over the phone. Flawless holiday episode all around.
Michael: Bros before hos. Why? Because your bros are always there for you. They have got your back after your ho rips your heart out for no good reason. And you were nothing but great to your ho and you told her she was the only ho for you. And that she was better than all the other hos in the world. And then … and then suddenly she’s not yo’ ho no mo’.
And there you have it: our #6-#10 of the best episodes of all nine seasons of The Office. Tomorrow we’ll count down our top 5! Are you surprised at any of the choices so far?