One Christmas morning in the early aughts, I unwrapped a DVD set given to me by my brother because “you like British things and I heard this is good.” After one viewing of The Office (UK), I was baffled. After two, I was infatuated.
Please now join me in virtually yelling at Kim, who has never seen it. WATCH IT, KIMMIE. The entire series will take you half a day, at MOST.
It all seems so standard now – the mock-doc style, the cringe comedy. Single-camera, non-laughtrack sitcoms have become the norm, but it’s the original Office that deserves every shred of credit for that. But we’re not here to talk about Gareth Keenan, the beginnings of my lifelong crush on Martin Freeman, or how hard I cry every time I watch the Christmas special. We’re here to talk about the American adaptation – those very words that strike fear into the heart of any Brit-com fan. (Sorry to bring this back up, but I have to say it – Coupling.) I was cautiously optimistic about The Office as a midseason replacement and a vehicle for The Daily Show‘s Steve Carell. But then the pilot was a shot-for-shot, not-as-dark and not-as-funny remake of the first episode of Ricky and Steven’s show, and we almost lost hope. Didn’t we? And then something miraculous happened – The Office (US) became its own show.
While the network intention may have been to bank on the reputation of the British version, the creative team behind the American series was, bless their hearts, more interested in creating something unique and lasting. The outlook at Scranton’s Dunder Mifflin has never been quite as bleak as that at Slough’s Wernham Hogg, and Michael Scott is just as pitiable but vastly more lovable than David Brent. The six-episode first season of the US Office was an exercise in finding a balance between the UK inspiration and a humor more palatable to an American audience. Greg Daniels & Co. made short work of developing that voice, because (she confidently declares), year two of The Office is a perfect season of comedy.
The accomplishment is even more commendable when you consider that the second season was ordered piecemeal by the network. The original renewal was for another six. Then seven more. Then three more. (Who orders THREE episodes of a half-hour comedy at a time? NBC, that’s who.) It’s a marvel that the eventual 22-episode season was so seamless and established such strong characterization and relationships. So, it should be no surprise that it dominates our favorites list.
On the eve of The Office’s final sign-off, we look back at our Top 5 episodes. Here’s to the moments that made us laugh, cry, and flail about our rooms. Here’s to a scrappy cast of mostly unknowns and a young creative team who threw everything they had into a show that wasn’t supposed to survive beyond the spring of 2005. Here’s to the fans who’ve stuck with it. This is our Office. They make paper. And we are very proud of them.
5) “Branch Wars” (Season 4, Episode 10)
“Branch Wars” is as close to an action movie as The Office would ever get (Hush. We pretend the second “Threat Level: Midnight” episode never happened.), and thus, was a perfect guest-directing job for the incomparable Joss Whedon.
The A-story is an Office-style homage to caper films: Karen is now the Regional Manager at Dunder Mifflin’s Utica branch and is poaching Stanley, Scranton’s strongest salesman. Michael won’t have that, so he and Dwight kidnap Jim on a “panty raid” to Oneida County, NY, where they will enact a “nebulose” revenge plan. (“Dwight, nothing with the eyes. Please?”) We’ve seen broad Office comedy gone awry – this is broad Office comedy at its most controlled and effective. It’s also fun to see Joss work within the confines of a mock-doc workplace comedy. The shot of a stone-faced and mustachioed Michael, Dwight, and Jim clad in warehouse uniforms and driving to Utica is a simple but great one.
We were aware of other Dunder Mifflin branches before, but season 3 and 4 made expert use of them to liven things up. Jim’s transfer to Stamford opened up the show to new storylines and recurring characters beyond the office park. Michael is usually happy to exist within the Scranton bubble; his sense of branch rivalry is only ignited when his own employees are involved. Michael doesn’t need to run the most successful branch. He doesn’t need to run the most efficient branch. But by god, he’s going to have the most FUN branch. And his employees are going to like him the best. I’m sure Karen made the offer to Stanley mostly because of his sales record, but I’m ALSO sure she didn’t mind that luring him to Utica would also mean sticking it to Michael and Jim. But to Michael, the offer is a threat to STANLEY (“And if you so much as harm one hair on Stanley’s head…”), because who would ever want to leave his branch family? Michael is on a rescue mission to save a vital demographic in his beloved cast of characters.
Of course, it’s the whole thing is a ploy on Stanley’s part to try to negotiate a raise. “How on Earth did Michael call my bluff? Is he some sort of secret genius?”, he asks the camera. Then laughs, “Sometimes I say crazy things.”
Michael: You cannot take the hilarious black guy from the office. Stanley is part of what makes this branch extraordinary. The bluesy wisdom, the sassy remarks, the crossword puzzles, the smile, those big watery red eyes. I don’t know how George Bush did it when Colin Powell left.
4) “The Dundies” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Yep, another episode penned by Mindy Kaling, and we’re only at our fourth favorite episode. There’s a reason why The Mindy Project was so highly anticipated, and why (for me) it was a bit of a let down at first…though I hear I should give it another shot. What say you, readers?
“The Dundies” kicks off season two, and as Sage says in the intro, sets the stage for one of the most perfect seasons of comedy ever. Everyone has had to go to an awards banquet at some point in their life. The annual end of the year banquet for my theatre department in college was called “The Bonies” (Tonys + our mascot was a bulldog. Who eats bones. You know.) and much like Michael Scott, the seniors always had to come up with a script and awards for everyone in the department (the awards were dog bones. My college was better than your college.). So whenever I watch this episode, I smile. Because this episode gets everything SO RIGHT.
The episode starts with Michael at his most unbearable. If there is one thing Michael loves, aside from Ryan, it’s being the center of attention. And The Dundies are his night to shine. They are his night to break out his famous character loosely based on Karmac and change the lyrics to famous songs. He thinks that The Dundies are about everyone in the office, but he really makes them all about him. So no wonder everyone dreads them every year. He doesn’t REALIZE how obnoxious he is being, he just wants everyone to love things as much as he does.
But then something miraculous happens. Someone in Chili’s starts to heckle Michael. Michael totally deflates and cuts the ceremony short. And then everyone, led by a hilariously drunk Pam (“The ice melts and then it’s like second drink!”), clamors for more Dundies. Jeff Winger said in an episode of Community that “Greendale may be a toilet, but it’s OUR toilet.” That sentiment perfectly sums up how everyone at Dunder Mifflin feels about Michael in this moment. They can pick on him and be annoyed by him as much as they want because he is theirs and they have also earned that right. The moment someone else tries to pick on him? No WAY do they stand for it. You have to EARN the right to boo Michael Scott. And you, random stranger at Chili’s, have not earned it.
Even more miraculous is the fact that once everyone gets over their annoyance at Michael and their hatred of being there, The Dundies become everything Michael wanted to be: a fun night out with the office, filled with booze, laughter, and awards for stinking up the bathroom.
Don’t even get me started on these two idiots. It’s very telling of her relationship that Pam comes alive the moment she chooses to stay at the Dundies when Roy leaves. And it’s not just because she is drunk out of her mind (those margaritas are STRONG, y’all). It’s because she is with the people…ahem…person she feels most at home with. Even if she is not ready to admit that to herself. And Jim. Sweet Jim. He revels in seeing this side of Pam and can’t get that goofy adoring look of his dumb dumb face. It’s all just terribly rude to us viewers.
What’s also wonderful about Pam’s story in this episode is that the whole time you are waiting for Michael to humiliate her with another award for “The World’s Longest Engagement”. You actually SEE her wince when Michael gets to her award (which makes the fact that SHE was the one who kept the awards going even more admirable). It’s a lovely moment when Michael (after being prodded by Jim) chooses not to be lazy and gives her “The Whitest Sneakers” award. You see all the tension leave Pam’s body and then she blesses us with one of the greatest acceptance speeches of ALL TIME. Because Heaven really IS just a giant Chili’s. At least I hope so.
Pam: Um, so, finally, I want to thank God. Because God gave me this Dundie. And, I feel God in this Chili’s tonight. WHOOOOOOOO!!!!
3) “Casino Night” (Season 2, Episode 22)
I don’t even know where to start with this, except to say that the words “casino” and “night,” said in that order, can still force me to stop, drop, and roll into a fetal position. As Kim said yesterday in her “Niagara” entry, the buildup of the Jam ship was so perfectly executed, the expectations around any sort of payoff were almost unreachably high. At least they were for me. Going into the second season finale, I was anticipating some kind of milestone event with Jim and Pam. But I couldn’t have predicted just how bittersweet it would be.
Throughout the season, we’ve seen Jim struggling with the realization that his crush on Pam has outgrown the definition of that little harmless word. He’s in love with someone who has a fiance, and it’s trapping him. She’s being reckless too. The air changes after “Booze Cruise” – everything is charged. Look at the eye-flirting in that gif above, for christ’s sake. Anyway, Jim’s intention is to do the noble thing and leave – to save her and to save himself. But there’s something about being with a girl in a dress on a night like that – even if it is just in the Dunder Mifflin parking lot. I fully believe that Jim was, up until the moment he said the words, planning on telling Pam that he was leaving Scranton.
John Krasinski, man. In this scene. The way that he says those words to her – he’s surprised that he’s saying them and completely agonized because he’s not expecting the response he wants, and yet the statement is so SURE. It’s my gold-standard in TV love declarations. Let’s just relive the whole thing.
Jim: I was just… I’m in love with you.
Jim: I’m really sorry if that’s weird for you to hear, but I needed you to hear it. Probably not good timing, I know that. I just…
Pam: What are you doing? What do you expect me to say to that?
Jim: I just needed you to know. Once.
Pam: Well, I… I… I can’t.
Pam: You have no idea…
Jim: Don’t do that.
Pam: …what your friendship means to me.
Jim: Come on. I don’t want to do that. I wanna be more than that.
Pam: I can’t…(JIM CRIES SINGLE, LIFE-RUINING TEAR) I’m really sorry if you misinterpreted things. It’s probably my fault.
Jim: Not your fault. I’m sorry I misinterpreted our friendship.
Like I said, he’s not expecting her to jump into his arms. Because he knows Beesly, and he knows she wouldn’t break a commitment so easily. But that doesn’t mean he believes her line about “misinterpreting” their relationship. We don’t either – her “Yeah, I think I am” to her mom is CLEARLY an answer to an unheard “Are you in love with him too?” So Jim makes another snap decision – this time to call her bluff. And that’s how Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly ended up on my Top 5 TV Kisses list.
*Side note: was anyone else TERRIFIED that Jim and Jan were going to hook up? They were both feeling rejected…alone outside…he told her she looked great. When they cut from that scene, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
This episode has more going for it than just Jam setting sail. Michael Scott is no better than when he has a platform from which to humiliate himself and others and a warehouse casino night does the trick quite nicely. Steve Carell (that beautiful, tropical fish) wrote this episode and gave himself and his castmates some priceless dialogue, especially in the group scenes. (See my “Best Line” pick below.) Let us also not forget that it was Steve who concocted all of Daryl’s fake “negro slang”: “goin’ mach 5,” “fleece it out,” and “dinkin flicka.” AND it was he who had Michael describe his accidental date double-booking with Jan and Carol like so: “Two queens on casino night. I’m gonna…drop a deuce on everybody.” PLUS, he composed probably the greatest description ever of Michael’s hatred of Toby.
Seriously, if Michael Scott shows his face tonight, I’m going to straight up cry with joy.
Michael: Okay, you know what? I will not donate my winnings to Comic Relief, since apparently it doesn’t exist. I am going to donate to Afghanistanis with AIDS.
Jim: I think you mean the aid to Afghanistan.
Michael: No, I mean Afghanistanis with AIDS.
Michael: That’s a dog.
Pam: No, that’s Afghan.
Michael: That’s a shawl.
Dwight: Wait, canine AIDS?
Michael: No. Humans with AIDS.
Creed: Who has AIDS?
Jim: Guys, the Afghanistananies.
2) “The Injury” (Season 2, Episode 12)
“The Injury” is a masterpiece, plain and simple. By my estimation, Mindy Kaling would have been a freakishly sharp 26-year-old when she wrote this. That means that THREE out of our five favorite episodes are Mindy-generated. And they’re not just our PERSONAL favorites – they also fully exemplify the classic brand of Office humor that will hopefully be the show’s legacy. No disrespect to any other writers, but Mindy had the strongest grasp of the voice of the series. She wrote everyone well, but especially Michael and ESPECIALLY here.
The premise is so simple: Michael burns his foot in a George Foreman grill and spends the rest of the day acting like a baby and torturing his staff. This episode was smack dab in the middle of dramatic relationship arc, and the intent was to step away from the soap opera for a second and make an episode that was strictly funny. Still, “The Injury” is a testament to organic, comic character/relationship development, and not just because Jam can’t stop being cute for 15 consecutive seconds. (“Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam.” “Dunder Mifflin, this is Jim.”) Kim wrote in her entry on “Office Olympics” about Dwight’s slightly sweet, slightly creepy adoration of Michael, and this episode takes it even further. While everyone is giggling over Michael’s overblown complaints, Dwight is rushing out to save his mentor. He even gets a concussion for his troubles.
Dwight’s always been a problematic character for me. He’s the most cartoon-ish of the Dunder Mifflin crew and mis-writing him can put him squarely in the “too much” column. But, as we’ve established, Mindy knows her characters. And Rainn Wilson’s performance in “The Injury” is well-calibrated and hilarious, especially the way he drops those words and actions that hint at his OWN injury. (“Thanks, Pan.”)
Picking the “Best Line” for all of these episodes was a challenge, but my god. “The Injury” is “Best Line” after “Best Line” after “Best Line.”
Michael: 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. So, most nights before I go to bed, I will lay six strips of bacon out on my George Foreman Grill. Then I go to sleep. When I wake up, I plug in the grill, I go back to sleep again. Then I wake up to the smell of crackling bacon. It is delicious, it’s good for me. It’s the perfect way to start the day. Today I got up, I stepped onto the grill and it clamped down on my foot… that’s it. I don’t see what’s so hard to believe about that.
Kevin: Can you hop?
Michael: I tried hopping, Kevin, and I bumped my elbow against the wall and now my elbow has a pro-truberance.
Jim: So, where are you shipping your foot?
Michael: I want you to rub butter on my foot.
Michael: Pam, please? I have Country Crock.
Michael: Can I have everyone’s attention please? Phyllis, Oscar, Ryan, who’s supposed to be dead, can I ask you all a question? Do you all know what it’s like to be disabled? Oscar?
Phyllis: Um, I had scoliosis as a girl.
Michael: No, never heard of it. No, a real disability, not a woman’s trouble.
Creed: When I was a teenager, I was in an iron lung.
Michael: Wha? How, how old are you? Look, the point is, I am the only one here who has a legitimate disability, although I’m sure Stanley has had his fair share of obstacles.
Stanley: I’m not disabled and neither are you.
Michael: Ok, what does this look like to you Stanley?!
Stanley: Mailboxes, Etc.
Michael: Shuuut it, ok, well, well you know what, disabilities are not things to be laughed at or laughed about. You people are jerks. Imagine if you had left Stevie Wonder on the floor of that bathroom instead of me.
Phyllis: Oh, we wouldn’t. We love Stevie Wonder.
Michael: Get Ryan. He needs to lift me. And he needs to clean me up a little bit. Bring a wet towel.
Toby: Ryan, is, uh, dead.
Michael: You know what? I feel better. Ryan brought me some chocolate pudding and his kindness healed my foot.
Dwight: Where are we going?
Jim: We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese.
Michael: Chuck E. Cheese? Oh, God, I’m so sick of Chuck E. Cheese.
Jim: We’re going to the hospital, Michael.
Michael: I know, just sayin’.
Do comedy writers study “The Injury”? Because they should. It’s impeccable. And a close, close second to our #1 favorite episode of The Office. One more favorite joke from this one, and then to the top of the heap.
Pam: It’s just that before, you said that you didn’t want any special treatment.
Michael: I don’t want any special treatment, Pam. I just want you to treat me like you would some family member who’s undergone some sort of serious physical trauma. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Pam: Do you want some aspirin? Because you seem a little fussy.
1) “Booze Cruise” (Season 2, Episode 11)
When Sage and I respectively made our top 10 lists, there was automatically one agreement between us: “Booze Cruise” is the greatest episode of The Office ever. One could easily make a case that “The Injury” is the best episode, based purely on the slapstick and comedic brilliance of the writing. But Sage and I both agreed that the best episodes of The Office are the ones that also pack an emotional punch. We aren’t called “Head Over Feels” for nothing, after all. And, oh, what a gut punch “Booze Cruise” throws. Much like Pam in “Beach Games”, in “Booze Cruise” we see Jim get more and more frustrated at his situation until he bursts, confessing his feelings for Pam to Michael. Jim has had just about all he can take in this episode, and the fact that he is trapped on a boat with no place to go just makes it worse.
“Booze Cruise” balanced the torturous Jim and Pam story with the humor of Michael’s rivalry with Captain Jack. Like I said in my analysis of “The Dundies”, Michael lives for being the center of attention and he can’t stand it when someone is more loved than him. His constant attempts to get the focus back on him is classic Michael Scott. And you HAVE to admit, his Ship/Office metaphor totally works:
Michael: Leader… ship. The word “ship” is hidden inside the word “leadership,” as its derivation. So if this office is, in fact, a ship, as its leader, I am the captain. But we’re all in the same boat. Teamwork!
Now back to all the feels…
There is a moment in My Best Friend’s Wedding (and every fan of that movie knows exactly which one I am referring to) where Michael is essentially asking Julianne to confess that she has feelings for him…yet she can’t pull the trigger. If she HAD, I firmly believe the movie would have ended differently. That moment is the scene between Pam and Jim on the boat deck. The moment she says “Sometimes I don’t get Roy” and then looks at Jim…she is ASKING him. And he KNOWS it. He knows the window is open at that very moment…and yet he can’t do it. So she shuts it down and the moment, much like MBFW, has passed them by. Moments later her wedding date is set and Jim looks ready to jump off the boat. I know we have rhapsodized a great deal about John Krasinski’s facial expressions…but seriously, they are brilliant and it is a shame that he hasn’t won any awards for his work on The Office (is it too subtle for them?). Also this break-up? ICE COLD, JIM HALPERT….
Katy: Do you think that’ll ever be us?
Katy: What is wrong with you? Why did you even bring me here tonight?
Jim: I don’t know. Let’s break up.
Katy: Whoa. What?
While many would say that Michael was the absolute WORST person that Jim could confess his crush on Pam to, I would argue that he was the BEST. No one else would have responded this way…
Jim: You know, to tell the truth, I used to have a big thing for Pam, so…
Michael: Really? You’re kidding me. You and Pam? Wow. I would have never have put you two together. You really hid it well. God! I usually have a radar for stuff like that. You know, I made out with Jan…
Jim: Yeah, I know.
Michael: Yeah? Yep. Well, Pam is cute.
Jim: Yeah. She’s really funny, and she’s warm. And she’s just… well, anyway.
Michael: Well, if you like her so much, don’t give up.
Jim: She’s engaged.
Michael: BFD. Engaged ain’t married.
Michael: Never, ever, ever give up.
Michael Scott is an eternal optimist and a hopeless romantic. He’s also never afraid to put himself out there, no matter what the cost. He’s never worried about how stupid he may look or how much he’ll get hurt. So of COURSE he would advise Jim to never give up on Pam. Sage talked yesterday about how wonderful the Jim and Michael relationship is and this conversation is one of its signature moments. Even though Jim at that point really doesn’t want to admit it, he and Michael are kindred spirits. And Michael Scott would never give up in that situation. And you know what? Sometimes it’s not so bad to be Michael Scott.
Michael: Sometimes you have to take a break from being the kind of boss that’s always trying to teach people things. Sometimes you have to just be the boss of dancing.
That’s our top five! All that’s left to say is…thank you. Thank you to The Office and everyone who has ever worked on it for the joy it has brought into our lives for the past nine seasons. You have meant more to us than words can say.
Sage and I will be watching the episode together tonight and tweeting from @HeadOverFeels. We will surely be sobbing 2 minutes into the clip show at 8. Won’t you join us?