My 25 Favorite Episodes of "The Office," Part 1: #25-11

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Office will bring its 9 year run to an end tomorrow night. It's been a while since the show was particularly relevant, but in its heyday, it was absolutely one of the best comedies on the air. I've used the series finale as an excuse to go back and revisit some of my favorite episodes. Below are numbers 25 through 11. I will post my top ten tomorrow morning.

25. Prince Family Paper

Michael, as a favor to David Wallace, goes to do some reconnaissance work on one of Dunder Mifflin's tiny competitors a county over from the Scranton branch, and he brings Dwight along to help. The story is funny enough, as Michael and Dwight interacting with each other on the road is usually enough to fill an episode. They decide to divide and conquer, with Michael posing as a potential customer while Dwight applies for a job at the same time. Their not-so-subtle attempts to gather information are hardly noticed by the naive Prince family, and the patriarch ends up actually handing Michael a list of their top clients, then fixing his bumper in the parking lot after a botched getaway. What really makes the episode sing in my eyes is what goes on back at the office. The Dunder Mifflin-ites are always looking for ways to distract themselves, especially when the boss is out, and an argument about the attractiveness - no, hotness - of actress Hilary Swank turns into a full-on debate, complete with PowerPoint presentations and a hilariously impassioned speech from Stanley, of all people. In the end, the group remains split, Michael inadvertently breaks the tie, and Oscar gets philosophical. "That's the thing about debating. People just get entrenched in the views they already had."

24. Safety Training

Michael has always had an inferiority complex when it comes to the warehouse, so when the entire office is forced to undergo safety training downstairs because of a forklift incident involving Michael, he doesn't take kindly to the suggestion that the blue collar workers face inherently more dangerous conditions than the office workers on a daily basis. It was only natural, then, that after reading up on depression in the workplace, he would fake a suicide attempt in view of all the employees. What follows is a highly scripted exchange between he and Dwight from the rooftop - so good it had to be done twice. Michael's plan, of course, was poorly thought out, as it turned out he was planning on landing on a bouncehouse after jumping from the roof. ("I'm going to need you to acquire an inflatable house or castle." "Do you want a drawbridge?") He thinks about jumping anyway, but Darrell finally manages to answer the question "What do I have to live for?" to Michael's satisfaction. "Uh...a lot."

23. The Search

A contrived circumstance leads to Jim abandoning Michael at a gas station in Scranton with no wallet and no phone. Understandably upset when the gas station attendant tells him he's been ditched, Michael decides it's time for him to go on a "walkabout." When Jim calls the office to tell them to send someone after him, they send a search party of Dwight, Erin, and Holly, three characters that never really interacted that much, but on the strength of this episode, should have. The whole situation was set up to show that Holly and Michael are on the same wavelength, and it actually ended up being pretty fun. Dwight figures that the way to find Michael is to follow Holly, since she's prone to following the same rabbit holes, like stopping to apply for a credit card with a fake name to get the complimentary stress ball or heading to a Chinese restaurant because the egg rolls on the advertisement are huge. The way she eventually finds him is sweet and it sets viewers up to really root for the relationship once again, which will pay off big time a few episodes down the road. Bonus points for the cold open, which shows Ryan and Kelly announcing to the office that they had gotten divorced over the weekend, only to find that nobody knew they were married.

22. Scott's Tots

Ten years ago, Michael Scott thought he was destined to become a millionaire, so he promised a class of third graders that he would pay for their college tuition if they would stay in school and graduate. Over the course of the episode, it's revealed that he has played a major part in their lives in the intervening period, but now it's time for him to reveal that he has to welch on the deal. Before making his speech and giving out laptop batteries as a concession, the class has a thank you song prepared for him, and the teachers get up and make heartfelt speeches thanking him for his generosity. It's a conceit to make the viewer as uncomfortable as possible, of course, but it works, and by the end of the episode, Michael is singing his own song. "Hey Mr. Scott, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do, make our dreams come true!" There's a solid B-story in this episode as well, as Dwight conspires to make Jim (now the Assistant Manager) look like a fool when he inadvertently picks himself, then his wife, as the Employee of the Month. At the end, Ryan reveals to Dwight that he knows about his diabolical plan, since he left a copy of it in the printer.

21. Grief Counseling

After learning about the death of his former boss Ed Truck in a car accident, Michael has trouble grieving, and suspects that his employees might as well. He tries to convince Jan to give them the day off ("We have a day honoring Martin Luther King, and he didn't even work here."). When that doesn't work, he holds a mandatory group counseling session in the conference room, where the employees get out of sharing intimate personal details by recounting the plots of various movies (Ryan's sober retelling of the time his relative Mufasa was trampled by wildebeests is a highlight here). Finally, Pam leads the group in holding a funeral for a dead bird found in the parking lot, complete with a heartfelt eulogy and a song from Dwight on his recorder.

20. Broke

The conclusion to the Michael Scott Paper Company storyline, one of the better arcs of the middle seasons, is pitch perfect. MSPC is going broke, but nobody on the Dunder Mifflin side knows that. Well, Jim does, but his fiancee works over there now and he happens to hate Charles Miner, the new boss at DM Scranton. When David Wallace comes to town to try to deal with the Michael Scott problem, Jim entices Dwight to be Dwight, undercutting Charles in the process and convincing David to buy out their downstairs neighbors. The end result is a fantastic negotiation scene where Michael manages to get all of the old guys their jobs back by appealing to David's own job security. Now they don't have to drive around in an old Korean church van to deliver paper anymore.

19. The Injury

It's hard to say exactly when Dwight broke out as a cult favorite, but this episode had to at least be part of the genesis. Rainn Wilson's portrayal of Dwight with a concussion is a joy to watch. Dwight, of course, sustained the head injury while rushing off to save Michael from his own debilitating ailment - he burned his foot on a George Foreman grill, which totally makes sense because Michael loves to wake up to the smell of bacon, but has nobody to cook it for him, so he sets up his grill the night before, turns it on upon waking, and goes back to sleep until the smell wakes him up for good. Michael is dismayed that nobody takes his own injury seriously; meanwhile, Dwight is busy being uncharacteristically human to everybody in the office. There's a sweet moment where Pam gives him a goodbye hug as he heads to the hospital, since they've shared the day "kind of being friends."

Dwight: rmrmrmrmrmrmrmrmrmrmrmrmrm
Jim: What are you doing?
Dwight: Vietnam sounds.

18. The Duel

One of the most ridiculous episodes of The Office there is, and there have been some ridiculous ones. Dwight and Andy are locked in an eternal struggle over Angela, and instead of shutting their petty squabbling down, she announces that she will "respect the results of the duel" that the two have agreed to fight during their break in the parking lot. There are some really funny exchanges made between the office workers after they find out that Angela cheated on Andy during their engagement, but the titular duel really brings this episode home. Andy tricks Dwight, armored to the teeth, into reading a note on the wall in the parking lot so that he can pin him down with his car. While watching from Michael's office, Oscar sums it up nicely: "The Prius is silent if he keeps it under 5 miles per hour. He deserves the win."

17. Casino Night

Perhaps best known as the episode where Jim declares his love for Pam and they kiss, Casino Night also has a really funny story going with Michael in the background. He has accidentally invited both Jan and Carol to the fundraiser, and the way he ends up trying to balance keeping both of them happy of course ends in disaster. There's also the reveal that Kevin has won a World Series of Poker bracelet in some really obscure game, which sort of makes the transformation of his character into an idiot in later seasons disappointing. Overall, it's a solid episode from several of the background characters, and of course it ends with Jim leaving for the Stamford branch having said what he needs to say to Pam.

16. A.A.R.M.

The penultimate episode of the series ties up plenty of loose ends, even if it's not clear why the documentary crew is still shooting footage while the office workers are making plans to meet up and watch said documentary later that night. Jim enlists the help of the crew (though presumably not Brian) to show Pam a montage of their relationship in order to convince her that she's worth skipping an opportunity of a lifetime eating free steaks with athletes and Darrell. Darrell gets his goodbye, the employees have a dance party, Dwight proposes to Angela by forcing her to pull over and then speaking to her through a megaphone, and most importantly, we see the office as it should have been as soon as Michael left - with Dwight K. Schrute in charge. Jim pulls one of his best pranks, convincing Dwight to effectively name himself as his own assistant, and we're all left wondering why we wasted two seasons getting to this point.

15. The Deposition

Jan is suing Dunder Mifflin for wrongful termination, claiming that her breast enhancement surgery was somehow the catalyst of her dismissal, so it's up to Michael to sit for a pre-trial deposition and testify on her behalf. He's torn, though - he doesn't want to jeopardize his relationship with either Jan or the company, and the pressure on him to perform results in some hilarious back-and-forth dialogue in the conference room at corporate headquarters. This episode came during a real innovative spell for the show, and it all shows up in this story. One could expect that Michael would drop a well-placed "That's what she said" during a pre-trial hearing, and he does. The lawyer doesn't understand the joke, however, and continues the line of questioning, eventually forcing the stenographer to read back the entire joke, much to Michael's chagrin ("Her timing is all off"). There are plenty of other subtle and funny jokes sprinkled throughout, like Michael asking for his line when he doesn't know what to say and his many attempts to avoid questions when he doesn't get the answers he needs (also read back by the stenographer). It's a really strong story, and the episode could have easily been top 10 material had the B-story had any kind of substance whatsoever, but the office workers playing ping pong only serves to distract from the boardroom awkwardness happening in New York.

14. Goodbye, Michael

I'm not the first to say that this episode should have been the series finale, and I won't be the last. It's not just that Michael Scott was the heart of The Office and shouldn't have been replaced. It's that this was such a great send-off. Michael, always one to make everything about him (See: almost every episode of this show), has decided that he is going to leave one day before his announced departure date, allowing him to say his goodbyes and get out of the way. His goodbyes are mostly sweet and sometimes funny, but the show packs the real emotional punch when Jim figures Michael's plan out and tells Pam, who has been playing hooky. She finds him in the airport and even goes through security so she can give him once last hug, sans microphone, evoking some of the final moments of the British version of the show. Michael has a moment of panic before he leaves: "I can't do this. All of the channels are going to be different there. I am not starting improv at level one. I don't think my credits are going to transfer." Ultimately, he's reserved, polite, and reflective, but he is still Michael Scott. "Will you guys let me know if this ever airs?" It will, Michael - in two years, after NBC has squeezed out every last dollar. Sorry to belabor the point, but it's sort of maddening that this very episode acknowledges that not only is Andy Bernard the worst salesman in the office, but that this is common knowledge among all of the employees. How in the world did making him the manager make any sense at all? At least Michael was promoted because of his sales skills; Andy has neither those nor the management skills necessary to make the promotion believable on any level. It's a crime that this episode wasn't even the season 7 finale, much less the end of it all.

13. Diversity Day

The pilot episode is not very good. For whatever reason, American showrunner Greg Daniels decided that the best way to introduce his audience to the show was to completely remake the pilot from the British series. It didn't work, and it seemed like The Office was going to be dead in the water if it couldn't find its own identity quickly. Happily, the second episode quickly found a voice for Michael Scott that wasn't just David Brent, and for Dwight that wasn't just Gareth, and so on. The Scranton branch is forced to undergo diversity training because Michael doesn't understand that reenacting a Chris Rock routine on racism is inappropriate in the workplace, and Larry Wilmore's Mr. Brown ("Oh, a test! I will not call you that.") is at first very patient with Michael's attempts to take over the meeting, but eventually he has to force him to sign the form that says he learned about diversity in the workplace. Michael tries to save face by starting his own diversity program, complete with a talking head video containing what he believes to be inspirational quotes. "Abraham Lincoln once said that if you are a racist, I will attack you with the North. These are the principles that I carry with me into the workplace." By the end of the day, he has called a third conference room meeting, setting up a game that will force the employees to identify themselves using ethnic stereotypes. It's the episode that kept me going with this show, and I'm glad for it for that reason.

12. Money

Jan is bleeding Michael Scott dry, which means he's working after hours in a telemarketing office. That right there is enough for a quality episode, because we get to see Michael in his role as an employee. He thinks the endless meetings his boss calls are pointless, he's not free to deviate from the sales script, and the stories he tells to distract his coworkers endear him to them, mostly because he's not the guy who should be motivating them instead. Ryan, now his other boss, wants him to make a PowerPoint presentation about PowerPoint for some reason, and when Michael blows it off, his money problems are revealed to the rest of the office. Of course he denies it at first ("If I had money problems, would I do this?" he asks them in the break room, crumpling up a $1 bill before putting it back into his pocket). Eventually, he asks Oscar for help, and after some consultation on the wonders of PowerPoint ("It's a presentation tool." "You're a presentation tool."), he decides to declare bankruptcy. He doesn't just say it, he declares it. The resulting heart-to-heart with Jan is a bit cheesy, but the journey is worth it. The episode also features Jim and Pam taking their first weekend away at Dwight's farm, a funny sequence that involves a table-making demonstration, manure, and Dwight's dramatic bedtime reading from Harry Potter in the Irrigation-themed Room.

11. Gay Witch Hunt

The Season 3 premiere has a lot of stuff packed into it. Jim is at a new branch, so we meet Andy ("Tell me who put my calculator in jello, or I'm going to lose MY FREAKING MIND!") and Karen ("He's always looking into the camera like this"). There's also the titular gay witch hunt, in which Michael has accidentally outed Oscar, leading to maybe the most awkward conference room meeting in the history of the show, which will indeed be burned into our brains. As in Diversity Day, Michael is somehow completely ignorant and also completely convinced that he's not ("You don't call retarded people retards. That's offensive. You call your friends retards when they're acting retarded." "The company has put me in charge of getting rid of 100,000 years of being weirded out by gay guys."). The episode is brought to a close by Dwight trying out his new Gaydar, acquired from Jim, followed by a Michael Scott quip: "That's what she said. Or he said."


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