5 Best Episodes of “The Office”

Every morning, we saddle together all the prosaic markers of our lives, engage in the same humdrum morning routine, and mechanically enter a space where we will inevitably spend the majority of our waking hour: The office. It’s not whimsical to think about, the amount of time and stress we allocate to quotidian routines we’d rather not labor upon. But, alas, that is how we’ve organized our society: sensible work in exchange for sensible pay.

What emerges in the office is not always benign, however – As an invariably social setting, it is not merely a forum for us to dispense labor. It is also an arena where lasting relationships are fashioned, banality transforms into utter comedy, and all the rhythms of life are made conspiciously manifest. We are humans, after all, and we have an obstinate habit of making even the most sterile of settings a home.

Nowhere is this tendency more lovingly displayed than in NBC’s hit comedy, “The Office.” It should be noted it is not an original idea, or show. It is based off of the BBC’s iteration of the same name, featuring Ricky Gervais. While the British version of “The Office” is more facetious and derogatory in disposition, invested as it is in British culture; the American version of “The Office” is more lighthearted, graced with a tender optimism, instilling viewers with the notion that even in outwardly vacuous places, fulfillment can be discovered, life can be unexpectedly invigorated with depth.

In that spirit, we’re going to explore the top 5 episodes of “The Office,” in descending order. Please note, as an avowed fan of Steve Carrell, who plays the lead protagonist in the show, Michael Scott, the bumbling regional manager of Dunder Mifflin, I am consequently biased toward Michael Scott-centric episodes.

5. Threat Level Midnight (Season 7, Episode 17)

Video courtesy of YouTube, Threat Level Midnight – Full Movie (EXCLUSIVE) – The Office US

Michael Scott is a particularly eclectic man, harboring an array of perceived gifts he feels compelled to share with the world, or at the very least, his co-workers. Throughout the first six seasons, it is hinted that Michael is penning a movie script, in conjunction with his grandiose aspirations of producing a feature film.

Michael’s explorations into the field of entertainment culminate in the show-stopper, “Threat Level Midnight,” starring Michael Scott, as special agent Michael Scarn. Scott elects to display the fruition of his efforts to the entire office for consumption, in a vein effort to broadcast his precociousness as a filmmaker.

The result is, by all accounts, a lampoon of Michael’s conception of himself. He, of course, takes the film with utter seriousness. The comedy of the episode is ingrained in Michael’s unmitigated sincerity in his high estimation of the film. It’s a childish, but hilarious, production; created by a deluded man still hearkening to his adolescent yearnings.

One scene, in particular, accentuates the absurdity of “Threat Level Midnight.” Scarn, full of unbridled confidence and deeply evocative of high self-esteem, gathers together a group seemingly inebriated women, and teaches them to do “The Scarn.” Below are the lyrics:

“Well, my name’s Michael Scarn and I’m here to say

I’m about to do the Scarn in a major way

You jump to the right, and you shake a hand

And you jump to the left and you shake that hand

Meet new friends, tie some yarn

That’s how you do the Scarn!”

Ostensibly, “The Scarn,” is really an ode to the infantilism of Michael Scott. That’s how he views the world: An amiable place, where he can quickly engender the acquisition of friends through the medium of a frivolous dance. Michael is a sentimentalist, rabidly romanticizing even the most innocuous actions, keenly desperate to fashion an environment of which he is the center, surrounded by adulation and adoration.

While watching this scene, Jim, a co-worker, cannot help but betray a muffled giggle. Holly, Michael’s love interest, also is unable to observe the film with the gravitas Michael feels it deserves. Michael perceives this disprespect, extricates the film from the conference room, and retreats to his office to contemplate. Holly attempts to console Michael, which is initially unsuccessful. Yet, in this scene, we see a small revolution in Michael’s character. He takes stock of his film, realizes how fatuous it is, how it is an indicator of his past life, absent the presence of Holly. In that fleeting moment, Michael is able to laugh at who he once was, but no longer is. He matures before our eyes, and gleefully returns to the conference room, tape in hand, an eager audience waiting to brandish additional laughter at the admittedly comical film.

Michael Scott evolves from Michael Scarn. A new regional manager is born. Let’s all dance to “The Scarn” to celebrate.

4. The Deposition (Season 4, Episode 12)

Video courtesy of YouTube, Jan’s Deposition – The Office US

In “The Deposition,” Jan, Michael’s litigious girlfriend, has sued Dunder-Mifflin for wrongful termination. During the previous season, Jan was relieved of her position at corporate, largely due to the erratic behavior she had been openly exhibiting for several months. Jan, for instance, had received noticeable breast enhancement surgery, re-initiated a poorly conceived relationship with Michael, and her work performance was consequently diminishing.

In this episode, true to its namesake, we are privy to a bird’s eye view of the deposition preceding formal court proceedings in Jan’s case. Were they any fans holding out hope for the preservation Michael and Jan’s relationship, this episode lavishes an unsentimental view as to the prospects of their relationship, though it does so in characteristically hilarious fashion.

Below is an excellent excerpt from one exchange during the episode, that provides a staunch indicator of the tenor of the episode:

Lester (Jan’s attorney): How long have you known the plaintiff?

Michael (obtusely): I haven’t actually seen it. But I have seen the firm, and I am planning on renting the Pelican Brief.

Lester (clarifying): How long have you known Ms Levinson?

Michael: Six years and two months.

Lester: And you were directly under her the entire time?

Michael (ribaldly): That’s what she said.

Lester (confused): Excuse me?

Michael: That’s what she said.

Lester: Ms Levinson told you she was your direct superior?

Michael (perplexedly): Uh, um, wh-why would she say that?

Jan (impatiently): Can we just move on to another question?

Diane (Dunder-Miffline representation): No wait, I don’t understand. Who’s on record saying this?

Lester (stiffly): With all due respect, I’m in the middle of a line of questioning. Now, Mr. Scott, what did you say Ms. Levinson said? Regarding your employment status with respect to her corporate position.

Michael (completely lost): Come again? That’s what she said? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Jan: Okay, if I may, he was just telling a joke before, so can we move on to another question?

Lester (surprised): Oh, are you sure?

Jan: Um…yes.

It is a correspondence illustrating the character of Michael Scott writ-large. In this stultifying scenario, he cannot help but acquiesce to his recumbent sense of humor, fiendishly wielding it in the most inappropriate of contexts. And as “That’s what she said,” tends to be Michael’s penultimate joke, it only further adds to the resonance of this conversation.

Michael continues to blunder his way through the deposition, incriminating Jan and completely desiccating the veracity of her lawsuit. Jan, reptilian in her eagerness for a sufficient settlement from Dunder-Mifflin, offers Michael’s personal diary into evidence in order to prove that, at least on her end, she did not consider her relationship with Michael to be of a romantic nature, during the time under dispute. The timeframe of their relationship becomes crucial to her case. She betrays Michael’s trust, knowingly, in pursuit of her own vindictive ends. She’s Machiavellian, she’s no quirky romantic, like Michael.

Jan, alas, eventually loses her case, largely due to Michael’s assertion that he doesn’t feel Dunder-Mifflin displays a pattern of disrespect to its employees. The seeds are thus sown for the dissolution of Jan’s relationship with Michael, which is actually a boon for Michael’s personal welfare. The Michael-Jan pairing was one catalyzed in confusion, lust, and ambivalence. It concludes with a similar admixture of feelings, in the ensuing episode, entitled “Dinner Party,” where the extent of Jan’s inability to regulate her emotions is most fully presented.

3. Dinner Party (Season 4, Episdoe 13)

Video courtesy of YouTube, The Dinner Party From Hell – The Office US

Michael, after months of attempting to invite Jim and Pam over for a dinner party, is finally able to persuade Jim and Pam to accept an invitation for supper at his condo, in the eponymously titled “Dinner Party.” It is pure, unadulterated comedy, as the all the flailing threads tying together Michael and Jan’s tenuous relationship are at last irrevocably torn asunder.

The dinner is merely a façade for Jan, an opportunity for her to present an “investment opportunity” to Michael’s “rich” friends, Jim and Pam. Her candles are characteristically odious, though she seems to find them personally appealing. Michael provides Jim and Pam with a polite tour to of the condo, featuring, among other things: Michael’s bed, a small storage unit he recomposes himself on at night adjacent to the Jan’s queen size bed; a “flat screen” television that is grotesquely small; and a video camera strategically positioned near Jan’s bed, assumingly placed there to capture Michael and Jan’s torrential romantic life. It is perverse and awkward.

Then, who should arrive, but Andy and Angela, another couple from the Dundler Mifflin office! Andy chivalrously offers a flower to “his flower,” Angela; who demonstratively swipes it away, querulously and frustratingly inquiring: “What should I do with this?” Later, fate conspires further, as Dwight arrives without invitation, a squalid-looking female companion at his side. Their intrusion is meekly accepted and the dinner tepidly commences, with weak and forced discourse.

The tapestry of Michael and Jan’s relationship is laid completely bare, it’s hollow shell thoroughly exposed. It’s controlling, manipulative, and intensely one-sided. One scene captures, quite succinctly, the unhealthy nature of their affair, as Michael describes the physical pain he endured while undergoing multiple vasectomies at the behest of Jan:

Michael (confronting Jan): What I said I wanted to have kids, and you said you wanted me to have a vasectomy, what did I do? And then, when you said that you might want to have kids, and I wasn’t so sure, who had the vasectomy reversed? And then when you said you definitely didn’t want to have kids? Who had it reversed back? Snip, snap (scissor motions)! Snip snap! Snip snap! I did!

You have NO idea the physical toll that three vasectomies have on a person!”

This all in a front of a rapt, but slightly horrified, audience. The evening ensues with continuing displays of not-so-latent antagonism between Michael and Jan. Michael, for instance, hangs a fluorescent beer insignia in the dining room, a lighting fixture that Jan abhors. Jan turns on an audio recording of a song written and performed by what we suspect to be her former romantic partner and secretary, Hunter. She also, in a fit of fiendish rage, grabs a Dundie trophy and hurls it at Michael’s flat screen television. It is a meltdown of the most conspicuous kind. Michael, relenting, leaves his condo with Dwight, while Jan attempts to piece together the fragments of a now-defunct relationship.

Hence, the Michael-Jan dalliance comes to a painful, irrevocable, end.

2. Goodbye, Michael (Season 7, Episode 22)

Video courtesy of YouTube, Goodbye, Michael Scott – The Office US

Steve Carell, the actor cast to play Michael Scott, once said, with regard as to the rationale for leaving “The Office,” which was still an immensely popular program: “It was time for other characters to step to the forefront and other storylines to be pursued. I think it was the right…the timing was right, I think for everybody but simultaneously there’s just a sense of joy for me that we had experienced all of this and we were getting…I was getting a chance to take a lap with everybody. And way those last two episodes were structured, it felt very rich to me to simultaneously be saying goodbye as Michael and us as friends in this moment of work together. But, yeah, it was a lot, it was a very emotional thing.”

“Goodbye, Michael,” really is a swan song, to both the character of Michael Scott, and the actor who portrayed him with such compassion and surprising depth. By Season 7, Michael is no longer a boyish clown acting on his every whim. He has matured, he’s engaged to Holly, he’s cultivated a space beyond the confines of Scranton. In place of the resentment and exasperation many of his employees had previously harbored toward him, is a tender space evocative of love.

Michael, of course, is trepidatious about his departure. He is torn about his impending extrication from his familiar and familial surroundings, and thus prevaricates, uttering untruths about the exact time of his departure. He doesn’t want to say goodbye. He’s scared and unsure. Two scenes, in particular, illustrate the emotion levelled at Michael’s departure.

In the first, Jim, insightfully identifies that Michael’s behavior signals a deception related to his immediate, rather than pending, departure. He confronts Michael in his office and politely asks if Michael would like to join him for lunch the proceeding day, in a gesture of farewell. Michael prevaricates slightly, but accepts. Jim shakes his head, knowingly:

Jim: You’re not leaving tomorrow. You’re leaving today, right?

Michael: Maybe.

Jim: Wow, so that’s it, huh? Just four o’ clock and you are gone for good.

Michael. Why I am so sad? Am I doing the wrong thing?

Jim: Absolutely not. It’s that sometimes…Goodbyes are a bitch.

Michael (pulls out a tape recorder and speaks into it): T-shirt idea: ‘Goodbyes stink,’ (puts recorder away). Okay, alright…So, James Halpert (starts to cry)…You started with this company as a fine young man…

Jim (gracefully interrupting): You know what I think we should do? I think we should just save the goodbyes for tomorrow. At lunch.

Michael (slightly startled): Oh, okay.

Jim: And then tomorrow, I can tell you…(tearing up)…What a great boss you turned out to be. The best boss I ever had.

John Krasinski, the actor playing Jim, purportedly genuinely teared up during this exchange. For he, like the entire crew, was essentially saying goodbye to an entire era; the drumbeat of his life for almost a decade.

In the show, by this point, Jim has developed a deep affection for Michael. They, for a period, were co-managers together. Michael was at Jim’s wedding. Michael had harbored, secretly, knowledge of Jim’s deep feelings for Pam for years. Michael had celebrated with him, when Jim’s daughter, Cece, was born. Michael isn’t so much a paternal figure to Jim, or a supervisor, as a steadfast, irritatingly loyal, friend.

The second scene of note features Michael’s goodbye to Pam, his erstwhile receptionist. At the airport, Michael discards all the technical gadgets needed for the filming of the “documentary,” and waves farewell to the camera crew. He saunters along to his gate. Suddenly, out of the nether, a shoeless Pam rushes toward him and gives him a loving hug. There is no audio, only silence. The mics are turned off. We view a brief exchange and Michael wanders off to his future, to the unknown. It’s beautiful.

Pam recounts their conversation, afterward:

Pam: “No, he (Michael) wasn’t sad. He was full of hope. About Colorado. And he was hoping to get an upgrade as a rewards member. And he said he was just really excited to get home and see Holly.”

Goodbye, Michael.

1. Casino Night (Season 2, Episode 22)

Video courtesy of YouTube, Jim Confesses His Love – The Office US

“Casino Night,” the finale of Season 2, features a dizzy interplay of competing elements amongst the cast of “The Office.” Michael attempts to walk a thin line between two women he’s interested in, Carol, his real estate broker; and Jan, his draconian boss. Dwight, ever Michael’s guardian, pledges to keep surveillance on both women during the evening, reporting their movements promptly to Michael. Kevin, the rotund, cognitively slow, accountant, bumbles along in his endeavoring as an elite poker player. Creed revels in his overt tendencies toward kleptomania, stealing for whimsy and fun as the mechanics of the celebratory night grind away. Phyliss blithely wins several hands of poker, exclaiming “Look, I have all the clovers,” to a bemused Kevin. Ryan and Kelly continue their tenuous, immature, romantic relationship. Roy, Pam’s fiancée, books Kevin’s band, “Scrantonicity,” for his nuptials with Pam.

Residing it beneath it all, however, is Jim’s personal indecision about relating his authentic feelings for Pam. Expressing himself genuinely would be a gamble of the highest degree. For two seasons, we as an audience had observed the unmistakable chemistry between Jim and Pam, waiting desperately for him to take the leap; which had heretofore been prevented by the presence of Pam’s fiancée, Roy.

Jim, however, steels himself. He seems to make a silent resolution to himself: Either Pam returns his feelings, or he’s leaving Scranton for a new position in Stamford. He encounters Pam in the Dunder-Mifflin parking lot, and initiates the following exchange:

Jim: Hey, how’s it going?

Pam (excitedly): Good! Especially after I took all your money in poker.

Jim (awkwardly): Yeah. Hey, can I talk to you about something?

Pam (teasing): About when you want to give me more of your money?

Jim: No, I…

Pam (still oblivious): Did you wanna do that now? We can go inside. I’m feeling kind of good tonight.

Jim (resolved): I was just (sighs)…I’m in love with you.

Pam (startled): What?

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 (frustrated): What are you doing? What do you expect me to say to that?

Jim: I just needed you to know. Once.

The dice is thrown. The cards are revealed. Finally, after two seasons, the truth

uncomfortably emerges. Pam, though she must have intuitively known Jim’s feelings all along, nevertheless reels. She is, after all, an engaged woman. In her consternation and confusion, she verbally rejects Jim’s gesture. She does, however, leaves the possibility of a relationship in the future ajar, as she consents to a kiss from Jim before the episode concludes.

Jim’s confession establishes the tenor of the next several seasons of “The Office,” which deal with Jim’s obstinacy in returning to Pam, and Pam’s own self-realization. The arc of each character is drawn so organically that it only becomes natural that it eventually converges, in union. “The Office” might have been erected on an edifice of the antics of Michael Scott, but it was solidified by the heartwarming relationship between Jim and Pam.