Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Office: 50-25

My countdown of the 50 best episodes of The Office begins with a look at numbers 50-25. Starting Thursday, a new episode will be unveiled in conjunction with episodes from Season 9. Read the intro to this series here. This will just be a quick list with some quick thoughts on each episode listed. A more coherent format will begin on Thursday with individual selections. Enough yakkity yak yak, on with the list!

List after the jump...

50 – The Chump (Season 6, Episode 25)

This one makes an appearance for one reason only. I love Creed.One of the very rare bright spots in an awful sixth season.

49 – Threat Level Midnight (Season 7, Episode 17)

A fun, wacky episode that built on past jokes from previous seasons and made good use of the documentary format by going back and getting quick, humorous lines from Rashida Jones and Melora Hardin. Also, the rap at the end that plays over the credits (I think it’s Ed Helms) is great and reminded me of the rap that plays over the credits of The Poke of Zorro in this Simpsons episode.

48 – Local Ad (Season 4, Episode 9)

“Local Ad” contains one of my favorite cold openings ever with Andy starting the Kit-Kat theme song but not knowing how to finish it – and then Jim’s quick interjection for people not to help him figure it out since he’s “so close.” The joke continues throughout the episode until the hilarious stinger where Andy thinks that the jingle is for Fancy Feast. “Break me off a piece of that Fancy Feast! Cat food! Nailed it.” A wonderful reminder of how awesome Andy is in small doses.  I also loved Michael’s dismay at Darryl’s non-urban sounding jingle (“you should really get in touch with your culture”) and then telling him that he’ll make him a mix tape.

41 – PDA (Season 7, Episode 16)

Another underrated, current episode from season 7. The conference room scene with Holly and Michael is brilliant stuff, and when the two finally utter “I love you” it’s a nice, earned moment.

46 – Secret Santa (Season 6, Episode 13)

If you’re a fan of the show, you know that there is a certain formula and tempo that goes with the Christmas episodes. I’ve always liked how they resolve themselves (Michael has big plans, those plans get derailed, he then derails the party, atones for his mistakes, a montage of gift-giving and general Christmas glee ends the episode), and “Secret Santa” may not be the best Christmas show, but it’s hilarious (Andy and Dwight singing Green Day; Michael’s description of God, “…he has the power of flight”) and sweet (The gift-giving montage at the end; Andy’s gift to Erin in the stinger) as any Christmas episode; it’s a real highlight in a bad Season 6.

45 – The Sting (Season 7, Episode 5)

A gem from Season 7, guest starring Timothy Olyphant as ace salesman Danny Cordray, and written by one of my favorite writers, Mindy Kaling. The episode is a great bit of slapstick and really highlights everyone’s comedic skills. Kate Flannery, as Meredith, is especially worth noting here as she always is hilarious but rarely gets the screentime to showcase it, but here, her constant foiling of Jim, Dwight, and Michael’s sting operation is the main reason this episode appears on this list.

44 – Money (Season 4, Episodes 7/8)

A melancholy episode that has some big laughs and sad observations at the expense of Michael and Jan’s relationship is one of those jumbo, 40 minute episodes that actually worked for its full runtime. Michael making salient points about why Die Hard 4 makes no sense is one of my favorite “Lucid Michael” moments. He’s right, after all.

43 – Job Fair (Season 4, Episode 17)

Important as the big, next step for Jim and Pam. Pam, because she inquires about art school (even though that storyline didn’t really go anywhere), and Jim because he is finally seen applying himself to his job and lands a big, reluctant client for his efforts. Also, anytime you pair up Kevin and Andy with a straight-man like Jim, you get comedy gold. I loved the bass-line reaction Andy and Kevin when an excited Jim kisses Pam at the end of the episode (followed by Michael being creepy and sidling right up to the two whispering, “yeah, that’s right, kiss her.” Awesome.

42 – Goodbye, Toby (Season 4, Episodes 18/19)

This follow-up episode to “Job Fair” is one of series director Paul Feig’s best episodes. As Toby exits Holly enters, and, yes, even though they didn’t quite know how to use Holly at first (hey, they got it right eventually), Amy Ryan was such a breath of fresh air for this show that her debut episode needs to be mentioned. Highlight of the episode: Michael during the exit interview with Toby (with Holly and Pam in the room) having to change his inflection when reading, “What gives you the right?” Beautifully played by Carell and a real highlight of the strike-affected fourth season. 

41 – Traveling Salesmen (Season 3, Episode 13)

Perhaps I’m underrating this one a bit as the more I think about the more I laugh at the jokes (especially the cold open with Harvey the Computer), but I’ll just state here that these numbers – as with anything I do with countdowns – are not set in stone. Here you have Dwight quitting, Andy’s awesome Willy Wonka song (“oompa –loompa doopity-dawesome, Dwight is gone which is totally awesome.”), Jim’s great warning to his younger self, and one of the best “that’s what she said moments” (I love the way Michael says, “don’t you dare!”). One of the highlights of Season 3, which is my favorite season.

40 – Safety Training  (Season 3, Episode 20)
“Dwight, you ignorant slut!” That’s the reason.

39 – Beach Games (Season 3, Episode 23)

Pam walking over the coals followed by her speech to the office (but really just Jim) is a thing of beauty. Michael explaining the hot dog eating contest is great, too (“Just dip it in the water so that it slides down your gullet”).

38 – Branch Wars (Season 4, Episode 10)

Joss Whedon directed (and Mindy Kaling wrote) this slapstick episode. The fake mustaches, Dwight and Michael’s attempt to steal an industrial copy machine (and Michael’s great screaming over the two-way radio), Karen yelling at Jim (and Jim’s reaction), and Dwight peeing in the car. The last time these three were in a car together was in “The Injury.” The car scene in “Branch Wars” isn’t that good, but it’s a worthy companion.  Another Kaling-penned episode makes this list. Hers are some of my favorites.

37 – The Return (Season 3, Episode 14)

“The Return” is like all of the Nard Dog’s greatest hits rolled into one, and one of the main reasons why Ed Helms – who is extraordinarily talented – is best in small doses. Whether it’s Andy recording all seven parts of an a capella version of “Rockin’ Robbin,” Andy singing “Zombie” by The Cranberries, or Andy constantly in the ear of an ever-doubting Michael (doubting whether he made the right decision in choosing Andy over Dwight), this episode contains some of the all-time great Andy Bernard moments. I also loved the prank Jim plays on Andy by putting his cell phone in the ceiling (and Andy’s reaction: putting his fist through the wall) and that he recruits Pam to do it because Karen is too busy with work (signifying that Jim, as we all well know, still has feelings for Pam and is his happiest at work when the two are colluding). Michael and Dwight’s reconciliation is also a thing of beauty with a nice touch by the writers to have a Muzak version of “Up Where We Belong” playing during their An Officer and a Gentleman-like reunion. Great stuff.

36 – Weight Loss (Season 5, Episodes 1/2)

Michael Clump. I love Michael Clump. Despite the lame “Kevin is mentally handicapped” storyline, “Weight Loss” is memorable for a few reasons: it introduces Jan back into the mix (the pregnancy storyline), which in turn throws the whole Michael/Holly dynamic for a legitimate loop considering what we know about Michael (he’ll go back to Jan because his top priority is to be married and have a family), and the episode contains the moment all Jim and Pam fans were waiting for: the proposal. It’s a helluva a romantic moment, and I was glad that veteran series director Paul Feig kept the camera in longshot to capture the moment. Other highlights: Kelly saying Creed gave her a tapeworm to help win the weight loss contest immediately followed by the talking head of Creed saying, “that wasn’t a tapeworm;” Michael totally misreading how to play the whole Counting Crows concert ticket angle; Michael growing a goatee ("goooo tee"); Stanley trying to lose weight for his own reasons (getting back to his young, fitter Black Panther days as he explains in his talking head, “Look at those biceps. We were fightin' the power and eating whatever we wanted”); Kevin proclaiming Ryan as Fire-d guy ( a nice call back to season 2’s “The Fire”); Andy calling Jim “wet Tuna;” and so much more. This was also the beginning of one of my favorite character evolutions: douchey Ryan. A great episode.

35 – Dunder Mifflin Infinity (Season 4, Episodes 3/4)

VP Ryan with his douchey beard and lame corporate speak was wonderful, and BJ Novak played the hell out of it. I love Creed’s attempts to be younger (all I have to think about is that image of him with his hair dyed and it sends me into hysterics), Dwight trying to replace Sprinkles – Angela’s dead cat – with a stray cat that he names Garbage (very Dwight), Ryan getting shot down by Pam, Michael and Dwight arguing over the omniscience of GPS, and Michael demanding he get the Turtle candies back in a desperate attempt to have some kind of control over his career that seems to be slipping from what he knows and loves. A lot like “Weight Loss,” and “Money,” “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” is one of the rare jumbo-sized episodes that don’t feel too long because there’s a lot more going on here than just the jokes.

34 – Performance Review (Season 2, Episode 8)

One of the highlights from Season 2, “Performance Review” is best remembered for the moment when Michael opens up the suggestion box for the first time in years. When Michael starts reading about all of the “suggestions” (which are actually complaints), the episode goes from being simply funny to an all-timer. I love Stanley’s response to Michael’s question about whether he learned something “on the streets” and the usually annoyed Stanley responds with, “yes, Michael, I did learn that on the streets; in the ghetto, in fact.” This is followed by the hilarious smash cut to Stanley’s talking head where he proclaims, “It’s all about my bonus.” This was also the first episode where we got to see Dwight’s awesome “getting pumped up” techniques. Finally, this is probably one of the all-time best Jim pranks as he and Pam convince Dwight that it’s Friday when it’s really Thursday. 

33 – Murder (Season 6, Episode 10)

“Murder” is one of those great episodes The Office would throw out there every so often to showcase Michael being smarter than he seems at first. With news that the branch may be closing down, Michael gets the office to play a murder-mystery party game to distract them from the. Jim’s (and Oscar) total reluctance to go along with this (I love when he yells at Michael about doing this game “today, seriously, of all days” and Michael snaps right back with what is actually pretty reasonable logic) is perfectly juxtaposed with wacky Michael, and, as they explain at the end of the episode, even though the idea of two bosses is incredibly stupid (I never understood how David Wallace kept his job for as long as he did), there are some days where the office needs Michael (Andy, Dwight, Erin, Pam) and Jim (Oscar and Stanley) because everyone has different types of distractions to help them get through stressful times. I can turn this episode on any day and just get a kick out of these actors enjoying the hell out of the murder-mystery party game. Highlight for me: Andy explaining how to do a Savannah accent. Fun, fun, fun.

32 – E-mail Surveillance (Season 2, Episode 9)

I love the opening where Michael hits the lights and whispers "oh no, it's happening, people" as he mistakes the IT guy (a Sikh) for a terrorist. This episode is also notable for showing that even though Jim is so clearly not like Michael and doesn’t think the boss should hang out with their employees, he cannot help but save Michael from complete embarrassment when he crashes Jim’s party and starts singing a duet all by himself. It piggy-backs nicely off of the first episode of the seasons (“The Dundies”) where Michael gets heckled by strangers at Chili’s and Jim and Pam fire back because, hey, Michael may be a dork, but he’s their dork. So when Jim jumps in and sings that duet with Michael, it’s an important step in their relationship (notice how after this episode Jim begins to confide in Michael a lot more instead of just sitting back and mocking him).

31 – Business Ethics (Season 5, Episode 3)

I love this episode for one primary reason: it contains one of the very best conference room moment when Meredith shares that she trades sex for discounts. It is both horrifying (mirrored in Holly’s great reaction) and hilarious (Meredith…oh, Meredith) and just one of my favorite moments in series history. The rest of the episode doesn’t live up to that moment, but I also loved Holly and Michael’s “Let’s Get Ethical” routine set to Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical,” and the way Jim flips Dwight’s “time theft” gimmick back on him by discussing Battlestar Galactica with Andy and getting all of the details wrong. Whenever Dwight turns to correct Jim, he turns around with his stopwatch, ready to calculate all of the time he’s “stealing” from the company. One of my favorite Jim/Dwight moments that’s just the right length.

30 – Company Picnic (Season 5, Episode 28)

The last time I really liked Jim and Pam. A great season-ender (to a looong season thanks to NBC ordering a super-sized season in order to capitalize on their only sitcom that gets ratings) includes Jim finally getting his revenge against Charles Minor via a volleyball game, Dwight stalling for time (one of my favorite moments where Dwight willingly goes along with the team), the idiocy of David Wallace shining through as he once again confides in Michael. The real highlights though are Jim’s reaction to the pregnancy (one of Krasinski’s best moments on screen) and Michael and Holly’s cringe-inducing Slumdufflin Millionaire skit where they let slip that Buffalo branch is closing.

29 – Michael’s Last Dundies (Season 7, Episode 21)

When Michael’s final Dundies are canceled and the staff suggests they take it back to the office, nothing prepared the viewer for what would follow – an all-time great Office moment where the entire office (sans an upset Dwight) sing “Seasons of Love” from Rent, subbing in different memories they’ve shared with Michael; sure, it was out of character for some of the individuals, but it really did seem like it was more about paying tribute to Carell than anything else.  It’s a beautiful moment that almost seems like it was genuinely sprung on Carell and surprised him based on his facial reactions (which never cease to get me a little teary-eyed). I never much cared for Will Ferrell during his four episode run (the writers really didn’t know what to do with him), but it doesn’t matter that every scene he’s in is DOA because of that ending. I loved Michael’s final line of the episode: “Yeah, wow, okay…this is going to hurt like a mother******”

28 – Christmas Party (Season 2, Episode 10)

Yankee Swap! Such a painfully funny episode where Michael was at his best. Yes, he’s a jerk here, but as I mentioned in my introduction to this retrospective, there begins a small shift in his intentions in season 2 as here his primary motivation is to make the office happy; he’s just completely unaware that Yankee Swap makes no sense since they all went out and bought specific gifts for the name they drew for the gift exchange. When Michael finally realized that the game he thought was so much fun is bumming his staff out, he buys a ton of alcohol (breaking corporate mandate) in order to make nice. It’s one of the first times we really see the self-aware Michael by episode’s end. Also, “Christmas Party” is one of the best of the early romantic episodes involving Jim and Pam as his gift to her was just perfection.

27 – New Boss (Season 5, Episode 20)

Idra Elbis was a great straight man, and I loved brief stint as Charles Minor, the new VP who is coming and basically destroying everything Michael loves about his job. Michael’s reactions to him – and the threat that his superfluous anniversary party will be shut down – are some of Carell’s best moments of mixing genuine worry with hilarious disgust for what’s being done to his beloved office. Jim wearing the tuxedo as a prank on Dwight and his memo about dress code is funny (I love the cold open with whole “classy” conversation), but even funnier is that it backfires on Jim as Charles is not enamored with his charm or his reasons for wearing a tuxedo and thumbing his nose at office memos. You have to have Jim lose every once in a while, and this was a perfect example of how to do it. The payoff, too – with Charles thinking more highly of Dwight than Jim, only for it to backfire on him later down the line – is important as everything in this episode plants the seeds for what is the single greatest story arc in the series’ run: The Michael Scott Paper Company. Great piece of acting by Carell, too, at the end when he gets his triumphant moment where he quits and tells David Wallace, “You have no idea how high I can fly,” which is just the perfect type of line for Michael Scott to say.

26 – Andy’s Play (Season 7, Episode 3)

This is the perfect example of an episode that balances the sweet with the comedy; it also represents almost everything I adore about this show: petulant Michael (without being too annoying like he was in season two, most notably “Michael’s Birthday”), needy Andy (before he became the main character), great quips from Jim and Pam (comparing taking their sleeping baby from the car into the house to The Hurt Locker is inspired), and more than anything the episode highlights the shows central thesis: the office as community. This is represented in one of my absolute favorite moments in the series when the gang convinces Andy to sing a song for them and Darryl plays the piano while Andy sings Macy Gray’s “I Try.” The reaction shots (especially Dwight subtly rocking out) while Andy sings is a thing of absolute beauty. The last time I ever felt a thing for Andy’s character.

25 – Goodbye, Michael (Season 7, Episode 22)

Just feels appropriate to put this here as we head into the top 24. Not the best episode ever or anything, but it’s a great performance from Carell, and it just feels right to make mention of his final episode. Especially poignant is the way he so desperately wants to say goodbye to Pam and then finally gets the chance to at the end as she rushes from off screen to say goodbye to him Lost in Translation style. Again, those last few episodes of the Michael Scott Farewell Tour never cease to get me a little teary eyed. Also, I love the last “that’s what she said” that Carell gets. A fitting farewell.

Thursday will be the Season 9 premier which means I’ll unveil my 24th choice.


  1. It's difficult for me to rate any of these as full episodes, because usually I remember a moment but struggle to remember what other moments were in the same show.

    That said, if you asked me to write down some of my all-time favorite memories, they would include "Don't you dare," "This is going to hurt like a motherfucker," several elements from the Season 2 Christmas party, several elements of Andy's Play, which is one of my favorite later-season episodes, and the end of "Murder," which is one of my favorite moments from later-season episodes.

    The only strong disagreements I can find is that I distinctly remember watching "Branch Wars" and thinking, "Oh, God, this is it ... we're jumping the shark, aren't we?" (A sad feeling made worse because I hate that expression.) The cut to the guys wearing mustaches is GENIUS, but everything else felt like a show losing confidence and resorting to extremes. But I haven't seen that episode in a long time, so maybe now it doesn't stick out as much.

    1. I'm glad we're on the same page in regards to "Andy's Play." I love that ending so much. Yes, "Branch Wars" is wacky, but I think going back through and watching it with the understanding that the show would attempt those types of stories in the future and wouldn't even come close to matching the timing of "Branch Ways" which is pretty tight as far farce episodes go. I think the whole "jump the shark" thing (I agree with you, by the way, I'm wary of that term) is true of any episode of any series that tries to do wacky, farcical episodes. FRASIER comes to mind, yet some of the very best FRASIER episodes were the farces.

      I think you should watch it again if only for the whole "Dwight peeing in a soda can" bit. Broad? Yes. But great stuff.