The Office: A (Former) Fan’s Farewell

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Though it’s been years The Office was a must-watch TV comedy, I’ve stuck with it. Maybe it’s my Scranton (born and raised) roots. I’ve maintained that the end was near and I’d given it so much that it’d be foolish to quit. I kind of wish I had. The past two seasons have been pitifully unmemorable. Yet here I am: writing about the show on the eve of its series finale.

I have a lot of memories of The Office: meeting several cast members during their once regular visits to Scranton, the big Office Convention that took over the city in 2007, bonding with my college roommate over chicken fingers and Jim-Dwight hijinks on Thursday nights, crying during the big wedding episode (more on that later). But the best memories are the laughs. No matter what’s happened to the show, it was once a real laugh factory.

I do hope The Office goes out in a blaze of glory. When it was hot, it was on fire. I realized this when my original plan to honor the show—a top ten best episodes list—was made up almost exclusively of half-hours from seasons one through three.

So instead, I’m running down my favorite episodes, season by season. If you’re a fan of the show, share your choices below!

Season 1

Best: “Health Care”
Runner-up: “Diversity Day”
It’s rare that a show’s two strongest episodes are its second and third, but I’m a sucker for what The Office‘s intentions once were: relatable, cringe-worthy humor. Before Dwight was a beet farmer, he was an impossible kiss-ass. Before Michael was an idiot, he was uncomfortably insecure. Before Jim and Pam were married with kids, he was a love-struck prankster, and she was a mousy receptionist. These characters were infinitely more appealing to me than what they ultimately became, but I digress.

It’s simply fascinating to me that a show could come out so strongly out of the gate. I was hooked on The Office from the moment Michael famously and hilariously cited Abraham Lincoln by telling his employees, “If you are a racist, I will attack you with the North,” in the series’ second-funniest episode. Just one week later, the show’s writers topped themselves when Jim and Pam nearly drove Dwight insane trying to usurp his attempts to slash health benefits. “Government-created killer nanorobot infection,” Dwight read furiously on an anonymous list of diseases and conditions submitted by his coworkers. “It’s an epidemic,” Pam told her closest confidant.

Season 2

Best: “Christmas Party”
Runner-up: “The Dundies”
Christmas episodes became an annual tradition, but no other holiday-themed half-hour would top the first, which saw Michael lose his nuts over getting a crummy Secret Santa gift (a homemade oven mitt from Phyllis) while he contributed a killer video iPod. Secret Santa, at the boss’ request, turns into “Yankee Swap,” and everyone’s feelings are hurt when it comes out that Michael spent the entire office’s bonus check on a party none of them want to attend.

“The Dundies”, meanwhile, was the perfect transition out of Season 1’s more subdued style of humor. This is a pretty broad half hour, but almost every joke hits the mark, and the Jim/Pam development is pretty huge.

Season 3

Best: “The Return”
Runner-up: “Grief Counseling”
I’d argue this is the series’ most complete season. It starts with Jim in Stamford and concludes with him asking Pam out for their first date. Ed Helms and Rashida Jones are both welcome additions to the cast. The former is the focus of the season’s best and darkest episode. Always a kiss-ass, Andy has slyly forced Dwight out in order to become Michael’s closest confidant. It all goes south, however, when Jim and Pam hide his cell phone in the ceiling. Coupled with the awkward return of gay accountant Oscar, this is definitely a top five Office episode.

“Grief Counseling”, meanwhile, is a Michael showcase from start to finish. His old boss has died, and he doesn’t understand why no one cares. Nor do they care when a dead bird shows up on Dunder Mifflin’s doorstep. Will his “family” feel this way when he dies, too?

Season 4

Best: “Goodbye, Toby”
Runner-up: “Dinner Party”
From the end of Season 3 on, it’s a slow, steady march toward unfunny, and while Season 4 is a major disappointment, it has its moments. A shortened season due to the infamous writers’ strike, it doesn’t truly hit its stride until everyone returns full-time. The finale is the high point. We’re introduced to Holly Flax (Amy Ryan), the sweet HR woman who’d steal Michael’s heart. And a swerve ending brings a proposal…just not the one we’ve been patiently waiting for all these years.

“Dinner Party”, somewhat ironically, is the first episode back from the strike. It’s one I loathed on first watch. Jan Levinson post-Season 3 is rather insufferable, but a Michael who really stands up for himself more than negates evil Jan. It’s another very broad episode, but it’s grown on me considerably since 2008.

Season 5

Best: “Broke”
Runner-up: “Cafe Disco”
The mediocre Season 4 did, to a certain degree, take me out of the series, and we’re starting to enter territory which is pretty indistinguishable to me. What stands out from Season 5 was the rather audacious Michael Scott Paper Company storyline, which saw Charles, an aggressively no-nonsense upper manager, drive Michael to quit and start his own business. Pam follows, and along the way, they pick up Ryan. It goes on for a good six episodes, and none is better than the sixth. “Broke” sees Charles and company try to buy Michael’s company out, and our loveable doofus of a protagonist is damn nervous that he’s going to unwittingly spill the beans: The MSPC is broke.

With Michael back in his old position, we’re treated to an episode of delightful farce called “Cafe Disco”. Michael has a secret room in the building where he goes to drink espresso and dance. It’s ridiculous, but incredibly sweet. And it reinforces the spot-on notion that Steve Carell + music = comedy gold.

Season 6

Best: “Niagra”
Runner-up: “Murder”

Episodes become even more indistinguishable this year, minus one huge exception. “Niagra” is a brilliant hour-long episode of ning through each season’s best episode, as well as a runner-up choice. If you’re a fan of the show, share your The Office centered around the wedding of Jim and Pam. Bringing these two together was a no-brainer, and while I’d probably argue that doing so quite early in the show’s run was probably a mistake, this episode nearly makes up for it. What starts as Season 2-funny concludes with a guaranteed tear in your eye.

“Murder”, meanwhile, is classic old-school The Office. Unwilling the face the potential reality of a company-wide shutdown, Michael rallies the troops around a murder-mystery party game, complete with awful New Orleans accents and costumes.

Season 7

Best: “Goodbye, Michael”
Runner-up: “Viewing Party”

Calling this season hit and miss would be kind, but the biggest hit (on a number of contradicting levels) was Steve Carell’s farewell episode. Reunited with his love, Holly, he says goodbye to Dunder Mifflin and heads to Colorado. It’s great: funny, poignant, and appropriate. It should have been the series finale.

There’s nothing big and grand about “Viewing Party”, but it harkens back quite well to the show’s roots. How do you interpret your relationships with your coworkers? Some, like Ellie Kemper’s adorable Erin, like spending time with coworkers outside of work. Some, like Ellie Kemper’s adorable Erin, even view their coworkers like family. Michael is her surrogate father, and this is the episode that cements that weird, but endearing bond.

Season 8

Best: “The Incentive”
Runner-up: “Doomsday”

If Season 7 was hit and miss, Season 8 is straight-up miss. James Spader joins the cast, but not as Michael Scott’s replacement. That promotion was in house, as Ed Helms’ Andy ascends to the position of regional manager. The new role essentially killed the character, and while we won’t see the bloody body emerge until Season 9, watching Helms try to play Michael Scott was consistently awkward. Every episode arc was the same. Andy screws something up. His new boss, Robert California (Spader), cryptically critiques him. Andy does something weird to atone for his mistakes. The Incentive was just the second episode of the season, so the arc still felt fresh. Doomsday had a unique (albeit totally unrealistic) take on the arc. They’re arguably the only two acceptable episodes of the season.

Season 9

Best: “A.A.R.M.”
Runner-up: “Work Bus”

I should first state that I’ve appreciated the show’s attempts to both get serious and break the fourth wall. The documentary crew filming our characters over the past decade become important cogs in their development, and Jim and Pam go through a genuine marriage crisis. It doesn’t totally work in practice, but it’s an obvious step up from the abysmal Season 8. While I enjoyed the simplicity of “Work Bus”, this year’s best episode was actually its most recent. “A.A.R.M.” meant an end to Andy’s insufferable reign over Dunder Mifflin Scranton. It seemed like an end to the Jim/Pam drama. And it’s definitely an end to the documentary subplot, as the episode concluded (only to resume months later in the series finale) with everyone gathering around the pub to watch the first episode.

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2 Responses to The Office: A (Former) Fan’s Farewell

  1. Alan May 19, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Have you ever checked out Ricky Gervais’ original?

    Reply
    • John Gilpatrick May 19, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      I adore the original British series. Very glad it ended when it did, too.

      Reply

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