Monday, May 13, 2013

Best Episodes of The Office

The Office is having its series finale this Thursday.  Throughout its nine seasons the American adaptation of the critically acclaimed British series has seen many lows but it has never ceased to be interesting.  Even though it constantly makes mistakes I keep tuning in.  The characters still work and the premise is solid.  The writers have been able to experiment and expand on a great foundation which is always executed by an ever expanding talented ensemble.  I know there are sitcoms that people consider to be perfect, but I don't watch a sitcom for perfection.  A sitcom is something pleasant, familiar and relatable that you can pick up at any time and enjoy.  And a great sitcom is one that makes you makes you think and feel amidst its familiarity.  I think that The Office accomplished quite a bit and I was more than happy to be along for the ride.  For my tastes here are the fifteen best episodes of The Office, I left several out.

15. Search Committee
This is the most recent episode on this list and the first episode of the series without Steve Carell.  This is a very strong follow-up to the exit of the series' main character.  There were certainly gimmick candidates such as Ricky Gervais, Warren Buffett and Jim Carrey but there were some funny bits from the unqualified Kelly, memorable James Spader (who to be fair got off to a great start on the show until his character just absolutely failed) and a hilarious Ray Romano cameo.  The main thing this episode did was show that the characters could do business as usual.  They were still funny and could carry the show on their own.

14. Michael Scott Paper Company
Most fans enjoyed the few times the series had story arcs that switched up the setting such as the Florida arc and especially The Michael Scott Paper Company.  It shows a nice proof of Michael Scott's competence as a salesman and actually gives Pam and Ryan something to do.  The combination of these three characters, who the show often struggled with really worked.  All of the episodes in this arc were a nice diversion, but the different opening titles in this episode was a highlight.

13.  Christmas Party
I had to limit myself to the number of season 2 episodes I included.  It is undoubtedly the best season of the series and I wanted to give a series overview (The Fire is the episode that I should have probably included).  This one has Michael at his most selfish, forcing a gift exchange because he hated Phyllis' homemade present.  It is also one of the most visible Jim and Pam developments.  This is one of the episodes that really perfects their chemistry and tension in their unrequited romance.

12. Sex Ed
I always love when sitcoms go back through the main character's past relationships (Don Juan is in Hell Part 2 is my favorite episodes of Frasier).  There is something really reflective about that that is relatable to me.  Michael revisiting Jan, Donna, Helene, Carol and Holly gave a nice view of where Michael had been and where he was heading.  I have a number of season 7 episodes because they really have such a great arc for Michael Scott (the episode Counseling, which I almost included, also did something similar).  Also Rainn Wilson's delivery of Dwight saying he is going to find the operating theatre in the hospital is also one of my favorite Dwight moments.

11. Ben Franklin
Michael throws a bachelor and bachelorette party at work and tasks Jim with hiring a male stripper, Jim instead chooses to hire a Ben Franklin impersonator.  The entire premise is hilarious but the women who egg the actor into talking dirty is executed perfectly.  Dwight trying to prove that the impersonator is not the real Ben Franklin is just as funny (he is 99% sure, no matter what Jim says).  Also in this episode the tension between Pam and Karen is compelling as the two get a long but both care about Jim.  The addition of Karen to the cast really got some extra mileage out of the Jim and Pam courtship that really worked.

10. Goodbye Michael
This was the finale to many people and it was a great one.  Steve Carell refused to come back for a large cameo in the series finale because his character arc ended so strongly.  It is full of sweet moments such as his being a father to Erin (something I wished they had utilized more in previous episodes), Jim's farewell, Pam saying goodbye at the airport and Michael throwing away his World's Greatest Boss mug.  The Office is known for being just as sweet and sincere as funny and clever.

9. Stress Relief
Sometimes stunts work.  The energy and choreography of the fire scare and CPR training is very well executed.  Full of fun character moments and just really well edited.  Dwight's meetings at corporate with Michael failing to reprimand him properly and Dwight's efforts to get employee signatures without apologizing are very fun.  The episode may have lagged a bit after the roast but there were more than enough laughs to grow around.

8. Dinner Party
What I love about this episode is that it is a work com doing a dom com episode.  A very dark, very messed up dom com episode.  The look into Jan and Michael's personal life is uncomfortable but completely in character.  Their little obsessions such as Michael's $200 plasma screen and Jan's terrible CD really expand the characters' lives outside of The Office.  Some of Steve Carell's best moments as a comedic actor too in the vasectomy scene.

7. The Client
I always enjoyed when Michael proves how his unconventional personality gets results.  His budding relationship with Jan is a great foundation for this episode and the understated Tim Meadows cameo is hilarious.  The B-plot is also great with The Office reading Michael's screenplay and Jim and Pam's developing relationship.  The look Jim gives to Michael at the end when they are both dealing with their own unrealized romantic desires is a really sweet moment.  Standard solid season 2 fare.

6. E-Mail Surveillance
I never see this episode mentioned much as a favorite but I feel that it showcases the main characters perfectly.  Michael's character is expanded so much as he is racist towards the IT guy, spies on everybody's e-mails and breaks every rule of improv.  This episode really showcases how good of a person Jim really is.  I think that one of the sweetest moments of the series is Jim joining a desperate Michael in karaoke.  Just great characterization at the height of the series.

5. The Injury
The funniest idea this show ever had was Michael Scott burning his foot on a George Foreman grill.  And they got a lot of mileage out of the very simple, strange premise.  Michael acts like he is handicapped for the entire day, giving a ridiculous tolerance conference which includes multiple Tom Hanks visual aids.  His commitment to this delusion is almost admirable as he tries to take attention away from Dwight's concussion.  Also Dwight his a brain injury and his short friendship with Pam is both touching and funny.

4. Casino Night
This episode finally saw Jim and Pam acting on their feelings.  It gave a perfect point for the series to wrap up story arcs but also the perfect jumping off point for future seasons.  A very well written episode and the perfect season finale.  Even if this is where many people felt the series should have ended it was impossible to not want more after the sincerity and relief of Jim and Pam's kiss.

3. Threat Level Midnight
I always love when you get to see a character's fantasy or idea of what is cool (one of the reasons why I love Homestar Runner so much).  This episode is Michael Scott's movie (that they read a draft of way back in season 2) and is a perfect look into the character's mind, work ethic and accomplishments.  The movie shown in the episode is just as delusional and ineffective as The Office's main character and feels as if it was written and directed by him.  The actors doing bad bad acting is hilarious and just a really creative diversion.  Ludicrous and absurd while advancing Michael's departure.

2. The Dundies
The first episode of season 2.  The turning point of the series after a less than perfect first season got the characters right, it is the perfect introductory episode.  Michael was inappropriate and disliked but sincerely and desperately needed attention.  Dwight was a loyal lackey that would make any threat to protect his boss (such as taking away the women's bathroom privileges).  Jim and Pam were both unhappy in their lives but loved being together.  Just all perfect character moments.  Definitely the best Pam episode as Jenna Fischer's gives an accurate performance of inebriation while keeping the character's sincerity.

1. Garage Sale
This is my favorite episode, I don't think that the series had ever been better.  I love it mainly because it really shows how far the characters had developed.  The show started out with an office full of employees who would not invite Michael to a party to really caring and supporting his happiness.  Every time in the past when Michael was about to be fired or quit nobody cared but his announcement of leaving has a visible effect on him.  The great thing about this episode is that it shows Michael maturing without losing the character's signature immaturity.  His initial impulse is to write Holly a message in flames (leading to the brilliant Pam quote of "Michael, you had two ideas today.  One was great and one was horrible.").  Also this episode has Jim selling Dwight magic beans, one of the show's best pranks.

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