Mockumentary television shows are not a recent invention. While talking heads have been rising in popularity since the early 2000s with shows like Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, and Trailer Park Boys, the concept has been used in film and television since the 1960's. Many of these projects are wildly successful, easily hitting the number of episodes required for syndication before calling it quits or going on to become the most-watched show on Netflix. So, it blew my mind to learn that some of my co-workers have some strong (i.e. "negative") opinions on Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and what I consider to be one of the greatest television shows of all-time, NBC's The Office.
I recently found myself on the defensive end of a 3v1 battle defending Michael and his Scranton branch of characters. I discovered that some of my colleagues don't simply lack my level of enthusiasm for the show, they actively despise it. Now, these are smart people. I'm arguing against professionals with strong opinions who consume so much content that it would hurt our parents' feelings (and believe me, it does). I needed to pull out all the stops, to find the best of the best episodes and help them see the light.
So, I decided to pull together a list of the top 10 episodes in hopes that maybe one day, they will finally understand approximately 90% of my jokes and references. Here are the top 10 episodes of The Office, ranked.
10. "Counseling" (Season 7, Episode 2)
Written by B.J. Novak, "Counseling" finds Michael at the mercy of his worst enemy. A recurring gag in The Office is that Michael hates his HR Rep, Toby Flenderson. He openly insults him, attempts to set him up for a drug bust (that turns out to be Caprese salad), and never misses an opportunity to publicly or privately belittle him. So, when Michael is reprimanded for his actions from the Season 3 premiere (he spanks Evan Peters, basically), a fierce battle begins. Pam attempts to lie her way to a promotion and Dwight institutes a boycott of the local mall for reasons that are initially unclear, but of course, end up being ridiculous.
9. "Golden Ticket" (Season 5, Episode 19)
The final episode on our list written by Mindy Kaling, "Golden Ticket" shows just how whimsical and child-like the mind of Michael Scott can be. As a marketing stunt, Michael Scott places five golden tickets into random paper shipments à la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, causing a panic as this ends up entitling their biggest customer to a devastatingly large discount. Michael tries to convince Dwight to take the fall for his ploy, while Jim, Pam, and Andy give relationship advice to Kevin Malone, an accountant. This episode also starts off with a classic cold-open involving knock-knock jokes that I highly recommend.
8. "Branch Wars" (Season 4, Episode 6)
Written by Mindy Kaling and directed by Joss Whedon, "Branch Wars" shows us just how far Michael will go for his employees. After learning that one of his salesmen, Stanley Hudson, has a better job offer from another branch of the company, Michael, Dwight, and an unwitting Jim hatch a plan to take revenge on their rival branch, which does not end well. This episode also marks the return of Karen Filippelli, played by Rashida Jones who's mother Peggy Lipton passed away this May.
7. "Garden Party" (Season 8, Episode 4)
In order to impress the new CEO, Robert California, played by the eerily confident James Spader, Andy pulls out all the stops in the episode "Garden Party." The party is hosted at Schrute Farms (which almost had its own spinoff) and gives us a look at the wild antics of Mose Schrute, played by writer/producer Michael Schur, as well as one of the top Jim pranks ever conceived. This episode also guest stars Josh Groban as Andy's brother who even dazzles the audience with a short musical performance.
6. "The Deposition" (Season 4, Episode 8)
The last episode to air before the infamous 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, "The Deposition" has one of my all-time favorite moments from the series. After being terminated from Dunder Mifflin, Michael Scott's girlfriend (and former boss) Jan Levinson finds herself in a heated legal battle with her former employer. Michael is brought in as a witness, which seems like a bad move since he's clearly not very reliable. He has a ridiculous back-and-forth exchange between the legal teams. In the end, he has to make a choice between sticking with his girlfriend or siding with his company.
5. "The Injury" (Season 2, Episode 12)
One of the first episodes written by Mindy Kaling, "The Injury" starts out strong and only gets more offensive and awkward as it unfolds. Michael burns his foot on his George Forman grill instantly bringing the entire office to a standstill with his child-like whining, Dwight crashes his car resulting in a concussion and some very out-of-character behavior, and we're first introduced to the wheelchair-bound property manager, Billy Merchant, which goes just about as horribly as one would imagine.
4. "Product Recall" (Season 3, Episode 20)
One thing The Office does particularly well is the cold-opens. In "Product Recall" Jim shows up to work sporting Dwight's classic short-sleeved, mustard yellow button up, glasses, watch, and distinct hairdo which instantly infuriates him, as usual. The plot continues when we learn that a disgruntled employee at the paper mill put "an obscene watermark...with the image of a beloved cartoon duck performing unspeakable acts upon a certain cartoon mouse that a lot of people like" onto 500 boxes of Dunder Mifflin paper products, some of which were used by the local high school for their prom invitations. Michael tries to console a client, salesman Andy Bernard finds out he might technically be a pedophile, and QA Rep Creed Bratton frames a woman to keep his job, all of which are hilarious.
3. "Drug Testing" (Season 2, Episode 20)
The final episode of the season to be filmed, "Drug Testing" shows us just how far Dwight will go to to uphold his (volunteer) duty as a Sheriff's Deputy. When half of a joint is found in the office's parking lot, he begins interrogating his list of suspects, resulting in us learning a little bit more about Creed's knowledge of narcotics, but mostly, just empty threats. As Jim points out, "Dwight finding drugs is more dangerous than most people using drugs." This episode is also the first time we are introduced to Hank Tate, the building's security guard played by Hugh Dane who sadly passed away in 2018.
2. "The Convict" (Season 3, Episode 9)
One of the most popular episodes of The Office, "The Convict" is the only episode of the U.S. series with an original script written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who created the original concept of the show in the U.K., which ran for 14 episodes. After absorbing another Dunder Mifflin branch in the previous episode, Michael Scott learns that one of his new employees is a convicted felon, which does not sit well with some of other office workers. When some employees start to compare their workplace to an actual prison, Michael decides to show them what prison is "really like" by introducing them to one of his many characters, "Prison Mike."
1. "Stress Relief Part 1" (Season 5, Episode 14)
One of the few two-parters in the series and written by Paul Lieberstein, who plays the openly-mocked HR Rep Toby Flenderson, "Stress Relief pt 1" starts off with one, if not the most popular and ridiculous cold-opens of the series. Annoyed that his coworkers aren't taking his lectures seriously, Dwight decides to cause a panic by starting a fire in the office while barricading his fellow employees inside and shouting procedural instructions at them. This commotion causes one employee to have a heart attack which, through a series of hilarious events, leads to Dwight cutting off and wearing the face of a CPR dummy.
Look, I get it. The Office has become such a staple in pop culture that it's almost tired, whether you're a die-hard fan or a casual viewer. Michael does something socially ridiculous, Jim looks at the camera and shrugs, that weird guy with the glasses responds outrageously to a prank pulled on him, etc They've made some questionable casting decisions in the past. But I truly believe that there is a valid reason for the show's popularity. I don't pick a lot of editorial battles, but I'm willing to die on this hill. I throw myself at the mercy of the deposition. While I'm at it, below are two more classics that were just a little too awkward to crack the top ten.
"Dinner Party" (Season 4, Episode 9)
Something we can all agree on is that socializing with your coworkers outside of the office can quickly become a nightmare and this notion is played out perfectly in "Dinner Party." After multiple failed attempts to secure a dinner date with Jim and Pam, Michael gets drastic in order to make "that one night" happen. When he and Jan host a few couples for dinner, drinks, and awkward dancing, things quickly go from bad to worse. As Jim explains it, "Michael and Jan seem to be playing their own separate game, and it's called 'Let's See How Uncomfortable We Can Make Our Guests' - and they're both winning." While I can't imagine how anyone could film this episode with a straight face, we are also introduced to a love ballad capable of getting stuck in your head for days.
"Scott's Tots" (Season 6, Episode 12)
Arguably one of the most difficult episodes of television in general to watch is the season 6 episode, "Scott's Tots." Thanks to the horribly awkward actions of Michael involving broken promises and the shattered dreams of children, we learn that even though the U.S. version tries to paint Michael Scott in a more positive light, there are still moments when his child-like wonder creates very real problems. This episode is not for the faint of heart, but coincidentally it does give us another one the catchiest tunes from the entire series. Maybe music just makes me awkward?
Do you think another episode deserves the top spot? Let us know your thoughts by taking our poll below. Or, if you're still a skeptic of the show in general, check out one of the episodes above and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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Morbidly curious pizza enthusiast with a heart of gold. Has no time to hear why you think The Office is overrated and is pretty sure the meaning of the Universe can be found in the movie Cats. Co-host of American Hauntings Podcast. Inaugural class of Enstitute, an entrepreneurial alternative education program written about by Forbes, The New York Times, and PBS.