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Best Episodes of The Office

I got pretty emotional when The Office ended last night. While they final ten minute-sequence was a pretty typical, planned series finale material, it cut straight to the heart. It’s terrible that we’ll never see those characters together again. And I told NBC last summer, “Let this show end with grace.”

The Office revived comedy on NBC by becoming a parody of what the network had been doing since Seinfeld went off the air. For seven or eight years, all of NBC’s new comedies featured nothing but bad jokes. The Office just told those bad jokes and showed how uncomfortable they made everyone. That was funny.

So in lieu of the show ending, I thought I’d list the episodes that stood out. Nothing from the last two seasons; not enough time to get perspective. Can’t really pick one, although “The Whale” and “Moving On” were really good.

“The Injury”: Everyone else has this in their list of best episodes, along with “The Dundies”. I didn’t think of it personally, but it has a lot of great stuff. Michael trying to justify his status as disabled, being so brazen as to call in the guy in the wheelchair. The scene of Pam helping concussed Dwight to the elevator is classic, girl-next-door Pam.

“The Job”: There isn’t another Office episode that I would say is better than this one, and while it’s seems almost too easy to pick the third season finale, it holds up. The two big arcs of the first fifty episodes, the Jim/Pam dynamic and the Michael/Jan relationship came to huge heads. Jan was unveiled to be more screwed up than Michael, almost psychotic in fact. This was the perfect twist-it came out of nowhere, but made complete sense once it happened.

Karen reaching the end of her term, Dwight getting a taste of being the manager, Ryan’s big jump, and Pam finally coming into her own all highlighted the episode. Dwight and Andy’s nerd-vona conference room session was amazing in and of itself, and it was the fifth-most important thing in the episode.

But Jim finally asking Pam out on a date was the cake of the episode. Pam talked a lot in this episode, but was speechless at the end. After fifty episodes of “will-they-or-won’t-they?”, Jim and Pam were together for the rest of the show.

“Dinner Party”: In an article on in which Jenna Fischer said this episode, whose filming had been postponed due to the Writer’s Strike of 2007, was going to be one of the funniest they’d ever done. I had my doubts, as the episodes that fall had been a bit stale, as four hour-long episodes glutted September and October.

I had to wait six months to eat my words on this one, but I was more than happy to.

There was conflict in every scene of this episode, from the cold open where Michael tricks Jim and Pam into dinner with a fake Friday-night work assignment to Michael and Jan’s putting their internal dysfunction on full display, to Dwight’s wedging his way into the party with his former babysitter as a date. Jan’s paranoia against Pam is what make this episode worth repeat viewings.

“Stress Relief”: The post-Super Bowl hour-long episode’s opening scene is probably the funniest in the show’s history. By the time everyone was running into the annex, I was laughing out loud (and I rarely laugh out loud at something I haven’t seen before). When Kevin breaks into the vending machine, I was laughing on the floor. Every subsequent time I’ve seen Kevin doing that, I’ve laughed.

The episode deals with a lot of meaty themes, starting with Stanley’s heart attack , Michael’s struggles with death, and the roast of Michael Scott, an obvious storyline where a normally subtle show could over the top. Even though Jim and Pam’s storyline is less believable (we knew they wouldn’t break up), Stanley’s laughing at the end showed us it was all right.

“Gossip”: The season six premiere creatively worked in the reveal of Pam’s pregnancy to the office into a great Michael Scott scheme to get out of trouble. The intern storyline was just the tip of the iceberg.

Michael was a man defined by being an insecure outsider and wanting to be liked, emotions that come into brilliant conflict in this episode. He shifts from trying to be a part of the gossip at any cost, to distilling to damage by creating wild, new rumors. What a five year-old complex.

“The Chump”: This episode has an unconventional take on how Michael, in his head, weaseled around the fact that the woman he was infatuated with had a husband. The subplots, Jim and Pam trying to stay up at work after their baby has kept them up all night and Andy’s investigation into Sabre’s faulty printers, could have been great A-stories. Favorite part: Creed’s talking head, which includes the episode’s title.

“The Inner Circle”: I know everyone supposedly hated Will Ferrell on the show, but watch any season eight episode and say that this episode isn’t funny in comparison. It’s funny. The shear notion that Deangelo would think for a second that Kevin could figure him out is hillarious.

The Office’s Man Behind the Curtain

One of the most shocking, out-of-no-where moments for me on The Office (US) broken into one of its most sentimental. When Michael Scott was at the airport and telling the documentary crew “I guess this is it”, I thought “Wow, that’s right. If you had this documentary crew in your office for as long as Michael did, you feel very sad to see them go.”

But when Michael added “Hey, will you guys let me know if this ever airs?”, the show acknowledged something it almost never did: that the documentary crew was compiling a lot of footage for some reason. I wondered why, after six full seasons, the producers of the show would bring something that had only been acknowledged in passing, to the center of the discussion. But it was there and gone, until this past summer.

That was when Greg Daniels said we’d get to met the documentary crew, and again I wondered about this. Granted, at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t as invented in the because of how bad season 8 was (James Spader, really?) When I heard it, I thought “Why?” If the show didn’t improve creatively, no one would care.

But the show has improved creatively, in no small part because Daniels is back running it. Surprisingly, Ed Helm’s absence hasn’t hurt the show either; if anything, his absence kept show from making bigger mistakes. Daniel wrote big, multi-episode arcs for his characters, the thing that made the show successful back in the day. Even the Jim-Pam marriage strain is believable, and good.

So that brings up the question of whether or not revealing who is behind the documentary is relevant to the story. The fact that Daniel’s is going to reveal it all speaks to how television has changed since Lost. Ten years ago, people would have cared who was filming the documentary because, in the eight seasons the show has aired, the crew has barely impacted the story of the characters. When The Office first came on the air, I heard of people who watched the show for three or four years and didn’t know there was an unseen documentary crew filming the characters. In fact, it was a while until I realized that the crew was asking an unseen question to Michael, Pam, and Dwight during the talking head-cut scenes.

The American Office has sought to be less of a documentary than its British counterpart. While it ignited the ire of TV critics, Daniels went for a brighter look and a more buffoonish boss, which gave the show a longer life and more appeal. On the original British Office, the characters were people who you believed actually worked in an office called Wernham Hogg Paper Company. The characters on the American Office are like the people you believe work at Dunder Mifflin.

So that leads to the question of the barely-referenced documentary crew, and whether or not it should be revealed. While the British Office didn’t reveal its documentary crew, it did show the fame David Brent gained from the broadcast of the documentary in the Christmas special. While I have reservations, I think it could be done, and done in a way that’s interesting and that makes sense. Whatever way it’s done, less is more because it’s back story, and, as Stephen King wrote On Writing, the key word with back story is “back”. We don’t need ten episodes devoted to who the documentary crew is, but it could be interesting, as long as it’s not sold as this huge “reason for the series” (ALA Lost).

I do think that there could be a mockumentary that is the opposite of what The Office is: a show that brings the documentary crew into the foreground of the show, and lead cameraman is a series regular. The Office choose to be a different kind of show, and for its sake, let’s hope it knows how to break the fourth wall.

What Happened to The Office, and Could it Come Back?

Momentum on television is a funny thing. When a pilot is shot and shown to the network execs, it likely either has momentum or it does not. And a TV show’s momentum is often dependent upon the right mix of script, showrunner, and cast, and, often, the staff writers that can be put together. And often times, when a show looses momentum, it can be for the most inexplicable reasons. Sure, some shows just get old and exhaust their premise, but even 24‘s sixth season is better than half the bad shows that get canceled before November sweeps.

That’s why The Office‘s creative swoon post-Steve Carrell is on the one hand, both mysterious and makes perfect sense.

I’m sure Greg Daniels and his fellow producers didn’t think loosing Carrell would make their job easier, but I doubt they thought their show would end up on top 10-worst-shows-of-the-year lists. I could see the signs-the disappointing finale with a parade of unnecessary high profile guest stars, only one who stood out was added to the cast. Unfortunately, Robert California didn’t stand out in a good way.

The first episode back, I knew that The Office had jumped the shark. I wanted to give the show the benefit of the doubt, but it naturally shifted it’s way out of my Thursday night viewing. I forgot about the show entirely, and there hasn’t been one episode this season that I watched more than once. Andy was the wrong choice to replace Michael Scott (Jim would have been the natural choice), the Andy-Erin relationship went absolutely nowhere after being perfectly set up for them to get together in the previous season’s finale, and when Jim admitted he was attracted to Pam’s replacement, I was disgusted by the testing-the-Jim-Pam marriage.

It seems obvious that the cast of The Office knows the show isn’t going anywhere. Mindy Kaling and Rainn Wilson now have their own shows on the horizons, and other cast members could leave the show at the end of this season as their contracts are up. James Spader is definitely not coming back, not that that’s all that bad.

Was it all because Carrell left? It’s impossible to underscore how great he was one the show; he was its voice. But the shows creators needed find a new one, and I fault them for not recognizing that Jim’s could have been the natural fit.

But tonight, I watched the show, and at its conclusion, I thought, you know what? I still like this show. I liked how Jim chased after Dwight, and how Pam egged him on to do so. I even enjoyed Catherine Tate’s craziness, and surprisingly her antics, along with those of Todd Packard, have given the show a boost in the last few episodes. Now that Andy’s going to Florida to get back Erin, I think The Office could have some of its old mojo back, or at least be on the road to getting it back.

Over the years, I never like it when The Office went out there to be more gross than it needed to be (Pam walking in on Michael in the season 4 premiere, a sitcom storyline that had been done to death), but I always let it go. When Jim and Dwight were wrestling each other in the hall, I kind of rolled my eyes. It was two grown men, fighting like little boys, and given that we’ve seen grow up together in the office, it was pathetic. But it felt like an amusing dumb thing your child does, which is a good sign.

(Follow-up: How The Office came back, and what about that mysterious documentary crew.)


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