Fifteen years ago this Tuesday, cameras started rolling inside Dunder Mifflin, the most dysfunctionally run small paper company ever seen on television. Between then and now, The Office grew into one of the best modern comedies ever made—filled with excellently written characters, supreme awkwardness, hilarious set pieces, and sneaky heart—and then grew into one of the most-watched shows of the streaming era. On the day of its anniversary, it only felt right to recall the series’ best episodes.
It wasn’t easy to do this, of course: The Office certainly has more than just 50 good episodes, and by the time you get into the top 25, they’re all either great or iconic, so you’re mostly splitting hairs. This is not the definitive list of the best Office episodes, but The Ringer’s personal list—and we’ll scream it from the mountaintops the way Michael Scott once screamed “I. DECLARE. BANKRUPTCY!!!”
50. “Branch Closing”
There’s a great episode of Mad Men (“Shut the Door. Have a Seat”) where Don Draper and Sterling Cooper thwart the closing of their firm by creating a new one altogether. This is The Office’s version of that episode: With the Stamford branch set to subsume the Scranton branch, a last-second shake-up reverses that course, in fairly stunning fashion, closing the Stamford branch and sending Jim back to Pennsylvania (along with Andy and Karen).
But aside from the inter-office dramatics, “Branch Closing” is great for a few other reasons: Michael’s inability to keep a secret or maintain calm (“It’s over. We are screwed.”); Ryan and Kelly’s literally on-and-off relationship; and Michael and Dwight thinking they saved the day by going to David Wallace’s house. It’s the thought that counts. —Andrew Gruttadaro
49. “Christmas Party”
Gift-giving can be stressful, but never more so than at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin. After Michael finds himself unhappy with his Secret Santa gift from Phyllis—a handmade oven glove—he enacts a Yankee swap policy, sending the office into chaos. At the center of the drama is an iPod Michael purchased for Ryan, worth well over the $20 spending limit. Jim, having drawn Pam’s name originally, gives her a teapot filled with mementos and a personal letter. But not knowing this, Pam swaps it in hopes of landing a better one. To spare Jim’s feelings, she swaps back for the teapot, and Jim removes the letter before she’s able to read it. —Shaker Samman
This episode had some meta to it: According to some internet research, the inspiration for choosing to feature a Diwali party—otherwise known as the Hindu Festival of Lights—was the fact that Mindy Kaling held a Diwali party for the cast and staff. Kelly, her character in the show, struggles to get her longtime on-and-off boyfriend Ryan to make a good impression on her parents during the party. Unsurprisingly, Michael, meanwhile, thinks Diwali is an Indian version of Halloween, as he tries to also take his relationship with Carol (played by his own wife, Nancy Carell) to the next level by proposing. Carol turns him down (obviously), which leads Michael to manufacture a connection between him and Pam, who rejects him after he tries to kiss her. The visual kicker comes when Pam makes Michael sit in her backseat as she gives him a ride home. —Paolo Uggetti
47. “The Carpet”
The regular intraoffice dynamics are thrown out of whack when a literal pile of poop is found in Michael’s office. Not only are the physical setups changed—Michael moves to Jim’s desk; Jim is sent to the annex, his longing looks with Pam replaced with hours-long sessions as Kelly’s sounding board—but Michael is made, briefly, to consider that his employees may not be his friends.
Of course, none of this lasts for long. Michael throws a fit on the sales floor and meets with his old boss, the stoic Ed Truck, to talk about how to think of subordinates; he’s nearly forced to reckon with the idea that his workers are not his family. But then he gets a phone call from Todd Packer, who reveals the deuce was not some form of employee revenge, but just another juvenile prank authored by Michael’s former sales partner. Just like that, Michael is surrounded by his buddies again. At the end of the day, Jim returns to his desk to listen to a series of voicemails from Pam, who couldn’t get through the workday without communicating with him in one way or another. Quite a literal shit-stirring episode. —Chris Almeida
46. “Night Out”
Ryan comes down to Scranton and forces everyone to come in on a Saturday to log their sales. He then retreats to New York, only for Michael and Dwight to track him down at a club for a guy’s night out. Meanwhile, everyone back in the office decides to stay late Friday night so they don’t have to come in the next day—only for the gate to be locked, trapping them in the office. Michael is on the prowl looking for girls, but Dwight is the one who ends up having luck, hooking up with a women’s basketball player (which Michael records on his flip phone!) before ditching her for the boys. Ryan’s drug problem rears its ugly head, leading to a bizarre sleepover in his studio apartment. Security guard Hank takes forever to come open the gate, leaving enough time for Toby to accidentally reveal his feelings for Pam as they wait. Toby decides—on the spot—that he’s moving to Costa Rica, runs out of the office, and scales the fence like a Ninja Warrior. —Matt Dollinger
45. “The Negotiation”
This episode centers around two main conflicts: Roy vs. Jim and Michael (and Darryl) vs. corporate. Things start off with a huffy Roy coming after Jim in the office, and Dwight saving the day by spraying Roy (and himself) with mace. Angela unfortunately missed out on seeing her secret beau go Special Agent on Roy’s ass, so she spends the rest of the episode asking everyone in the office what it was like. Jim tries to repay Dwight by giving him presents and doing good deeds, but eventually Jim’s ultimate gift is that he sees Dwight and Angela making out and... says nothing.
In the case of Michael and Darryl vs. corporate, Michael realizes he’s dramatically underpaid given his title and seniority within the company, so he and Darryl drive to New York to confront Jan and earn some money. They both come away winners—thanks to Jan’s relationship with Michael—and Michael makes sure to tell the camera that he’s walking out with extra benefits too: the benefit of having sex with Jan. —Megan Schuster
44. “Business Ethics”
The Office treats ethics the only way they can, which is by having everyone share all the bad things they’ve done in the office to the new HR woman. Kelly downloads pirated music, Angela reported Oscar to the INS, and Meredith has sex with a supplier who in return gives her discounted paper (and steaks). Michael and Holly battle over if and how Meredith should be punished, and as someone who cherishes this relationship, it is a joy to watch. The side plot, meanwhile, focuses on Jim torturing Dwight by tracking all the minutes he’s not working—which means you get to watch Dwight sit through a discussion of Battlestar Galactica with Jim and Andy, a topic the two of them have zero knowledge about. The Office is near perfect during this stretch, which is evident by the way they handle a topic like ethics in such a funny yet enlightening way. —Sean Yoo
43. “Business School”
The episode’s main plot is all about Michael’s struggle with perception versus reality. He perceives an invitation to speak in Ryan’s business class as a victory lap when, really, he’s being served up for slaughter. He thinks he’s nailing his candy bar–themed speech (“There are four kinds of business: Tourism, food service, railroads, and sales … and hospitals … slash manufacturing … and air travel”) even though he’s definitely not.
The episode’s B plot is about vampires, specifically Jim pretending to turn into one after Dwight caught a bat in the office. The Office’s ability to combine both existential humor and petty humor—and to slap on a surprising emotional moment, like when Michael shows up to Pam’s art show—like this is its calling card. —Gruttadaro
42. “The Coup”
This may be silly, but my lasting image of this episode is Dwight carbo-loading with pancakes and waffles as he tries to convince Jan that he deserves control of the Dunder Mifflin Scranton branch. It’s perfect: Jan sitting there, trying to remain calm as an employee attempts to usurp a manager, and Dwight just shoveling breakfast food into his gullet. This all happens because Michael starts up “Movie Mondays,” a time-wasting concept that pretty much explains itself. Jan finds out, naturally gets upset, and Angela pushes Dwight to go after Michael’s job. It’s pretty out of character for Dwight to go against Michael—even at Angela’s urging—but watching him attack a tall stack is a nice return to form. As is the way he ends the episode, standing on a pile of boxes with a sign that reads “liar” hanging around his neck. —Schuster
41. “Golden Ticket”
Michael Scott was born to play Willy Wonka, but his golden ticket idea backfires when Dunder Mifflin’s largest client somehow gets five of them, giving them 50 percent off their order. Michael then proves to actually be a savvy salesman by convincing Dwight to take the fall and relish the freedom (“plowing his own acres”) of being fired. But just as he’s about to fall on the sword, David Wallace reveals the idea actually turned out to be a hit. Dwight takes the credit and basks in the glory and praise before Michael cracks and admits everything, while also mentioning, “I do want the credit without any of the blame.” There’s a brief exchange where Michael and Dwight scream about their previous inventions (Toilet Buddy! Horse Boat!) before Wallace has to simply escape. Another good storyline woven in: Kevin, after being coached up by Jim, Pam, and Andy, eventually asks out his crush with an honest and direct approach. She says yes, only for Kevin to go off-script and say the first thing he sees: “Boobs.” —Dollinger
40. “Customer Survey”
There’s a conspiracy afoot at Dunder Mifflin Scranton: Dwight and Jim got lousy scores on their customer surveys, with the former called “abrasive” and “distasteful” and the latter called “smudge” and “arrogant.” That leads to this exchange:
Jim: I think you mean smug.
Jim: Michael, I’m just trying to—
Michael: And there’s our smudgeness!
Later, Michael decides he has to practice “microgement” on the duo, which leads to the introduction of the elitely named “William M. Buttlicker,” a prying, yelling Dwight, and a million-dollar decision for Michael:
Jim: There is one condition, Michael.
Jim: You have to fire the salesman that treated me so terribly.
Dwight: Don’t do it, Michael.
Michael: [Whispers.] “It’s a million-dollar sale.”
Of course, what really happened was that they were the only two Dunder Mifflinites to skip Kelly’s party, so she cooked the books to get back at them. Michael pretends to punish Kelly for the transgression, but secretly sides with her because he can’t get anyone to come to his parties either. Oh, and Angela keeps stringing Andy along when it comes to wedding plans while carrying on with Dwight, finally selecting Schrute Farms as the wedding venue. (Andy’s really stepping in it.) —Jack McCluskey
39. “Performance Review”
Jan and Michael have just kissed in the previous episode and Michael is looking to see where this goes. It’s also time for performance reviews, which Michael uses as an excuse to ask people about what Jan could’ve meant when she left him a voicemail saying “I guess I missed you.” Pam and Stanley take the chance to avoid talking about their actual performance and lean into relationship advice. “It’s all about my bonus,” Stanley says to the camera after Michael asks him if he learned that “on the street.”
On the topic of things that haven’t aged well, though, there is a Y2K mention and also a conversation where Pam and Jim talk about The Celebrity Apprentice. “Who did Trump fire?” Pam asks. (Welp.) Dwight, upset that he apparently missed the weekly episode, ends up being late Friday thinking it was Saturday, undercutting his extremely elaborate presentation about how he deserves a raise because he hasn’t missed a day. Jan angrily leaves the office but Michael, after getting roasted by the employees via the suggestion box, gets the approval he wants when she stays silent once he asks if her rejection is not because of his looks. —Uggetti
38. “Branch Wars”
One of the rare Office episodes where the B-plot may be more memorable than the main story, “Branch Wars” introduces viewers to the Finer Things Club—Pam, Oscar, and Toby’s attempts to inject some culture in their sleepy Pennsylvania town. Concurrently, Michael—infuriated that former employee and now Utica regional manager Karen Filippelli is attempting to poach Stanley from under his nose—recruits Dwight, and tricks Jim, into aiding his retaliation attempt. The crew, disguised as janitors, attempt to swipe the branch’s industrial copier. When they fail—sending it careening down a stairwell—and Karen reprimands them, Dwight threatens to burn the branch to the ground. There aren’t many times we get to see Jim flail, and none match his attempts to save face when trying to tell Karen he wasn’t actually there to see her, and that he’s happily dating Pam. —Samman
37. “The Duel”
Finally, Dwight and Andy’s long-simmering conflict comes to a head. When Andy learns of Dwight’s affair, the two agree to a fight in the parking lot, and Angela just goes along with it. She’ll honor the results of the duel because, sure, why not? Meredith “calls loser” because, sure, why not?
Then Andy uses his Prius (silent when driven under five miles per hour!) to pin Dwight against the hedge in the parking lot and all hell breaks loose. Dwight starts hitting the hood of the car with his whip (?) as the two scream at each other about bears (??) and trust funds (???). When Jim comes out to try to cool things off, both men yell at Jim. It’s great. —Riley McAtee
36. “Office Olympics”
Despite the bevy of smirk-worthy Dwight asides (“It’s a nice little farm. Sometimes teenagers use it for sex”; “Two bathrooms would have been nice. We just have the one … and it’s under the porch”) this episode manages to be surprisingly dark. Its cold open has Ryan, still a temp, arriving at work before sunrise to bring Michael a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and then going to sleep in his car until work actually begins; its main plot shows Michael excitedly buying a condo, not realizing until the last minute that he’s signing onto a 30-year mortgage; its B-story shows the remaining workers creating a faux Olympics, playing silly games, and awarding yogurt-lid medals to distract themselves from the jobs they openly hate.
The kicker is fitting as well. Michael, back in the office and disheartened knowing that he’s mistakenly bought himself, in Dwight’s words, a “coffin,” is given a “gold medal” for closing on his condo. Jim coaxes him to the top of a makeshift podium for a medal ceremony. “Why are you playing the national anthem?” Michael asks.
“Uh,” Jim replies. “Because your condo is in America.” —Almeida
35. “Dunder Mifflin Infinity”
So much happens here that the episode is split into two parts. The relationship drama is messier than any episode of The Bachelor, with the Scranton branch finally and officially learning about Pam and Jim’s romance. Meanwhile, Kelly tells Ryan that she’s pregnant with his baby (shocker: she isn’t) and Angela breaks up with Dwight because he killed her cat, Sprinkles—even though he tried to replace Sprinkles with a cat named Garbage (so named because that’s what the cat eats, which I always thought was a great name and a beautiful gesture). But the main plot revolves around Ryan’s attempt to catapult the company into the future with new technology. After taking a job as a Dunder Mifflin executive, Ryan returns to the Scranton branch sporting a new look (which has a fantastic Hollywood Hogan vibe) and informs them of his big idea. Not everyone is happy about it. Creed is convinced it’s a plot to cull the company’s older workers and dyes his hair with printer ink, while Michael calls the policy ageist and sets about to prove Ryan wrong with increasingly disastrous results. In what is perhaps my favorite bit in show history, Michael drives his rental car into Lake Scranton because the GPS told him to turn there. Unlike the dreaded technology that Michael fears, this episode will never steer you wrong. —John Gonzalez
34. “Conflict Resolution”
Michael attempts to resolve various conflicts in the office, which goes just about the way you would expect it to. Oscar and Angela argue over a poster of two babies in fedoras playing brass instruments; Michael’s solution is for Oscar to wear a t-shirt of the poster so he can’t see it and Angela can. A win, win … win. Dwight and Jim revisit some of Jim’s infamous pranks, including the time he paid everyone in the office $5 to call Dwight “Dwayne.” (I honestly wish they read all of Jim’s malfeasance from the last four years.) In the end, however, Michael’s need for a win-win-win inevitably leads to a loss: Jim taking an interview for a position in the Stamford branch. —Yoo
33. “Launch Party”
This episode feels like a time capsule: Can you imagine a paper company—any business, really—without a website today? But in 2007, it was still conceivable that Dunder Mifflin could operate its entire business over the phone and in-person. That is, until Ryan takes the reins and launches Dunder Mifflin Infinity. Dwight trying to outsell the website as Pam and Jim send Dwight messages pretending to be the website is a highlight—as is Michael and Dwight kidnapping a pizza delivery driver. Oh yeah, and this is also the episode with the DVD screensaver, one of the most delightful scenes in the entire series.
This episode also gave me my favorite Office reference that too many of the people in my life don’t get. If you ever hear me ask if the pizza you just ordered is from Alfredo’s Pizza Cafe or Pizza by Alfredo, remember that it’s the former that is the good one. —McAtee
32. “Women’s Appreciation”
This episode may be called “Women’s Appreciation,” but it is a tour de force from one Dwight K. Schrute. After Phyllis gets flashed in the parking lot (and Michael, in disbelief, asks, “Did he even see Pam? Or Karen from behind?”), Dwight immediately sets up a task force to catch the predator. During his game-planning meeting, he accidentally calls Phyllis “Phallus,” then proceeds to hang up fake drawings of the pervert that look like him, only with a mustache. It’s Dwight at his most clueless-yet-confident.
Elsewhere, Michael takes the women of the office to the Steamtown Mall for some R-and-R—a.k.a. a wildly inappropriate trip to Victoria’s Secret and a dish session about how unhappy he is with Jan. He reveals plenty of explicit information (namely that Jan tapes them having sex and then uses it to critique Michael’s performance) and finally decides to break up with her … over the phone. —Schuster
31. “Goodbye, Toby”
When I think of pure, unadulterated joy, I think of Michael Scott on Toby’s last day. This episode has so much goodness jam-packed into it that the editors originally came in at 72 minutes on the rough cut before chopping it down to 40. It begins with Michael saying, “Certain days, you know you’ll remember for the rest of your life and I just have a feeling that today is one of those days.” While Toby’s departure for Costa Rica is the initial source of his celebration, it’s the arrival of his future girlfriend Holly that ends up stealing his attention. Toby’s exit interview is one of the funniest scenes in the entire series. (“Toby has been cruising for a bruising for 12 years and I am now his cruise director. And my name is Captain Bruising.”) Michael and Jim both give Phyllis extra money to make Toby’s farewell more memorable—but the excitement of Jim’s fireworks is stolen by Andy when he pops the question to Angela before he can propose to Pam. If that weren’t enough, Ryan also gets arrested for committing fraud. But the best moment of all? Michael belting out “GOODBYE, TOBY” to the tune of Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger.” That song has stuck with me forever. As has this episode. —Dollinger
With the Michael Scott Paper Company squeezing the salesmen of Dunder Mifflin by stealing their clients à la Tom Cruise and Jay Mohr’s showdown in Jerry Maguire, the company is forced into the shocking position of having to buy Michael’s fledgling startup. (Little does Dunder Mifflin know that the MSPC is completely unable to fund its own distribution.) As the usurper Charles is shown the door, Michael and his two employees return to Dunder Mifflin soaked in glory.
More than any laugh-out-loud moments, “Broke” is essential because it’s a rare episode in which Michael wins. So much of The Office is spent on his incompetence, but all of that material is strengthened by episodes like “Broke” that suggest, in clever ways, that Michael’s actually good for something. —Gruttadaro
29. “Michael Scott Paper Company”
An iconic episode of The Office, due in large part to the fact that Michael Scott, for the first time in the show’s five seasons, is no longer working for Dunder Mifflin. Michael confidently pulls up in his PT Cruiser listening to Lady Gaga to say, “It’s Britney bitch, and I’m back in the form of a new company.” It’s a rocky start for the Michael Scott Paper Company: Pam and Ryan bicker all day, Michael is fed up and also has to hear Toby go to the bathroom. But the day is salvaged by Pam, who makes her first sale with the new regime. While the episode is titled for the A plot, the best part of the episode comes from Dwight and Andy having a guitar battle for Erin’s attention to the tune of “Take Me Home, Country Road.” However, they get caught up in the moment, leading to a duet that gets shut down by Toby. Why does Toby always have to ruin all the fun? —Yoo
28. “Local Ad”
Dunder Mifflin corporate has given the Scranton branch the resources to make a TV commercial. Of course, it can’t be that easy: Michael wants to film his own version and fund it himself. I can’t stress this enough: Darryl is one of the more underrated characters in The Office, and he’s great in this episode. The jingle he and the others make for the ad slaps and you won’t be able to tell me otherwise:
As for how Michael feels about it: “I don’t hate it, I just don’t like it at all, and it’s terrible.”
Corporate ends up not liking Michael’s version of the ad and going with their own. The best moment of the episode, though, comes when the office goes out to a bar to watch the ad and Jim, in a classic Jim move, slips the bartender a DVD of Michael’s version; the night ends with a gleeful Michael buying everyone more drinks. —Uggetti
27. “The Convention”
This episode, set at the annual Northeastern Office Supply Convention in Philadelphia, notably climaxes with Jim confessing to Michael that he left Scranton for Stamford not because the latter was a bad boss, but because Pam rejected him twice. Watching Michael and Jim bond is actually kinda touching, even if Michael naturally takes the moment too far and refers to them as “best friends.” Elsewhere, the biggest laugh of one of the series’ best off-site episodes comes when Jim gets his hands on Dwight’s hotel key, sneaks into his room, catches a glimpse of secret girlfriend Angela on the bed, runs away, and assumes that his nemesis has procured a sex worker. “Oh my God. Dwight got a hooker!” he says. “Oh my God, I gotta call…well, I gotta call somebody. I don’t even know who to call. Dwight got a hooker!”
Also, there’s this priceless exchange:
Jan: Well, Michael, I underestimated you.
Michael: Yeah, well, maybe next time you will estimate me.
26. “The Job”
The more peripheral characters provide most of the laughs in “The Job.” Creed shows the world his “blog.” Ryan begins his best character arc—Business Bro Ryan—and, ecstatically grinning, breaks up with Kelly. In the B-plot, Dwight takes brief control of the office and implements a range of new policies, from Schrute Bucks to serving as his own assistant. (You can understand: He needs someone he can trust.)
But “The Job” functions first and foremost as a transitional episode, ending Season 3 and—more importantly—the long-awaited, star-crossed flirtation between Jim and Pam. That shift occurs in a perfect TV moment, as Jim leaves his interview in New York (in the meantime—oops—stranding Karen in the city) and bursts in on Pam’s fourth-wall interview. He asks her to dinner, she says yes, and after he leaves, Jenna Fischer turns in a perfect bit of silent acting. The corners of her mouth crinkle and she bites her lower lip; her head tilts as she shines an incandescent smile at the camera. Three seasons of waiting was long enough. —Zach Kram
25. “Casino Night”
There are a lot of great small moments in the finale to Season 2: Dwight wearing an outdated tuxedo to work, Michael trying to convince Darryl that fire-eaters should be allowed to perform in a warehouse that mostly stores paper, Jim and Pam reviewing the tapes of bands hoping to perform at Pam’s wedding and then seeing Kevin on the drums in one of the videos, Michael trying to court Jan and Carol at the same event, Kevin brandishing his World Series of Poker bracelet at the table and promptly busting against a clueless Phyllis.
But, of course, this episode might not have even made this ranking without its final scene. Early on in “Casino Night,” Jim confesses to the camera that he asked Jan about transferring branches. “I have no future here,” he says, tired and defeated. Later, after Michael has spurned Jan and Kevin has lost all his chips, Jim finds himself alone in the parking lot with Pam and, finally, makes two seasons of subtext into text. “I’m in love with you. I’m really sorry if that’s weird for you to hear, but I needed you to hear it.” Pam, obviously torn, is unable to muster a convincing excuse, but turns Jim away.
There is a cut to the darkened office, the camera watching from the kitchen as Pam, crying, talks to her mom on the phone about what just happened. Jim enters, and the two kiss, and then separate and look at each other for a moment before the season ends. —Almeida
24. “Safety Training”
Directed by comedy legend Harold Ramis, this is a Michael Scott-takes-things-too-far classic. This time, in a twisted attempt to raise awareness about how working in an office can lead to depression and suicide, he decides to jump off the office building’s roof. To prevent himself from you know, actually dying, he plans to drop softly onto a trampoline. But when a safety test involving a watermelon, uh, fails, Dwight has Andy find a bouncy castle to use as a landing spot.
Naturally, Michael’s coworkers end up having to talk him off the roof. “He’s going to kill himself... pretending to kill himself,” Jim says at one point. Eventually it’s Darryl who manages to get him to come down—with the ultimate backhanded compliment. “Mike, you’re a very brave man,” he says. “I mean, it takes courage just to be you. To get out of bed every single day, knowing full well, you gotta be you.” —Siegel
23. “Goodbye, Michael”
Say what you will about Michael Scott, but at his core the man is a sweetheart. He spends his last day in the office trying to have a little moment with everyone on his list; he gives Phyllis a toy mouth to remind her to speak up, tells Kevin not to be a caricature (while fat-shaming him terribly), lets Dwight spout off on his knowledge of bears (“You in tight pants, Michael, are a salami to a black bear”), and gives Andy his 10 most important clients to boost his confidence (Andy immediately begins to lose them).
But the real emotional thrust of this episode comes from Michael’s goodbyes to Jim and Pam. Jim figures out that it’s really Michael’s last day, and to get through the emotions of saying farewell pretends they’ll say them at lunch the next day. Pam, meanwhile, misses Michael at the office and executes a successful airport run to give him a hug—sans the usual documentary microphones, because of security—on his way to Colorado to join Holly. Hopefully, he got that upgrade; either way, he was flying high on his way out of Scranton. —McCluskey
22. “Beach Games”
In college, I worked as a counselor for incoming freshmen during orientation week. The day before the freshmen arrived was the worst on the schedule: eight hours of lame instructional videos and horribly dull sessions for the counselors, so we could all learn the proper and improper ways to introduce new students to college life. Well, it was all horribly dull save one bright spot: For one blessed respite, we watched “Beach Games” as an example of what not to do.
That’s Michael Scott’s legacy from this episode—and many more episodes than just this one, frankly. But beyond his typically botched bonding exercises, Pam steals the show. Forbidden from playing games like everyone else, she walks on fire and delivers a pointed emotional speech; she also unwittingly tortures Toby, stuck in the office as his secret crush borrows his sunscreen. The end of “Beach Games” leads perfectly into the end of the very next episode, “The Job,” when Jim and Pam’s relationship would enter a whole new phase. —Kram
21. “A Benihana Christmas”
The second straight Dunder Mifflin Christmas spectacular, a Harold Ramis-directed double episode, has two hilarious plots. The first involves a sad Michael—who’s just broken up with his girlfriend Carol—taking the office bros to Benihana, where he and Andy pick up waitresses. The second plot involves Pam and Karen teaming up against Angela in a battle for holiday party supremacy.
Eventually the two celebrations merge, but not before everyone has to make a dramatic choice. “I hear Angela’s party will have double-fudge brownies,” Kevin says at one point. “It will also have Angela.” —Siegel
A year after the documentary finally airs, we learn some things have changed. Dwight is in charge of the Scranton branch. Andy is a humiliated and failed reality TV star. Stanley is retired. Kevin bought a bar (after Dwight fired him for being terrible at his job, which both men later agree makes sense). Oscar is running for state senate (against his ex and Angela’s). Creed has faked his own death. And Pam and Jim are...still Pam and Jim. Jim agrees to be Dwight’s best man for his wedding to Angela, then steps aside for Michael to fill the role as a special surprise. Jim finally takes the sports agent job and joins Darryl at Athleap (previously Athlead), and Pam snags the drawing she made of the office off the wall as they head out to start their new lives together. Reunions are hard; finales, harder. This one reminds us one last time about what made the show so special: when it comes to spending time with a dysfunctional family, The Office was our bestest mensch. —Gonzalez
19. “Scott’s Tots”
Is this one of The Office’s best episodes? Or one of its worst?
There’s an entire corner of the internet devoted to the extreme levels of cringe in this episode. When Michael forgets about his promise to pay the college tuition of a bunch of kids who are now graduating high school, it takes the show’s trademark awkward humor and cranks it up to 11. Instead of tuition, which Michael can’t afford, he offers the kids laptop batteries. It’s stomach-churning, but the highlights of the episode—from Stanley’s cackling to Dwight impersonating his officemates in the episode’s B plot—make it more than worth the watch. This is one of the best episodes of the series—if you can stomach it. —McAtee
18. “The Convict”
In “The Convict,” Michael Scott acts particularly David Brent-ian, which makes perfect sense: It’s only one of two American Office episodes written by British Office co-creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. In one of the most cringe-worthy scenes in the entire series—which truly is saying something—Michael dons a purple bandana and becomes “Prison Mike.” The regional manager adopts the Scared Straight-style character to give his jaded underlings, who think that life in jail is better than working at Dunder Mifflin, a taste of life in lockup.
What makes Steve Carell’s performance-within-a-performance so uncomfortably funny is that it’s all over the place. As the ill-conceived bit progresses, Prison Mike’s affect and accent change. When asked why he’s behind bars, he says: “I stole, and I robbed, and I kidnapped the president’s son, and held him for ransom.” At one point he references the Dementors from Harry Potter. But no moment tops him getting in Phyllis’s face and screaming, “I am here to scare you straighhhtttt!” Phyllis Smith deserved an Emmy for not laughing there. —Siegel
Everyone has played basketball with a Michael Scott before. He hogs the ball and calls cheap fouls; he takes bad shots and protests, loudly, that he’s not usually this inaccurate from the field. In an uneven first season, “Basketball” is a highlight, embodying a show-don’t-tell approach to Michael’s mannerisms as a manager. “Basketball” also stands out due to its physical comedy, particularly in the faster-paced montage of the titular game. Dwight steals the ball from Ryan, his teammate; Michael clears the backboard with a long-range attempt; and of course, Stanley produces the GIF of all basketball GIFs with his very first touch.
A hot take: There’s no better TV wedding than Jim and Pam’s on The Office. The aisle procession scored to Chris Brown’s “Forever” and interspersed with Jim and Pam actually saying their vows on the Maid of the Mist? I might just start crying right now.
But this two-parter also has: Andy tearing his scrotum; Dwight in a wolf shirt; Meemaw; Michael sleeping in an ice machine room; Kevin’s shoes being incinerated; Michael hooking up with Pam’s mom; Jim cutting his tie in half. It’s a classic. —Gruttadaro
15. “Gay Witch Hunt”
You probably could’ve surmised this from the episode’s title, but let’s just say that a lot of (delightfully) questionable things happen in this one. The first episode of the third season features Michael using a gay slur toward Oscar, finding out he is gay, and reacting to this newfound knowledge by trying to apologize and holding a disastrous homosexuality seminar in which Michael not only outs but kisses Oscar. It’s a lot, and that’s only about half of it. Personally, I like this episode for the things it sets up rather than the main storyline. We find out that Pam broke off her engagement with Roy and is now living by herself (though Roy is still bringing her frozen wedding food for lunch), which inevitably begins the long journey toward Jim and Pam’s relationship. Jim, meanwhile, begins working out of the Stamford branch, where we meet two new, crucial characters: Ed Helms’ corny Cornell grad, Andy, and Rashida Jones’ Karen. —Uggetti
14. “Booze Cruise”
Michael, looking to let the Dunder Mifflin crew blow off some steam, invites them on a booze cruise. In Pennsylvania. In January. The ship’s captain, played by Rob Riggle, dunks on Michael’s attempts to show leadership, puts Dwight behind a fake wheel (not that Dwight can tell), detains the branch manager for causing a panic by saying the ship was sinking, and inspires Roy to finally set a date for his wedding with Pam. Perhaps still thinking about their kiss after the Dundies, a visibly shaken Jim breaks off his relationship with Katy (Amy Adams) and confesses his love for Pam to Michael, who tells him not to give up. —Samman
13. “Drug Testing”
As recurring bits go, it’s hard to beat Dwight Schrute as an earnest, would-be law enforcement officer. When Dwight finds a half-smoked joint in the parking lot, he vows to get to the bottom of it and interrogates the office—much to Michael’s dismay, since he recently smoked a clove cigarette at an Alicia Keys concert. Michael freaks out so much that he begs Dwight to give him some clean urine so he can beat the test, which is one of the most relatable gags the show has ever pulled. A good friend of mine once convinced his dad to pee into a fake bladder attached to a fake penis — I swear this is true—because he knew he couldn’t pass the piss test and neither could any of our buddies. That led to a super awkward conversation between father and son, during which my friend’s dad understandably asked, “Uh, why are you having me pee into a fake bladder?” Anyway, the lesson here is to obviously watch your clove cigarette intake at Alicia Keys shows. —Gonzalez
12. “The Deposition”
“The Deposition” centers on Jan and her wrongful termination lawsuit, but the spotlight shines on Michael in the emotionally charged yet ridiculously funny episode. It’s one of Michael’s most hilarious moments on the show, watching him attempt to navigate the deposition through “that’s what she said” jokes. He truly can’t help himself when lines like “and you were directly under her the whole time” and “come again?” are said during questioning. We also find out that Michael signs off his diary with “xoxo,” considers Ryan to be as hot as Jan, and is extremely loyal to Dunder Mifflin. Michael is flawed, but you love him in these moments when he stands up for what he thinks is right, regardless of who he hurts in the process. —Yoo
11. “Fun Run”
Time to carbo-load.
“Fun Run” starts on a high—Michael hitting Meredith with his car—and only goes higher from there. When Meredith’s car-related hospital visit reveals that she also has rabies, Michael—as a way to accept and deflect blame—organizes a charity run that is, as expected, very poorly thought-out. Purchasing a big check and a stripper nurse—who Michael recognizes from “Ben Franklin” and says “very cool, you went back and got your degree”—to present it basically negates all the money raised, while Darryl feeds a squirrel a peanut, Andy’s nipples bleed, and Pam sees Michael’s penis. Bringing things full circle, the episode ends with Michael in the hospital alongside Meredith. He really shouldn’t have eaten all that alfredo, and probably should’ve drank some water. —Gruttadaro
10. “Sexual Harassment”
This episode is a wild ride and, along with “Diversity Day,” helps set an early precedent for how hilariously offensive this show could truly get. Michael is asked to curb his email forwards—which almost always contain some sort of sexual humor—and he responds … poorly. Rather than following Toby’s instructions, or Jan’s, or those of the company lawyer who comes in explicitly to have a word with Michael, he hits Jan with a “That’s what she said,” brings in a blowup sex doll as a gag, and announces to the entire office that Darryl slept with the woman in corporate’s anti-sexual harassment video. Michael may learn and evolve at other points in this series, but “Sexual Harassment” is certainly not one of those times. —Schuster
9. “Moroccan Christmas”
Sometimes, The Office could be so surgical with its storytelling. What appears to be just another chaotic Christmas episode (and it is also that, to be clear; Meredith’s hair catches on fire) turns into a page-turner that propels the show’s overall plot forward, as Angela and Phyllis’s leverage game finally bubbles over when Phyllis calls Angela’s bluff and announces to the office what only she knew at the time: that Dwight and Angela were having an affair under Andy’s nose. Andy, of course, is the only one who doesn’t hear the news, since he and his sitar have been relegated to the break room. That leaves an air of immense, awkward tension that by episode’s end has never resolved itself. It’s proof that, while sprinkling in tiny jokes like Dwight making a killing selling Princess Unicorn dolls and Michael creating a new drink, the “Orange-Vod-Juice-Ka,” The Office could dial up plot and stakes with the best of any drama or soap opera. —Gruttadaro
8. “Product Recall”
“Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.” Jim brilliantly impersonates Dwight in this episode’s opening scene, down to the mustard shirt and glasses, only for Dwight to return the favor and encapsulate Jim with a smirk and muttering “Yuhhll…llittle comment” to the camera. The main plot point of the episode involves an obscene watermark—involving a “beloved cartoon duck and a certain mouse”—being printed onto reams of paper, including prom invitations (but don’t forget about Andy realizing he’s dating a high schooler). Michael goes into damage control mode, his press conference goes horribly awry, and Creed ends up making some shadowy calls and moves to shift the blame, save the day, and pocket some change along the way. To cap an all-time classic, Andy nails a rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” —Dollinger
7. “Stress Relief”
The truly greatest episodes of The Office are the one that mix sweet and sour; that hammer home the idea that, despite all the dysfunction, what we’re watching here is a group of people who have genuinely become family. In “Stress Relief,” Michael’s idea to host his own roast (as a way to reduce stress after he causes Stanley to have a heart attack) backfires tremendously; the jokes are just too brutal for him to take. (A quick ranking of the best/meanest ones: 3. Pam’s joke about Michael’s small “thing;” 2. Kelly saying she’d make out with Voldemort before Michael; 1. Dwight telling Michael that he doesn’t have any land.)
But the episode really comes together when Michael—after taking a sick day to go to the park and feed birds full slices of bread—triumphantly returns to the office to get his vengeance. As he unleashes bars (“Creed, your teeth called—your breath stinks. Boom roasted;” “Stanley, you crush your wife during sex and your heart sucks”), his employees accept their burns, and accept him. By the time Stanley is bursting out in laughter, any leftover animosity has given way to cathartic warmth. It’s my favorite moment in the entire series. —Gruttadaro
6. “Threat Level Midnight”
After years in production, Michael’s action movie/spy thriller is finally ready for its conference room premiere, and it does not disappoint. Starring in the production: a villain named Goldenface (played by Jim), a robot butler that Michael only later remembers is a robot (played by Dwight), a president and secret villain (played by Darryl, who says he took the role only because he wanted his daughter to see a black president) and a hero secret agent named Michael Scarn (played, of course, by Michael). Oh, and a narrator (played by Stanley) who knows everything about Michael Scarn—because he is Michael Scarn. At various points, there’s a Karate Kid knock-off training montage on ice, countless explosions and, best of all, a musical dance interlude in a bar. (If you’re wondering, here’s how to do “The Scarn.”) The film has everything—TNT should add it to the rotation along with The Accountant and the catalogue of interchangeable Jason Statham movies. —Gonzalez
5. “Diversity Day”
Season 1 Michael Scott, with his slicked back hair and aggressive demeanor, makes the first six episodes of The Office a bizarre viewing experience. They changed his entire character after that first season, and the softer Michael we know and love came in Season 2—and as a result, the show hit its stride.
But “Diversity Day” shines despite the unpolished version of Michael. From Michael’s Chris Rock routine to his saying he “won’t call” Larry Wilmore’s character “Mr. Brown,” this episode hit some of the same notes that would return in later Michael bits (like Prison Mike, for example). Michael tries to justify his deeply inappropriate humor by … sticking postcards with a different race written on them on each employee’s head, to get them to act out the stereotypes. It’s wild. This was also the first “real” episode of the American version of The Office—the pilot took most of its script from the British series—and despite some rough edges, it showed the enormous potential this group of characters had. —McAtee
4. “The Dundies”
Do you feel God in this Chili’s tonight? You should. After a fight with Roy in the chain restaurant’s parking lot, Pam returns to Michael’s award show and does the only thing anyone can do when faced with a bad time: she drinks. A lot. As the host’s jokes continue to fall flat and other patrons urge him to cut the Dundies short, Pam leaps in, encouraging him to keep going. It pays off, as a drunken Pam wins the prize for “Whitest Sneakers.” But it’s only after the crew leaves that we learn that Ms. Beesley has been banned from the establishment for sneaking drinks off other people’s tables—a sentence that was reversed by Chili’s CEO in 2017.
Oh, and Pam finally kisses Jim. —Samman
3. “The Return”
“You, me, bar, beers—buzzed... wings, shots—drunk—waitresses hot. Football: Cornell/Hofstra—slaughter! Then quick nap at my place and then we hit the tizzown.”
So goes one of the greatest monologues in The Office history. Andy is so tremendous in this era as an ass-kisser with a life’s worth of anger boiling inside him (and Ed Helms is great portraying it all), and this episode is all about him. He’s forced Dwight out, he’s immediately gotten on Michael’s nerves, and he’s had his phone stolen and thrown into the ceiling. All of that comes to a head as Michael heads out to bring Dwight back from his new job at Staples (a beautiful moment tucked in here). “No. I don’t wanna do any of that,” Michael responds to Andy’s Saturday gameplan.
“Sorry I annoyed you with my friendship,” Andy replies, as his ringtone—an a cappella version of “Rockin’ Robin” he recorded—goes off for the bajillionth time. And that’s when he puts his fist through a wall.
“That… was an overreaction,” he simply says, capping off one of the best moments of The Office—in one of the best episodes of The Office. —Gruttadaro
2. “The Injury”
It’s called “The Injury,” but really it’s about two injuries. There’s the hilarious one, when Michael accidentally burns his foot on a George Foreman grill because he’s trying to make himself bacon in bed. And there’s the serious one, when Dwight is concussed after he crashes his car on the way to save Michael from a small kitchen appliance. Steve Carell is in fine form, packaging his foot in bubble wrap, demanding everyone’s attention, pouting profusely when they rightly roast him, and yammering about yams.
But Rainn Wilson is the star of the episode, which was written by Mindy Kaling. Dwight’s concussion makes him sort of spacey and sweet, tickling Angela (“You’re cute as a button!”) and joking around with Pam (“Pan?”) to the point that she realizes that the two are kind of becoming friends. (“Oh my God, Dwight’s kind of my friend!”) After he passes out at his desk, Jim and Michael take him to the hospital. That leads to Jim, while driving, using a spray bottle of water to try to keep Dwight from drinking Meredith’s vodka and to get Michael to stop yelling from the passenger seat. And, of course, there’s Michael asking the doctor what’s more serious, a head injury or a foot injury, and then trying to stick his foot in the MRI machine along with Dwight. It’s A-plus Michael nonsense. —McCluskey
1. “Dinner Party”
”Dinner Party” provides the most laughs per minute of any Office episode, and it’s not particularly close. It checks all the comedic boxes: From Michael’s plasma TV to his tiny bed, from Jan’s scented candles to her assistant Hunter’s music, this episode is a barrel of sight gags and one-liners, awkward misunderstandings and slapstick.
Outside the very beginning and very end, “Dinner Party” is a bottle episode—only it forces the characters inside the most uncomfortable bottle imaginable. And trapped in this environment, every character’s essence seeps through: Jim nearly abandons his love and friends, Angela refuses a hug, Dwight brings his own dinner to a dinner party. Yet one final factor elevates this episode beyond being merely the funniest in The Office’s run. The last bit of its magic is empathy: At the end, improbably after her hosting debacle, the audience still feels for Jan. She sits on the couch, mouth curled in concentration, as she tries to glue Michael’s shattered Dundie back together. It falls apart in her hands, and she slumps in defeat. “Dinner Party,” winner of this list, cannot say the same. —Kram