On May 16, audiences will watch as the Scranton, Penn.-based employees of Dunder-Mifflin close up the office for the last time.
It’s certainly been an interesting journey for a show that spent its first season living in the shadow of its critically adored British predecessor only to grow into one of the most beloved (and highest rated) American sitcoms of the 2000s. And while its quality might have fluctuated over the years, few will deny that the end of The Office marks the end of an era.
It’s the show that turned Steve Carell into a comedy superstar, enlisted the talents of such high-profile directors as J.J. Abrams, Harold Ramis, Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon and turned the “mockumentary” model into a viable TV structure, paving the way for shows like Modern Family and Parks and Recreation.
In honor of the show’s upcoming series finale, we take a look at some of the major highlights from the show’s nine years on the air. With close to 200 episodes, witling a list down to 20 is no easy task. Nevertheless, here are the episodes that truly defined the best that the show had to offer.
20. Threat Level Midnight
Season 7, Episode 17
Why It’s Great: With Michael Scott’s departure from the office fast approaching, the writers decided to take a trip down memory lane. “Threat Level Midnight,” is a concept seeded by an episode back in Season Two where the office finds Michael’s script for an action film. The episode allowed the writers to break the mold of traditional Office episodes, introducing a genre parody to rival Community (which, incidentally, ran an Office-style, faux documentary episode that same night). Moreover, since Michael’s film was shot and edited over the course of many years, the structure allows the audience to bring back former recurring characters in small cameos, including Karen, Roy and Jan.
Season 3, Episode 6
Why It’s Great: Being that he’s as culturally insensitive as he is well-meaning, placing Michael at a Diwali celebration would be a firm foundation by itself for a funny episode. In the hands of writer/Kelly Kapoor Mindy Kaling, however, you have both a strong collection of ensemble character bits as well as an ideal example of what could happen when the creators take the action outside the office setting. This half-hour is full of comedic gems, whether it’s Michael mistaking the ceremony for a Halloween party or Ryan being hit on by Kelly’s relatives. Yet it also contains some of the most cringe-worthy elements of the series; namely, when Michael makes an ill-advised proposal to Carol in front of everyone and then later tries to kiss Pam after she shows him a bit of compassion.
Season 6, Episode 4/5
Why It’s Great: Jim and Pam’s relationship has always been the heart of the The Office. For six seasons, we witnessed as they evolved from flirtatious office mates to a serious item to husband and wife and, finally, to parents of two children. “Niagara” signals a major touchstone in the relationship: the wedding. Despite the fact that the hour-long episode feels a tad overstuffed at times, the proper poignancy is there in spades. Even the remake of the YouTube video involving a wedding march to Chris Brown’s “Forever” manages to transcend its inherent cheesiness and become quite the heart-warmer.
17. Garage Sale
Season 7, Episode 19
Why It’s Great: If ever there were any moment on the show that could rival the exuberant sweetness that was Jim and Pam’s wedding, it would be Michael’s candle-lit proposal to Holly (complete with Yoda impersonations). Since first introduced in the fourth season finale, Holly (played brilliantly by Oscar-nominee Amy Ryan) has served as Michael’s white whale—the woman both he and the audience knew was his destined soulmate. After years of ill-timing, however, Michael finally found himself with the woman he was always meant to be with. Moreover, those two and half seasons of build-up make “Garage Sale” all the more inspiring. The only damper on the party? Michael immediately announces after the engagement that he’ll be leaving the Scranton office (but we’ll get to that later).
16. Diversity Day
Season 1, Episode 2
Why It’s Great: The Office gets a lot of flack for its lackluster first season. Yet, for all its issues, there were certainly moments in its inaugural episodes that would point towards its potential for greatness. After the line-by-line remake of the original’s pilot episode, “Diversity Day” started pushing the characters away from their British counterparts. And while those characters aren’t yet solid, “Diversity Day” is if nothing else a hilarious rough draft in how the show would craft its brand of cringe humor, especially with Michael’s woeful handling of the racial sensitivity activities.
15. The Merger
Season 3, Episode 8
Why It’s Great: Being that The Office began its run with the Scranton employees already somewhat used to Michael’s personality and highjinks, “The Merger” served as an excellent outlet for pitting Michael against Dunder-Mifflin workers not accustomed to his unique brand of management. The outlet in question is the incorporation of the defunct Samford branch into the Scranton branch. While some of the new employees simply smile politely and accept Michael’s eccentric nature, others take off before the episode is even done. Eventually, by the end of Season Three, Andy would be the only Samford transfer left standing.
Season 5, Episode 12
Why It’s Great: For all the complaints about Michael’s ever-shifting personality, perhaps no character has had a more schizophrenic characterization than Andy Bernard. Beginning as an obnoxious brown-noser with anger issues, the writers softened Andy’s edges in subsequent seasons only to bring it back in this recent season. “The Duel” did wonders in fleshing out the Nard-Dog, allowing him to be play a sympathetic role after being the clueless cuckold oblivious to Dwight and Angela’s affair (for a comedically long period, I might add).
On another note, a subplot features Michael traveling to Dunder-Mifflin headquarters and being asked by his boss how exactly his branch has been so successful in the wake of economic devastation. After countless episodes of Michael being humiliated, belittled or committing numerous faux pas, it’s refreshing to see a moment where his actions are praised
even if he doesn’t quite know how entirely how to handle it.
Season 2, Episode 5
Why It’s Great: The Office could always be relied upon when it came to producing funny Halloween episodes. This first one set the template, with the added drama of Michael having to fire an employee by day’s end. Simply the image of a man like Michael struggling with a major, anxiety-laden decision while sprouting a paper mache head on his shoulder is comedy gold on its own. Not to mention, this episode is the first to introduce us to the hilarious scene-stealing antics of office weirdo Creed. What further solidifies this episode as one of the greats, however, is the final montage. As Michael laughs about the numerous hilarious costumes he’s donned in the past during a voiceover, we watch as a much more isolated and lonely Michael picks up the office, cleans his car (the fired employee had dropped a pumpkin on it) and drives back to an empty house. This juxtaposition serves as a fine example of the emotional impact that the show could muster with only a few choice images and some great writing.
12. The Deposition
Season 4, Episode 8
Why It’s Great:When she first appeared on screen as the corporate tightass in Season Two, few could have predicted that Jan Levinson would become the worst thing that ever happened to Michael. “The Deposition” plays as much as psychological warfare as it does as comedy, with Jan forcing Michael to testify against his beloved Dunder-Mifflin as part of her wrongful termination lawsuit. Things get complicated, however, when the company reveals facts about Jan’s past actions that has Michael rethinking his position. It’s a brutal episode, but one that would ultimately serve as but the prelude for the storm to come. Perhaps to balance the darkness of the main plot, a subplot has Daryl and Jim participating in a friendly game of ping pong that their respective girlfriends (Kelly and Pam) turn into a competition.
11. Launch Party
Season 4, Episode 3
Why It’s Great: Season 4 began with a series of hour-long episodes that effectively derailed the series with its padded plotlines and half-baked situations. The gem of these episodes, however, is “Launch Party.” Unlike other installments, “Launch Party” is full of enough memorable plotlines to successful fill the hour mark. Michael abducts a pizza delivery guy after learning he’s been cut from the Dunder-Mifflin launch party, Dwight attempts to prove his worthiness to Angela by selling more paper than Dunder-Mifflin’s new computer program and Andy’s wooing of Angela culminates with a conference call performance of ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me.” It’s fun all around and served to placate fans who no doubt worried that The Office had lost its direction.