Like gingerbread houses, boozy cider, and Mariah Carey, it’s just not the holidays without a little TV. Holiday-themed episodes present sitcoms with an opportunity to take a detour from their current story arcs and get extra-creative. Unfortunately, shows tend to take better advantage of a Halloween theme than they do with the winter holidays, too often opting to make heavy, “very special episodes” versus a joke-stuffed feast. The Office is one of the few that not only consistently featured a Christmas episode but a routinely hilarious one that rivaled it’s non-seasonal stories. The former NBC/current Netflix linchpin created seven episodes over the course of nine seasons bringing us Alanis Morissette karaoke, keepsake teapots, orange vod-juice-ka, and “The Adventures of Jimmy Halpert.”
For the perfect 4.5 hour marathon, we’ve ranked all the Christmas episodes from worst to best. Pull ‘em up on Netflix this weekend—while you still can.
Much like the 4th Indiana Jones movie, many of us don’t like to acknowledge the Michael Scott-less years of The Office. The final two seasons tried to fill the void left by Steve Carell and Mindy Kaling with a few useless characters (eg. Jim’s boring clone, Pete Miller) while effectively ruining the previously-beloved idiot, Andy Bernard, by making his character too broad. Despite taking all the fun out of Andy’s personality, “Dwight Christmas” is without both him and his predecessor, a void Nellie cannot fill. Despite being a Dwight-heavy episode, “Dwight Christmas” feels only half thought out. The Party Planning Committee gives him free-range to go full Pennslyvania Dutch crazy but all we really get out of it is Dwight slapping Oscar and Jim with a bundle of sticks. The bit dies quick and nothing comes close to matching Jim’s corresponding over-the-top level of excitement. Considering Dwight has the most distinct personality of the Dunder Mifflin crew, it’s very disappointing for such a premise to fall so flat. It’s the one turd in the punch bowl.
Despite being without both Michael and Pam, “Christmas Wishes” is one of the few good episodes of season eight thanks largely due to Erin. Ellie Kemper’s sweet and naive secretary gets a bit sauced when she has to share a space with Andy and his new, totally out-of-his-league girlfriend Jessica. Meanwhile, a new Jim vs. Dwight prank war rolls out in an effort to win the other’s year-end bonus but none of the pranks are anything as memorable as the iconic ones of the show’s past. Really it’s a loose Erin, a drunk Meredith, and a conniving Kelly that fuels the penultimate Christmas episode. While it lacks some fan favorites, its consistent upbeat energy makes for a fun episode.
“Christmas Party” is not the best, but it is the first in a long line of consistently fun seasonal stories. Unfortunately, the first two seasons of The Office pale in comparison to the show’s brilliant middle period, as the characters are still coming out of their shells; Ryan still plays a sane, straight man and Kelly is unusually quiet. What results is an overly subdued representation of the ever-awkward office holiday party but a good representation of why White Elephant is the dumbest idea ever invented. While it thankfully doesn’t have an off-theme subplot that steers the story off-course like some of its successors, “Christmas Party” is a good-not-great episode that doesn’t stand as tall as it’s typical non-seasonal episodes. Watching the gang trade underwhelming Secret Santa gifts (plus one $400 iPod) is more awkward than it is fun, unlike episodes such as “The Injury” and “Dinner Party,” which do an excellent job of being both.
“Moroccan Christmas” is the Atlanta Falcons of this lineup; starts strong, but ends weak and bleak. [Does it also regularly decimate your hope and faith in humanity?—Ed.] With Phyllis in charge of the festivities after blackmailing Angela with the knowledge or her affair with Dwight, she goes all out to prove her spot as the rightful head of the Party Planning Committee. Just like the party, the episode starts off with a bang (including one of my favorite Jim pranks) until a very sauced Meredith lights her hair on fire. Nobody is having fun anymore when Michael runs an impromptu intervention, and just like Kelly, we’re not having much fun watching this either. Where “Moroccan Christmas” really shines is with the subplot of Dwight hoarding and wildly selling over-priced Princess Unicorn dolls (“My horn can pierce the sky!”) to lazy parents… and Toby.
The Office always seems to nail a two-parter. In season six, Holly is back and Michael and the Scranton office (minus an unimpressed Erin) are looking to impress by throwing the classiest Christmas party they can. While the episode is entertaining throughout and includes some heartwarming moments, it’s not as consistent with the laughs, marking its spot at number three on our list. “Classy Christmas” stands out as a great episode in general due to a heavy focus on Dwight and Michael with Dwight’s increasingly psychotic snow-ball attacks on Jim culminating in a hilariously unnerving army of snowmen in the parking lot. It packs a season’s worth of pranks in one hour, finally making Dwight the prevailing prankster instead of the prankee.
Season three saw the show really come into its own. Each character is fully fleshed out while Andy Bernard and Karen Filippelli are welcomed additions to the Scranton Branch. This year’s holiday party sees Andy trying to cheer up Micheal after he gets his heart broken while Pam partners with Karen to create a second party to rival an uptight Angela. It’s very hard to choose between “Classy Christmas” and “Benihana” but a drunk Michael getting the Benihana waitresses (eg. his and Andy’s “new girlfriends”) mixed up throughout the night pushes it into second place. The scene where Michael marks her arm with a sharpie is an iconic Office moment. “Benihana” stands out as an episode that thoroughly encapsulates the vibe of the show. Although we’re officially 38 episodes deep, it serves as a good intro to each character for any newcomer: Dwight is desperate for Authority/Michael’s respect, Andy is a kiss-ass, Jim can’t help but stir up trouble even when he’s trying to to be good, and Angela is harsh as all hell. Just like “Classy Christmas,” “Benihana” takes advantage of its hour-long (43 minutes streaming) runtime as animosity and jealousy amongst the Dunder Mifflin staff combine for a joke-heavy special.
While The Office repeatedly proved itself to be one of the few sitcoms that could successfully expand into a full hour on a regular basis, this 30-minute episode is a good reminder that sometimes less is more. “Benihana” and “Classy Christmas” are very fulfilling episodes but “Secret Santa” is better paced, packing a big punch in a short runtime. The episode starts out with one of the best cold opens featuring the return of Jim and Dwight as the best/worst heads of the Party Planning Committee (“This was a successful unveiling!”), but really it’s Michael’s larger-than-life antics that elevate this one. When Phyllis usurps Michael as the office Santa Claus, Michael retaliates by turning his Saint Nick costume into Jesus (“His last name is Christ. He has the power of flight. He can heal leopards.”) cosplay to nobody but Angela’s delight. Its one lull comes from a brief moment when the staff becomes convinced Dunder Mifflin is going out of business, which does nothing but drag the episode down. Despite that throwaway bit, the episode’s absurdity and flow propel it up to the top spot. I’m always bummed when the episode ends.
Olivia Cathcart is Paste’s assistant comedy editor.