The Office is one of my favorite shows of all time, but as I said in my ranking of all nine seasons, the show definitely took a nosedive after the departure of Steve Carell/Michael Scott. Thankfully, when talking about the best episodes, you can ignore those final few seasons and only look back on the absolute best that The Office had to offer.
It’s also worth noting that I could have very easily made a “Top 50 Episodes of The Office” post with as many great episodes as The Office gave to us, but part of the fun is whittling down to a low number. That’s where you get to the nitty gritty. It was seriously agonizing cutting such classics as “Office Olympics,” “Murder,” and “Niagara” from this list, but it had to be done. Also worth noting, this isn’t a list of the 10 best moments from The Office. An episode is made up of more than one or two moments; I had to consider the entire story from beginning to end. So with that, here are the absolute 10 best episodes of The Office. Let me know what you think!
10. Threat Level Midnight
Season 7, Episode 17 — A rare gem in the later seasons, “Threat Level Midnight” finally gave the payoff to one of the best recurring bits on the show — Michael Scott’s movie. And it was everything I wanted it to be and more. There was also the fun subplot of Holly not finding it all that fantastic, which obviously affected Michael a great deal. He’d worked for years to put the film together, after all. Since this was just a few episodes before Michael’s departure, the episode also felt a bit like a trip down memory lane. We got to see the characters as they were in the early seasons, and it really shined a light on how far they’d come.
Jim — “I did not love the dialogue. Or the character. I took the role to impress a receptionist, who will remain nameless.”
9. Diversity Day
Season 1, Episode 2 — Speaking of seeing where our characters started, “Diversity Day” was the second episode of The Office to air, and the first truly original episode. The pilot was actually just a recreation of the first episode from the British version of the show. Needless to say, “Diversity Day” set the bar fairly high. It’s so fascinating to go back and see how the characters evolved over time. This was still back when Michael wasn’t much of a sympathetic character, and Kelly Kapoor was sort of a straight-forward businesswoman. I guess they hadn’t tapped into Mindy Kaling’s insanity, yet.
Toby — “Hey, we’re not all going to sit in a circle Indian style, are we?” [laughs]
Michael — “Get out.”
Toby — “I’m sorry.”
Michael — “No, this is not a joke, okay? That was offensive. And lame. So double offensive. This is an environment of welcoming and you should just get the hell out of here.”
8. The Injury
Season 2, Episode 12 — The Injury was a more touching episode than I expected, with two standout moments: Dwight’s short-lived friendship with Pam, and Michael staying with Dwight for his scan. But the real meat of the episode was Michael being Michael — childish, selfish, and completely unaware of how he comes across. The writers expertly mined the opportunities for comedy with Michael’s grilled foot predicament, even bringing in Billy Merchant, the handicapped property manager. The constant look of agony on Ryan’s face as he essentially became Michael’s nurse was amazing.
Michael — [to Dwight] “Give me the bottle or you’re fired.”
Dwight — “You can’t fire me, I don’t work in this van!”
7. Gay Witch Hunt
Season 3, Episode 1 — I remember seeing an interview with Oscar Nuñez, the actor who plays Oscar, where he talked about his character being outed as gay. At first, he was confused as to how he should play the character moving forward. Then he came to the realization that his character had been gay the whole time, so why should he play him any different? I don’t know why, but that always stuck out in my memory. Anyway, “Gay Witch Hunt” is just one of those classic episodes of The Office that combines terrific physical and verbal comedy with taboo subject matter. It was a fantastic premiere to what I consider to be the best season of the show.
Dwight — [sobbing] “Jim is gone. He’s gone. I miss him so much. Ooooh, I cry myself to sleep, Jim!” [pause, serious] “False. I do not miss him.”
6. A Benihana Christmas
Season 3, Episode 10 — I didn’t know The Office needed Ed Helms until Ed Helms joined the show. I’m definitely not a fan of the way his character changed through the years, but back in those early days, he was the perfect foil for both Dwight and Jim. His sucking up to Michael hit a perfect peak in “A Benihana Christmas,” as he takes Michael to lunch after Michael is dumped. One of my favorite parts was the randomness of Michael and Andy bringing completely different waitresses back to the office Christmas party than the ones they had met at the restaurant — it was delightfully absurd.
Jim — “It’s a bold move to Photoshop yourself into a picture with your girlfriend and her kids on a ski trip with their real father. But then again, Michael’s a bold guy … Is ‘bold’ the right word?”
5. Goodbye, Michael
Season 7, Episode 22 — One of the more touching episodes, “Goodbye, Michael” gave us Steve Carell/Michael Scott’s last episode, and it truly marked the end of an era. You certainly can’t fault the guy for moving on, but it’s hard to argue that the show maintained the same high bar of quality after his departure. Sure, the Jim and Pam story was the heart of the show, but Michael Scott was really the driving force. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch it, I still tear up at the scene between Michael and Jim. You can tell that it’s really the two actors talking to one another, not just their characters.
Jim — “You know what I think we should do? I think we should just save the goodbyes for tomorrow. At lunch.”
Michael — [crying ] “Oh, okay.”
Jim — “And then tomorrow, I can tell you … what a great boss you turned out to be. The best boss I ever had.”
4. The Deposition
Season 4, Episode 8 — Season four contains two of the absolute best episodes of the office, as well as one of the best cold opens — think Meredith and a car — but I’ll save that argument for a future list. “The Deposition” really showcased the beginning of the end for Michael and Jan. Their relationship had been dysfunctional from the start — and Jan definitely made a belly flop into the crazy pool when she was fired from Dunder Mifflin — but this episode highlighted her vindictive nature. And seeing poor Michael caught between his company and his girlfriend was truly tragic. He’s such a little kid at heart, and it really felt like Toby described. He was being forced to testify at his parents’ divorce.
Diane (Dunder Mifflin lawyer) — “Are you telling me that your relationship began two years ago and not in February as you previously testified to here?”
Michael — [pause] “Line.”
Diane — “I’m sorry, what?”
Judge — “He asked for a line, like in a play.”
3. Casino Night
Season 2, Episode 22 — Season two is a lot of peoples’ favorite season, mostly due to its premiere and its finale, “Casino Night.” The episode concept definitely felt special. We were still at the titular office, but it felt like a completely different set with all of the casino stuff and different characters present. But really, you can’t talk about this episode without talking about the end between Jim and Pam. I said this list is about complete episodes, not moments, but that moment with Jim and Pam in the parking lot has to be one of the most affecting scenes in sitcom history. It was tense, sad, disappointing, and gut-wrenching all at once. Damn you, The Office, why did you have to make me care so much about these characters?
Michael — “Welkommen, bienvenue, and welcome to Monte Carlo! I am no longer your boss. Lady Fortune is your boss.”
Stanley — [under his breath] “Will Lady Fortune give me a raise?”
Michael — [under his breath] “Shut it, shut it, shut it. [pause, to everyone] Will Lady Fortune be your mistress? Only time will tell, my friends. Leave all your preconceived notions about casinos at the door. Old friends, new lovers, and the disabled! Welcome all!”
2. Dinner Party
Season 4, Episode 9 — The second entry from season four to make the list, “Dinner Party” contains some of the best bloopers in the show’s history. That doesn’t affect its ranking here, but it does speak to how freaking hilarious the episode was. The arc of the episode, including Michael tricking Jim and Pam into coming over for dinner, Jan’s thinly veiled hatred for Pam, Pam’s simple desire to eat dinner at a dinner party, Michael and Jan competing to see who can make things more awkward … everything worked and flowed so brilliantly. This would easily have made my number one, if it weren’t for one other fantastic episode.
Jan — [after seeing Michael dip his steak into his wine] “Can you not do that? It’s disgusting.”
Michael — “You know I have soft teeth, how can you say that?”
Jan — “Oops.”
1. The Dundies
Season 2, Episode 1 — “The Dundies” is vintage The Office. It’s actually a bit of a weird episode conceptually, as it was the first episode of the show to have a significant chunk take place outside of the office. It was a very strong start to the stellar season two, and really set the stage for the Jim and Pam “will they/won’t they” story with their casual kiss. This also marked a clear transition to making Michael Scott a more sympathetic character, with him being picked on by other restaurant goers. And who could forget all of the memorable songs, impressions, and acceptance speeches? Not to mention the actual, real-life owner of the Chili’s being the one to kick out Pam.
Michael — “And now, to someone who quietly goes about their job, but always seems to land the biggest accounts … the ‘Busiest Beaver’ award goes to Phyllis Lapin!”
Phyllis — [after accepting award] “This says ‘Bushiest Beaver.'”
There you have it, what I consider to be the 10 absolute best episodes of The Office! Think I’m wrong? Well, you’re the one that’s wrong, but let me know about it in the comments anyway!