Looking Back on The Office: Our Top 25 Episodes

By Cory Barker and Nick Campbell

May 15, 2013

When we decided to rank the top episodes of The Office in honor of this week's impending series finale, we assumed it wouldn’t be too difficult, that there'd be substantial overlap between our individual lists. Somewhat surprisingly, that didn't turn out to be the case. But it did reflect just how good and how diverse The Office has been for so much of its run (we're certain you won’t be shocked to learn that Seasons 8 and 9 aren’t highly represented here). To compile this list, we each picked our own top 25 episodes and and then narrowed them down by half, to one agreed-upon batch of 25. Many great ones still didn’t make the cut, but don’t think we didn’t consider them! After nine seasons and 199 episodes—the series finale will be the show's 200th—here are our favoritest favorites. 

The Runners-up: “Goodbye, Toby” (Season 4), “Health Care” (Season 1), “Stress Relief” (Season 5), “Weight Loss” (Season 5), “Money” (Season 4), “Work Bus” (Season 9), “Tallahassee” (Season 8), “Search Committee” (Season 7), “Christmas Party” (Season 2), “The Deposition” (Season 4), “Beach Games” (Season 3), “Traveling Salesman” (Season 3).

25. “The Return” (Season 3) 

The post-merger section of The Office's third season was one of its strongest runs ever, capped off by this episode that combined relationship drama (Jim telling Karen that he still has feelings for Pam), managerial silliness (Michael traveling to Staples to ask Dwight to return to Dunder Mifflin), and one of the more awkward-funny sequences in the show’s history (Andy losing his mind and punching the wall). It was technically the second half of a two-parter with “Traveling Salesman,” but it delivered all the cathartic moments that the first half of the season ad built up. 

24. “The Convict” (Season 3) 

Michael Scott is an enigma wrapped in a riddle nestled in a box of warm fuzzies. To the two or three people you may know who have no concept of who he is or what he's about, pop in (or download or torrent, whatever you kids do) "The Convict" and submit to them the power of "Prison Mike." There is no greater encapsulation of Michael's trying-so-hard, trying-too-hard, and trying-to-make-a-difference. Witness the blissful ignorance to what prison actually is. Recognize his innocence when he inserts a Harry Potter reference into his hardcore rhetoric. But, most of all, see the performance and heart with which appeals to the people he cares about. Michael is equal parts sincerity, goodness, and theatrics, and "The Convict" perfectly illustrated that.

23. “A.A.R.M.” (Season 9)

Although Michael will always be The Office’s *main* main character, the final few episodes of Season 9 have reminded us that Jim, Pam, Dwight, and Angela are a crucial foursome that, frankly, the show should have leaned on more in the post-Michael years. There’s still a Dwight-Angela wedding and more minor Halpert drama to come, but “A.A.R.M.” could have served as a fine series finale. It showed us how far these folks have come, only to remind us that their bonds and relationships have really been there all along.

22. “Cocktails” (Season 3)

There was a no more doomed pairing than that of the ambitious Jan Levinson (no more Gould) with Michael, a man decidedly lacking in ambition because most of his stars are so low-hanging and the rest are just ridiculous. The coming-out party for their relationship offered a great look at their only possible dynamic as a couple: the jaded, cold-hearted mother doing her best to care for the child she never wanted. The episode also provided one of the best Jan quotes of the entire series: "I am taking a calculated risk. What's the upside? I overcome my nausea, fall deeply in love, babies, normalcy, no more self loathing. Downside? I, uh, date Michael Scott publicly and collapse in on myself like a dying star." Perfect.

21. “Gay Witch Hunt” (Season 3) 

The Season 3 premiere offered one of the best Awkward Michael Conference Room stories, and his attempts to salvage the meeting by hugging and kissing Oscar on the lips (an unscripted moment, by the way) became an all-time Steve Carell scene. This one also gets points for moving the Jim-Pam story forward without straining credibility too much.

20. “Did I Stutter?” (Season 4) 

Stanley's stories are usually tangentially told. You know he has affairs and children but, for the most part, he's part of the not-in-the-opening-credits chorus that's only active in the background. It took until Season 4 for Stanley to get something meaty, and "Did I Stutter?" delivered, letting us glimpse a different side of both him and Michael. The phrase "did I stutter" broke Mr. Scott and he showed some vulnerability; the fact that Stanley didn't let up, didn't cave while his boss showed himself as weepy and puerile, was a great example of how the show could get the result it wanted without sacrificing its characters.

19. “The Client” (Season 2)

We've seen so many instances of Michael proving to be some kind of sales savant (one of his true deviations from the original British character of David Brent) because of how good he is with people. "The Client" was one of the earliest examples, as he wooed Tim Meadows' Christian. It was a classic set-up where Michael took control of a meeting environment and spun it until it was seemingly doomed to failure, only to realize he was doing all the right things. We were put into Jan's position (another novelty) and completely understood when she broke down and kissed him outside. In that moment, he was perfect.

18. “Branch Closing” (Season 3)

Back when the show actually made an effort to produce fascinating stories about working for a moderately sized business and the issue of corporate restructuring, The Office could be legitimately thrilling; “Branch Closing” was one of those episodes. It was easy to see that Jim would eventually be reunited with his Scranton cohorts, but "Branch Closing" at least made us think that his first office was going to close down to make that happen. 

17. "Michael Scott Paper Company" (Season 5)

In Season 5, The Office still had the ambition to tell interesting stories about Dunder Mifflin’s business, and Michael’s disagreements with Charles Miner led to one of the more successful story arcs. All those episodes were standouts, but this one gets the nod for its special opening title sequence and its ability to pull Michael (and to a lesser extent, Pam) back down to reality after their big move, while still giving them a small victory at the end with their first real customer. Watching Charles make Jim squirm over the rundown placed Halpert in a new, uncomfortable position as well.

16. “Scott’s Tots” (Season 6)

The glue that holds the British series and the American series together is the ability to drop its characters into scenes of cringeworthy embarrassment. The American series always tended to water down such opportunities, but "Scott's Tots" did no such thing. There was no reprieve when Michael was left on the hook for promising a class of kids that he'd pay for their college tuition after ten years of hitting the books. It was the kind of painful experience that made you want to bury your head in the couch while keeping one eye on the screen. It was an oasis in a season of mediocrity. Plus it was an episode where Jim fell on his face and what's not to love about that? 

15. “Garage Sale” (Season 7)

The proposal sequence was amusing, sweet, and—above all else—totally in-line with the show’s brand of pathos. It nicely set up Michael’s exit from the series without short-shrifting his relationship with Holly. Awwwww.

14. “The Dundies” (Season 2)

Ladies and gentlemen, bear witness to the U.S. series finally breaking away from its predecessor. While Season 1 was, more or less, true to the U.K. series, Season 2 began the process of making its own way. Here, the writers cultivated Michael Scott's love for his employees and the camaraderie among the coworkers in a way that the British version never did (not to its detriment; it just never did). It was a perfect way to make the show accessible to an American audience while also providing something they could sell in the NBC store.

13. “Office Olympics” (Season 2)

Before The Office grew too cartoonish, it consistently told small stories about the mundanity of the contemporary workplace. “Office Olympics” keyed in on that with a series of silly, relatable intra-office competitions and then put a nice emotional button on the whole thing when Jim and Pam awarded a despondent Michael a gold medal for closing on a condo he could never afford. 

12. “Email Surveillance” (Season 2)

We could probably just applaud this episode for its small bit of non-Stanley/Oscar diversity with the tech support guy, but it was also great for some of the emotional beats with Michael, as he continued his tract of becoming the heart of this show. And Pam's flirty exploration of Jim's apartment and bedroom went a long way toward making them a couple we truly wanted to root for. The episode also marked one of the handful of pre-Season 9 times the documentary crew interacted with the subjects, pointing out evidence to Pam about Dwight and Angela secretly hooking up.

11. “Booze Cruise” (Season 2)

Another Season 2 winner. “Booze Cruise” offered stupid-but-charming Dwight, frustrated Michael, and dejected Jim in an episode that felt increasingly claustrophobic as it progressed. Jim’s depressed admission to Michael and Michael’s “engaged ain’t married” line of support was an early highlight for those of us invested in the show’s various romantic entanglements. 

10. “The Injury” (Season 2)

This was a sillier episode, but one of its most purely hilarious ones as well. From Michael’s opening speakerphone call about his burned foot to Jim’s spray-bottle conditioning of both Dwight and Michael, “The Injury” kept the broad comedy going from beginning to end. 

9. “Broke” (Season 5)

As previously noted, the Michael Scott Paper Company plot was the last compelling business-centric story the show told, and “Broke” brought that arc to a very satisfying end. Carell always did great work when playing smart, capable Michael; the negotiation sequence required Michel to be those things while under pressure, and Carell simply killed it. 

8. “The Job” (Season 3)

The Season 3 finale was the culmination of fifty-plus episodes’ worth of story. It wasn't great simply because Jim finally decided to ask Pam out, or because Pam had grown into a more confident adult, but because it also brought Jan’s reign of insanity to an explosive, funny conclusion, only to have her direct her leftover energy toward her relationship with Michael. The show certainly had a number of great moments and good seasons after this, but it still sort of feels like this was the creative apex.  

7. “Initiation” (Season 3)

So rare is it for this show to have A-B-C stories that work simultaneously, but "Initiation" was one of those rare birds where everything came together in one beautiful package. It was the importance of "pretzel day" (an opportunity for Stanley to crack that smile was priceless), Michael Scott hopped up on sugar, and Dwight putting Ryan through the salesman initiation process (including Mose wearing a shirt that read FEAR in electrical tape) combined with what, at the time, was one of the most heart-pumping moments of the series. Pam and Jim talking for the first time after the kiss in "Casino Night" was one of those things that mended your heart and then broke it again when the future Jam hung up. Gorgeously constructed arc and episode.

6. “Casino Night” (Season 2)

Much like a New York night club as described by SNL's Stefon, this episode had everything: Michael Scott (somehow) blundering his way into spending an evening with two beautiful women, opportunities for all characters on the show to shine, slaps to the face, Creed being Creed, and, of course, the first kiss. For a Season 2 finale, there could be no greater cliffhanger than Jim and Pam's will-they-won't-they and, while it was great on its own, it was made more perfect that, by Season 3, we knew that it was "won't-they" (until later). Steve Carell, you magnificent bastard.

5. “A Benihana Christmas” (Season 3)

There are strong holiday specials every year (and sometimes even Diwali specials), but "A Benihana Christmas" struck a chord that made it unusually perfect. There's something about the camaraderie of the office in this one, from the merging of the parties to Michael giving a bicycle to one of the two servers from the eponymous restaurant—you know, the one whose arm he needed to mark because he couldn't tell which one was his "girlfriend"—to Kelly singing Pat Benatar to Ryan. It was all magical. And one of those times where you can look fondly on Andy and remember that he wasn't always the living worst.

4. “Niagara” (Season 6) 

Greg Daniels and Mindy Kaling’s script smartly turned into the "JK Wedding Dance" trend skid by giving Michael and company that frivolous but heartwarming moment, while having Jim cut it off at the pass by marrying Pam before they even walked down the aisle. The show didn’t treat this moment as an epic event, which made complete sense for two low-key, relatively normal people. Still, those moments on the boat? Tremendous.

3. “Diversity Day” (Season 1)

After a pretty boring pilot (especially if you'd seen the original U.K. series), "Diversity Day" was a breath of fresh air during a season that was basically rote with a few exceptions. It was important for the American series to escape the shadow of its predecessor, and though it didn't really do so until Season 2, the differences began here. A different heart pumped through this episode; the hard-edged sarcasm was replaced with something warmer and inviting, but that could still coexist with wit. Steve Carell started to demonstrate himself as someone who was different than David Brent. The Office was starting to find its legs and, though it wouldn't be steady on them for a few more episodes, "Diversity Day" was a very good beginning.


2. “Goodbye, Michael” (Season 7)

Because we're not robots. "Goodbye, Michael" was a perfect send-off for the heart of the show with a nice wink to the audience at the end. The emotional beats of the episode and Michael's fear of saying a proper goodbye made complete sense. Jim and Michael's conversation still stands as one of the tearjerkingest of the series; it not only represented the affection that those characters had for each other, but that we had for Michael with Jim as our proxy. Pam said goodbye to him without us being able to hear it, and it was almost like she was already talking to a ghost. Michael got no final audible words (the last thing we could even understand was "That's what she said!"), and he flew off into the heavens (er, Colorado). That the episode ended with DeAngelo's meltdown and an unknown future for the employees of Dunder Mifflin let us know that they didn't really know what to expect either, other than a future without Michael Scott. Things looked bleak.

1. “Dinner Party” (Season 4)

The Office is a show about relationships disguised as a workplace comedy. You know this because, now that we're in Season 9, no one is doing work anymore. It's about who's the father of Angela's baby or what's up with Jim and Pam or the state of Oscar's secret relationship with a state senator. Season 4's "Dinner Party" put all the workplace relationships in the context they deserved, and there may be no greater scene with Jan Levinson and Steve Carell, together or individually, in the history of the show. Between the candle-making premise and the Dundie going through the $200 plasma screen, the soundtrack by Hunter (The Hunted), the creepy thing going on with Dwight and his babysitter, and everybody's personalities reaching their logical extremes (including Jim and Pam's self-awareness), this episode almost became a parody of itself. The writing kept it from drifting too far. It's a legendary episode of the show.

Which episodes of The Office would make YOUR list?

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  • magichooper99 Jun 17, 2013

    Make the list 26. Right after "Dinner Party" would be "Finale"

  • MantisToboggan May 28, 2013

    Your list is almost perfect, which is why I'm so disappointed at your #1 choice. Besides the last two seasons (which were all but useless, and I ended up hate-watching them), The Dinner Party is my least favorite episode. The show was funny, uncomfortable, and awkward, which was a big selling point and source of laughs. But the Jan/Michael interactions in this episode weren't uncomfortable as much as they felt like Jan showing her abusive nature towards Michael in a relationship that was seriously damaging to his self confidence in front of his friends. The rest of your selections are solid, save for the Jam wedding, which was 'meh' to begin with, but went straight to hell with the YouTube ripoff.

  • johnlocke May 20, 2013

    What about when Michael goes down to the warehouse for the guys to help him cope with being a baby daddy, even though he was not Jans baby Daddy.

  • NJLiz May 18, 2013

    I'm terrible with episode names but I thought the episode where they had a party at James Spader's character mansion was interesting in a lot of ways (Season 8?). Also, I think there was an episode where Jim and Pam stayed at the Schrute farm as if it was a B&B; that had some funny Mose scenes. And I like the one with Pam's art show where Roy made an ass of himself but Michael showed up to support her. There were also some episodes highlighting the other branch (back when Andy Benard wasn't so pathetic) that were pretty awesome and relieved some of the claustrophobia all of the action taking place in The Office's main set. And any time Dwight was playing detective (like when he was trying to find out who was using marijuana) were amusing.

    I think it is notable that almost all of the episodes you mention are ones with the main cast (plus extras) and not ones prominently featuring guest stars. A lot of sit-coms have relied on stunt casting (cough! Friends cough! Will & Grace) as the seasons wore on and while The Office did a bit of this when Michael Scott left, it wasn't a hallmark of the show (and clearly not its best episodes).

    But there were a few places in the article where you say "Steve Carrell" when you clearly meant "Michael Scott", the character. You only refer to others by the character names, not the names of the actors who play the characters, so it was a little jarring.

  • SpasticMinnow May 17, 2013

    Michael marking his date in A Benihana Christmas is the funniest moment, and one of the most telling moments of the entire series, so that gets my vote. Whenever I want to describe the awkward charm of michael in his most oblivious state, this is the moment I recount.

  • dh4645 May 17, 2013

    no review of the finale yet?

  • NJLiz May 18, 2013

    See it here http://www.tv.com/news/the-office-series-finale-review-thatll-do-show-thatll-do-136881069650/

  • CaitlinRice May 16, 2013

    I think my all time favs are "Dinner Party", "Casino Night", "The Dundies", "Beach Games", and "The Job". But there are so many little moments spread throughout the course of the series that it almost makes trying to name overall favorite episodes pointless.

  • VishnuSudarsa May 16, 2013

    I liked Take your daughter to work day episode from Season 2 ! really brought the character out of him !

  • Homerman92 May 16, 2013

    Glad to see that my personal favourite episode tops the list

  • ElRob May 16, 2013

    Same here, as I was scrolling down my one thought was "Dinner Party, Dinner Party...", then, Yes!

  • dh4645 May 16, 2013

    only a few more hours until show time. ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!

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