For the greater part of my young adult life, I carried around a horrid little secret. Nobody knew but it felt like everybody did. Unexplained moments of eye contact, seemingly innocent smiles. They saw right through me. They knew my secret. They knew that never in my young life had I seen a single episode of “The Office.”
I know, I know. It’s horrible. But consider how I felt when suddenly, bland, slimy beets became a hot cultural phenomenon. Consider how I felt going to a birthday party with a sign stating simply “It is your birthday” like some sort of extraterrestrial attempt at being human. And yeah, I asked. But every time it was the same response: “Don’t you watch ‘The Office’?” No, I did not, but I soon realized that maybe I should. As I started college, there was an opportunity for an entirely new crop of people to decode my secret. So, I gave in and vowed to focus my time solely on the khaki-clad gang of Dunder Mifflin Scranton.
At first, I wasn’t impressed. The premiere season of “The Office” drags on, and it’s nearly impossible to form any sort of connection with the undeveloped characters. Looking back, it surprises me that a viewer of the show during its real-time premieres would continue with it, as I only did so due to the fanatical culture that urged me forward. And I’m glad it did, because halfway through season two, I was consumed. I brought “The Office” with me everywhere I went: the dining hall, the floor of Ruthven Museum waiting for class to start. I watched it wherever and whenever I could.
Nearly five years after its conclusion, “The Office” is still worth the obsessive following it’s retained. It’s hard to talk about an entire series that is so well-rounded in its comedic perfection and thrives in its minor details. I could spend this entire piece ripping into the delicious complexity of Dwight Schrute. Or I could swoon over Jim and Pam and recount the embarrassing amount of times their unconditional love made me dry sob. Yet as much as I’d love to do both, I won’t do either. Instead, I think the best way to honor the brilliance of “The Office” is to take all 201 of its magnificent episodes and reduce them to just three — three episodes that define the series for what makes it so great.
1. “Office Olympics,”: season 2, episode 3
By no means is this an episode worthy of a top 10 spot or international reorganization, but for me, “Office Olympics” was the moment I realized that this show really was special, and that the general public’s intense love for this show wasn’t just some widespread conspiracy. The premise is common enough; when the boss is away the workers will play. As Michael and Dwight tour condos, the employees of Dunder Mifflin compete in their favorite time-passing office games for yogurt lid medals. The dynamics in this episode demonstrate a strength of “The Office” that so many other shows fail to have: Every single character contributes to its genius. It is rare that a show with so many players wouldn’t have a weak link. In “Office Olympics,” everything from Jim’s charisma to Phyllis’s unexpected edge comes together to form a cast that, whether in the background or center stage, works cohesively to make great episodes time after time.
2. “Stress Relief”: season 5, episode 14/15
An obvious choice, “Stress Relief” is the episode everyone knows about, even if you haven’t seen it. After Dwight is dissatisfied with the Dunder Mifflin employees’ attention to his fire-safety presentation, he orchestrates a fake fire to test and exploit their incompetence. This obviously does not go well, and Dwight’s test ends with Stanley in the hospital after he suffers a heart attack. Dwight’s “practice fire” has become one of the most iconic scenes in recent television history. Here, the balance between the absurdity and fast-paced wit of the series is showcased. Angela throwing her cat into the ceiling, Dwight harvesting the organs of a CPR dummy — every second is packed with moments, big and small, that push you to tears with laughter. For “The Office,” the devil is in the details, and the details are pretty damn hilarious.
3. “Goodbye, Michael”: season 7, episode 22
If you watched this episode and didn’t shed a single tear, I take full liberty in saying you’re a soulless individual and also kick puppies as a hobby. For the rest of us mortals, it’s clear why this episode deserves the praise it receives, and why it may as well be the best episode of the series. Michael Scott is the face of “The Office” and one of most beloved characters in sitcom history. Yet his departure from the show was muted, hidden in a superb plot line that showed the Scranton manager lying about the date of his last day to his employees. As he tries to say goodbye to his beloved friends, their nonchalance towards their boss demonstrates how accustomed to his presence the Scranton workers have become; he may as well be the desks and the chairs, because what is Dunder Mifflin without Michael Scott? “The Office” has an incredible line-up of actors and characters, yet together they are nothing without the unmatched character that Steve Carrell assumed. And as he quips his last “that’s what she said,” and says that final, silent farewell to Pam, Michael Scott delivers the most idyllic conclusion to a series, even with the real series finale still three seasons away.
“The Office” may have gone a bit downhill after Michael’s departure, but not even a few dud seasons can diminish the years of quality product that the NBC comedy delivered. There is a reason almost five years after its conclusion, millions of people still binge-watch the series on Netflix and proudly sport Dunder Mifflin apparel. For every person, that reason is different. You may relate to Dwight’s ambition or long for a love like Jim and Pam’s, or maybe you just want to hear all the crazy things said in confessionals. Yet no matter what character you prefer or which episode is your favorite, it’s clear that this series has shaped modern comedy and fostered a community across generations. Like no other work before it, “The Office” was able to take a cast of average Joes working in the most tedious business possible, and turn the mundane into something magical.