The List: Ranking the episodes of The Office — Tier 1 [Episodes 23-1]

I’ve been re-watching The Office on DVD this summer in hopes of reminding me how good the series once was. I’ve accomplished that completely, but with TVS in mind, I’m always thinking about how I transfer what I’m watching into some sort of post or feature or whatever else. If you follow me on Twitter — and obviously, you should — you know I’ve been tweeting about doing a ranked list of the series 115 episodes (hour-long/extended episodes count as one). Well, here it is.

If you need more information about my thought process in the selection, check out my introductory post on the matter.

Here we go, the final tier. These are, in my opinion, the 23 best episodes of The Office. It took me nearly two weeks to craft this entire list because there are so many wonderful moments in this series. I guess it’s sort of fitting that I finish this list on the day the internet goes insane over the fact that Steve Carell is more or less officially leaving the series at the end of next season.

Unlike the other four tiers, this tier of episodes is actually ranked. As I completed this tier, I think some of my Office biases showed themselves. I obviously love Jim and Pam and the earlier seasons of the series, and so this last group shows that. However, I’m hoping there are a few surprises here that inspire some sort of discussion.

23. “The Delivery” (S6): This episode marks a major moment in the series, but suffers from being a hour-long, so I struggled with where to put it. Ultimately, this seemed liked the most obvious spot.

22. “Michael Scott Paper Company” (S5): The teaser and title sequence alone are highlights of an already blabbed-about arc, but this episode is also honest and realistic in its portrayal of Pam and Jim’s struggles with their respective bosses.

21. “E-mail Surveillance” (S2): The first few minutes are just fine, but once Jim’s party finally beings, this becomes a wonderful effort full of great Jam moments and fun little character beats in general.

20. “The Deposition” (S4): I have never laughed more at this series than I did the first time I saw Michael slowly push Toby’s lunch tray off the table. That’s just one of a number of great scenes in this super-awkward season four episode.

19. “Beach Games” (S3): The Apprentice/Survivor-like premise was mined for lots of comedy and would absolutely be the way Michael would choose his his successor. Throw in a slew of hilarious bits — Creed grabbing the fish, Andy floating away, the look on Stanley’s face, Jim’s “If this job is in a well, I don’t want it” line — and Pam’s heartfelt, but awkward speech and we have ourselves an all-timer.

18. “Christmas Party” (S2): Again, I’m a sucker for the Jam stuff, so Jim’s gift to Pam will always stick out in my mind. But this episode also started what is now a tremendous tradition of disastrous, but sweet Christmases.

17. “Company Picnic” (S5): It doesn’t quite reach the levels of greatness that the three previous finales did — list spoiler alert, I guess — but “Picnic” is a funny episode that makes you smile a lot instead of LOL’ing all the time.

16. “Diversity Day” (S1): I said “The Alliance” was the “confirmation” that The Office could be amazing. This was the episode that planted the seed and it also provided us with a sequence that is shown in real diversity training situations now.

15. “Money” (S4): “I…DECLARE…BANKRUPTCY!!!!” I guess the series can do full-hour episodes. Sometimes.

14. “The Dundies” (S2): As good as a few of those season one episodes were, the season two premiere proved that the series had jumped a number of levels in quality and emotional intensity.

13. “Weight Loss” (S5): Even without the Jim-Pam engagement, this episode would be in the top tier. With it, it’s much higher up. Also: Holly and Michael beat-boxing.

12. “Traveling Salesman” (S3): This episode gets lots of mileage out of the charming chemistry between all four salesmen duos — especially Phyllis/Karen and Jim/Dwight — while setting up a wonderful change that is completed…

11. “The Return” (S3): …here. It made total sense to pair these episodes in the list. Jim’s torture of the Nard Dawg and Dwight’s pinata destruction give this one the very, very slight edge.

10. “Booze Cruise” (S2): This is the series at its best: Michael’s inability to recognize his surroundings, Jim and Pam drama and lots of laughs.

9. “Stress Relief” (S5): The roast, the epic teaser, everything in this episode makes it post-Super Bowl worthy.

8. “Broke” (S5): Sometimes the series can loose the laughs on its way to telling more plot, business-heavy stories, but this episode is one of two most glaring exceptions to that just-now-created rule (the other is coming). It’s actually nail-bitingly tense while still being LOL funny.

7. “Goodbye, Toby” (S4): Even though there aren’t a huge number of them thanks to the WGA strike, this episode pays off all the season’s stories in entertaining fashion while introducing one of the series’ best characters in Holly Flax.

6. “Niagara” (S6): This is probably where my position as a Jam mark supersedes my critical opinion, but I don’t really care. I adore this episode, especially Jim’s various back-up plans that keep Michael and company from truly over-running the Halpert’s day.

5. “Casino Night” (S2): Starting with this episode, the next five efforts listed were so difficult to rank. After a season full of emotional jabs from Jim and Pam, the kiss was a total gut punch and still gets me to this day. Also great: Kevin as a WSOP winner.

4. “Gay Witch Hunt” (S3): The season three premiere accomplishes a lot of plot work with Jim’s move and the introduction of Karen and Andy, but more importantly, it stays true to the series by focusing on Michael’s craziness in the Dunder Mifflin office. The kiss gets all the rightfully deserved hype, but I love the Gaydar button just as much.

3. “Dinner Party” (S4): Full disclosure: When I first watched this episode, I was thoroughly disappointed. We had heard throughout the WGA strike about how this was literally the funniest script ever produced and because we had to wait so long, expectations only grew larger. So when it aired, I just shrugged. But when I watched it on DVD a week or so ago, I could not stop laughing. I thought long and hard about putting it even higher on this list. It is just so…awkward. And awesome.

2. “The Injury” (S2): I think that it is between this episode and “Dinner Party” in terms of second-for-second laughs. It all starts with Michael’s speaker-phone conversation to the whole office, continues with Jim and his damn water bottle and then ultimately tells a nice little, heartfelt story about the relationship between Michael and Dwight.

1. “The Job” (S3): This episode finds itself in the number one spot for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s hilarious — see: Michael’s naming of people in the Dunder Mifflin corporate branch, Andy’s job interview, Kevin’s meta Pam/Karen argument with himself. Second of all, it smartly balances the comedy with the corporate positioning in a way the series has never done again (this is that other episode I mentioned back with “Broke”). Finally, it features the most anticipated moment in the series’ history at that point. You know, when those two crazy kids decide to get together. It has the best of The Office in one episode. And that’s why it’s number one on my list.

Season totals in this tier:

Season 1 –> 1     Season 2 –> 6     Season 3 –> 5     Season 4 –> 4     Season 5 –> 5     Season 6 –> 2

Season rankings [based on this formula: 1 point for a tier 5 episode, 2 points for a tier 4 episode, etc. then divided by number of episodes in that season]:

1. Season 2 [3.409 average]
2. Season 4 [3.215]
3. Season 3 [3.174]
4. Season 5 [3]
5. Season 1 [2.667]
6. Season 6 [2.417]

So I’m actually surprised that season four tops season three, but those highlight episodes really stand-out. I still think three is more consistent, but can’t deny the charm of the S4 episodes in this top tier. Not a shocker: season six sucks.

Anyway, this was a really fun endeavor and I hope you enjoyed it or hated it and disagree with most of my picks. Let me know in the comments below.

-> Eps 46-24
–>Eps 69-47
–> Eps 92-70
–>Eps 115-93

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2 thoughts on “The List: Ranking the episodes of The Office — Tier 1 [Episodes 23-1]

  1. It’s easy to agree AND disagree, as it’s so much a matter of taste. I’ve been inspired to write a similar ranking structure, but unfortunately I’ve been relegated to banker by day- and by night, I’m exhausted. Perhaps sometime when I’m on break, I’ll pop in the discs and give it a go. I’ve seen them all so many times it would be easy to just do it— but what’s the fun in that? And, besides, you forget so much of the feel of an episode.

    I think what makes this tough is that it’s difficult to put yourself in that moment of when the episode aired. It’s hard to balance how well-executed what you “now know” is going to happen and to try to examine the episode’s impact for what it was during your ignorance.

    For example, “The Job” (which I agree is the series’ best episode ahead of the one and only The Injury) was so funny…. so compelling (who would get the job, what would happen with Jim and Pam and Karen, Dwight as the boss, etc.) was as relentlessly moving as the series gets IN THAT NIGHT watching it FRESH. Now, on an objective scale, it’s even a deeper appreciation to be had as it stands up in spite of knowing the answers that had our guts reeling.

    And, as for the dropoff in the series….Shucks, it’s a mega-collapse. Imagine if they’d ended s. 2 or 3 with a flopper like “Whistleblower” in quality and in lack of magnitude. We’d honestly sit around and be left to wonder…why did the writers leave three weeks early and leave walk-ins to throw together a script? And, I think that’s a major part of the issue. As the stars get bigger and projects shine brighter, the glimmer of coming to work and being inspired to keep this show great gets more fuzzy in its focus. I remember a few years ago when Steve Carell literally said, “As long as there are ideas left, I’m here to make the show.” I think his leaving has a lot more to do than just his contract expiration.

    And, really…. s. 7’s been a great improvement, just on par with s. 5…. but I notice the writers are “out on break” for 2/3 of this season, as its Carrell’s final HURRAH. With him gone, I hope guest writers don’t run the show back into the ground. I’m worrried.

  2. I pretty much agree with your rankings except I would make number 3. Booze Cruise, 2. Dinner Party, and 1. Stress Relief. I think Stress Relief has so many great moments, from Michael and Dwight in New York with HR to Dwight cutting open the dummy to Michael and Andy’s performance of “Staying Alive”, that it is the ultimate Office episode.

    And yes, The Office has gone so down hill… I wish that they had ended it when Michael left, I think that would have been great for the series finale episode.

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