In honor of last week’s rare Office misstep, “Mafia,” and in preparation of tonight’s new episode (which will hopefully wash out the bad taste from last week) we’ve decided to compile the Five Least Awesome The Office episodes, because really, it doesn’t sound right to say the “Five Worst,” as even their five poorest efforts are better than almost anything on TV (looking in your direction, ‘Til Death). We’ve also gone ahead and disregarded the six episode first season, because during this very brief mid-Spring run they were still trying to find their rhythm, and were basically staging The Office UK re-enactments every week. For our purposes, the show really started with season 2’s premiere, “The Dundies,” (and indeed when I tell people to watch the show I encourage them to begin at this point and then go back to season 1 once they’re hooked). So, in descending order, let’s get to it!
5. “The Convict” – Season 3, Episode 11: Oddly, this is the episode written by original Office creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. But, perhaps this is why this episode (just barely) made the list. What held the show back in season one was its effort to emulate his forebearer. However, in season two they hit their stride because the characters began to find their own unique voices, and we began to develop an affection for these characters. In effect, the American Office is a kindler, gentler version of The Office, with the misanthropy of Gervais’ David Brent scrubbed away. In “The Convict” Michael finds out that Stamford transplant Martin was once a convict and so incompetently handles this news, even for him, that’s it’s really hard to swallow. He neglects to understand the weight of this information, and behaves in a callow manner that sort of regresses back to the David Brent character, and away from what makes this Office special. That being said, Scott’s “Prison Mike” character left an indelible mark, and indeed is listed as one of his greatest moments.
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4. “Branch Wars” – Season 4, Episode 6: Sometimes The Office veers too far into crazytown, and, alas, that is why most of the episodes ended up on this list. There perhaps might not be anything more off the wall in the history of the show than the events of this episode, as Michael, Dwight and Jim don warehouse worker disguises (complete with barbershop quartet mustaches) to infiltrate and sabotage the Utica branch, now managed by Karen. Another pattern that you’ll see of the episodes on this list is that they delivered plenty of laughs, but they did so by leaving reality, and this half hour is no exception. I would like to think that Dwight and Michael would respect paper too much to agree to this kind of unbecoming conduct, and while harebrained schemes are nothing new on this show, this one was just too outrageous. Most of the time you can kind of understand why Michael isn’t fired. This isn’t one of those times. Also, we had not seen Karen since the Season 3 finale, and her return deserved a better showcase than this. Like other episodes on this list, it was buoyed be a more relate-able B-story, in this case the “Finer Things Club.” However, this episode does feature one of our all time favorite lines: “I think I cut my penis on the lid!”
3. “Mafia” – Season 6, Episode 6: As we discussed in detail last week, this was far and away the worst episode of the season, derailed by the silliness syndrome. Michael, Dwight and Andy becoming convinced that a mobster has taken up in Scranton is just too much of a contrived storyline, more akin to a typical mix-up plot of Friends than The Office. As Alan Sepinwall pointed out in his blog, the show also suffered because it lacked a true, contrasting B-story. Instead, Kevin’s usurpation of Jim’s office and subsequent accidental canceling of his credit credit trafficked in the same humor as the main story, and thus we were hit by absurdity on all sides, floating away like a giant Mylar balloon (years from now I will read this post and wonder why I made that reference). Also, this episode was our first go ’round without Pam and Jim, and their calm demeanor and rational nature were sorely missed. We’re not saying don’t try that again, but just be more careful next time.
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2. “Survivor Man” – Season 4, Episode 7: As I also mentioned last week in reference to “Mafia,” this is one of my least favorite episodes. Written by Steve Carell, this is a far cry from his previous effort, the magnificent “Casino Night.” Instead, this episode provides us with Michael Scott as his oblivious, hammy worst, abandoning Dunder Mifflin to prove his survival prowess. It just played like an overly long sketch parody of survival shows like Man Vs. Wild, and puts Michael in a situation where you actually question his sanity, not just his social skills and common sense. This episode originally aired during “green” week on NBC (see David Schwimmer’s guest spot on 30 Rock as Greenzo), so perhaps the outdoor scenario was forced upon them. Might have been a contender for the #1 least awesome spot if not for one of the all-time strongest secondary plots, as Jim is left in charge and decides to combine all the birthdays into one, which, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a horrible idea. In a former life I once was a middle manager and one day when I was at the helm I decided we’d order lunch on the company. “Oh, you’re sick of getting pizza? Sure, order whatever you want, just write it down…Okay, what’s taking so long with the list?…Why is this so difficult?…Okay, you know what, forget it, we’re just getting pizza.” Not one of my proudest moments, but with this in mind Jim’s plight really hit home. The touching show of sympathy between Michael and Jim upon Michael’s return, as Jim understands that being the boss is not as easy as it looks, is also one of the better Office conclusions.
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1. “Launch Party” – Season 4, Episode: The third entry from the first half of Season 4 on this list, as perhaps the writers were having trouble creating realistic storylines after finally putting Jim and Pam together at the end of the Season 3. What is also clear after looking over this list is that what really drives the success of an episode is Michael Scott and on what line of believability and credibility he falls on. In this particular case he makes a crash landing on the side of incredulity and obnoxiousness, basically behaving like a petulant, intolerable child. Spurned by the Dunder Mifflin Infinity launch party in NYC, Michael decides to throw a better “party,” at the Scranton headquarters. This translates to ordering pizza for the office, and when Michael discovers that not only did he order from the wrong pizzeria but that they also won’t take his coupon he decides to hold the delivery boy hostage. Literally keeps the kid against his will. We can swallow a lot of Michael Scott transgressions and foolishness, but when he starts verging on kidnapping, the show has lost us. This decision alone earns “Launch Party” its spot on this list.
And now time for the new episode, titled “The Lover.” Let’s hope that I don’t need to revise this list immediately after viewing (Pam and Jim are back, so I think we’re probably in the clear. As long as Michael doesn’t commit any more felonies).