It’s said that truly good TV shows age like fine wine, but even with a series as masterfully done and phenomenally funny as The Office, certain episodes tend to rise above the rest. Maybe they stand out because a beloved background character gets a chance to shine or a will-they-won’t-they couple finally makes good on some built up sexual tension. If you’re an Office fan, those stand-out episodes probably involve elaborately planned pranks, fire drills gone wrong, dinner party disasters, and a B-list action film that just happens to take place within a TV show.
We can’t expect a show to continuously operate on a nosebleed level of comedic excellence (though The Office went on a few tears in its early years where it seemed possible) so while it’s critical that you re-watch and binge this show from time to time to awaken your appreciation for it, if you just don’t have the time right now, here are the 23 best Office episodes to rewatch first. Warning: spoilers abound.
23. Pool Party (Season 8, episode 12)`
Steve Carell’s absence in season eight necessitated a change for The Office and James Spader filled that need, joining the cast as the impossibly confident and gifted Robert California (aka the f*cking Lizard King). Unfortunately, Spader’s tenure was mostly uneventful and none of the season eight efforts really stand out as slam dunk classics, but it felt wrong to ignore him entirely.
“Pool Party” gets the nod because it showcases Spader’s weird and seductive aura while, at the same time, painting a picture of a vulnerable-yet-bored titan who was willing to entertain the hoi polloi at his mansion because he really had nothing better to do. The episode also captures what it feels like to be held captive at your boss’s house for a party, though the tension doesn’t quite build like it does in “Dinner Party,” a season four classic that more artfully hits on that same theme.
22. Branch Wars (Season 4, episode 6)
When Karen, who now manages the Dunder Mifflin branch in Utica, makes Stanley an offer he doesn’t refuse in “Branch Wars,” Michael and Dwight trick Jim into tagging along on a quick road trip. Watching the guys don women’s warehouse uniforms, brandish oversized fake mustaches, and contemplate the usefulness of Molotov cocktails was fun, but the episode also reminded us that while Jim and Pam were always endgame, they left some broken hearts in their wake. Karen got the satisfaction of confronting Jim about his childish ways but the real highlight of “Branch Wars” is when Michael threatens to burn all of Utica to the ground if they harm a hair on Stanley’s head.