FandomWire‘s latest Video Essay explains why THIS is the PERFECT episode of The Office.
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The Best Episode of The Office
The Office is the King of cringe. The bulk of its humor is derived from its innate ability to make audiences squirm in their seats with discomfort, exhaling an awkward bit of laughter through gritted teeth and squinted eyes. No episode exemplifies this better than the infamous Scott’s Tots episode from season 6. So much so that even the most devoted of fans have admitted to skipping the episode on their monthly re-watch.
But it takes more than just cringe to make a sitcom great. And The Office is bigger than even its most cringe-inducing episode. The Office is at its strongest when it’s exploring the relationships of its characters… when it pulls back the curtain to reveal a more in-depth examination of its workers’ lives outside of the titular office. There’s one episode that does this better than any other. An episode that encompasses the heart, the humor, and…Yes… The cringe, better than any other episode in the series’ nine-season run. It’s hilarious and endlessly quotable. It’s… PERFECT. I’m of course talking about… Dinner Party. Oh yea, baby. That’s a good one.
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The vast majority of The Office takes place, well, inside the office. So, it may seem surprising that the PERFECT episode takes place almost entirely outside of the office. But some of the series’ best moments actually occurred outside of the workplace. Season 2 started the ball rolling by moving the series out of the office and into a Chili’s restaurant for its first episode, “The Dundees.” Season 2 of The Office is notable for changing the tone and shifting the style of the series into the show that it would eventually become. Season 2 returned to Chili’s for episode seven, “The Client” which featured Saturday Night Live alum, Tim Meadows, as an important client. It’s a significant episode because it showcases Michael’s talents as a salesman and highlights the fact that he truly is good at his job. Prior to this episode, Michael had been portrayed as completely incompetent with no redeemable qualities or skill sets.
But it’s important for an even more significant reason. This is the episode that launches the turbulent and tumultuous love affair between Michael Scott and his superior, Jan Levinson. AKA… Urkel Gru.
Fast forward to season Four, episode thirteen and that relationship comes to a boil in the PERFECT episode… Dinner Party.
A major aspect of Michael’s personality is his NEED to fit in. He’s like a child who desperately wants to be a part of the “Cool Crowd” in high school. Jim and Ryan are his main targets. He sees them as the people he aspires to be, and building a strong, lasting friendship with them is among Michael’s main missions in life. So much so that at the beginning of Dinner Party Michael sets a trap.
Throughout the series we see Jim doing everything he can to avoid spending time with Michael. Especially outside of the Office. When Jim hosted a barbeque and karaoke night at his house, Michael was the ONLY co-worker that Jim refused to invite. Of course, that didn’t stop Michael from learning about the social gathering and awkwardly showing up uninvited. Now Michael may be an imbecile, but he’s not stupid… Okay, he definitely IS stupid, but he’s smart enough to realize that Jim has an excuse for why he can’t attend every single time Michael invites him over for dinner. So Michael utilizes a fake overtime detail from Corporate to trap Jim. He tells the entire office that they have to work late on a Friday because Corporate is forcing them to. He gets Jim to admit that he doesn’t have any plans that evening, since he has to work, and then immediately cancels the overtime by playing the role of the hero and pretending to yell at corporate on the phone in defense of his workers. In doing so, Jim no longer has to work and has no plans for the evening.
Michael forces the ENTIRE office to commit to working late on a Friday in order to catch Jim off guard and back him into a corner. It’s lunacy, but… it works and Jim, Pam, Andy, and Angela are all invited to Michael’s condo for a lovely dinner.
The dinner party goes about as well as you’d expect. Michael’s relationship with Jan is the epitome of toxicity and forces, Jim and Pam, into the middle of seriously awkward exchanges. But part of what makes this episode so great is its connection and callbacks to earlier moments throughout the series. During the complimentary tour of the Condo, we see a camera and tripod set up at the foot of the bed. Jan quickly scoops the camera up and awkwardly comments on how the room needs to be cleaned. It’s a quick moment that might seem like a throwaway joke, but in reality, it’s a call back to a line from the season 3 episode, Women’s Appreciation.
In that episode, Michael is confiding in the women of the Office about his tumultuous relationship with Jan and he comments on how Jan insists on recording them during their “Adult Time” and playing it back to critique his form. Oh.. and she also shows the footage to her therapist.
From this moment, the entire evening spirals downward, like Michael in a Koi Pond. Throughout the episode, Jan and Michael’s relationship is revealed to be one of the most dysfunctional and toxic romantic relationships to ever be portrayed on television. But that dysfunction drives the comedy, AND the cringe, and gives audiences some of the greatest quotes The Office has to offer.
Jan’s character is an interesting one. She transitioned from being the up-tight, professional boss, to an eccentric, controlling, and, at times, insane addition to the cast. We see that transition begin when Jan and Michael first start dating, and it comes to head in “Dinner Party.”
And with Peacock’s new “SUPER FAN” episodes, we’re treated to even more of the madness with the addition of deleted scenes. Including one scene that reveals Jan had spray-painted a neighbor’s dog while drunk and acting as the Neighborhood Watch. Not exactly the pillar of the community. But, hey, at least she has her candle business.
One of the greatest gifts The Office gives us is an entire workplace filled with a hilarious and significant supporting cast. This is one, of many, things that the US adaptation of the series does better than the original UK version. From Creed’s manic absurdity to Kelly’s high-energy ditziness, every member of the Office has something to add. Yes… even Toby.
But Michael, Dwight, Jim, and Pam are the core of The Office’s major plots and are the true leads of the show. Dinner Party allows us to focus on these characters with fewer distractions or interference. Sure. They aren’t the only characters at the party. At the time, Andy was a newer character who was rising in popularity. Both he and his current fiance, Angela, are there. Dwight shows up uninvited, as he tends to do, with a much older date. His former babysitter whom he now has a confusing, gross, and… purely carnal, relationship with. Seriously… why wasn’t this explored further in later episodes?
Dwight’s love for Michael and his constant attempts for Michael’s acceptance and approval are exemplified by the moment that Dwight appears on Michael’s doorstep with his awkward date and two wine glasses in hand. Earlier in the episode, Michael had told Dwight that he could not attend the dinner party because they only had six wine glasses, and it was a couples party and Dwight was single. We learn that Jan was the person behind this decision. She dislikes Dwight and didn’t want him to attend. Another example of her controlling behavior over Michael.
And who could forget Hunter, Jan’s young assistant with an aspiring musical career. Despite having a very brief and minor role in The Office, his name… and his voice managed to remain cemented in the minds of fans for years.
This episode essentially ended the long-running, off-and-on disaster that was Michael and Jan. The evening ends with the police arriving to investigate the disturbance and Michael leaving to stay the night with Dwight. But what makes this episode SO great is how it perfectly balances the unraveling sanity of Jan, the comedic timing and constant one-liners, and reveals so much detail into the personal lives and backstory of the series’ main characters. It’s hilarious, endlessly quotable, and incredibly insightful. It’s, well… PERFECT.
What’s your favorite episode of The Office? Do you think Dinner Party is perfect? Be sure to let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to get more great content. I’ll see you around the office.
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