TV Top 10s: “The Office” — The Best of Michael Scott

Written by Television

The Popdose staff says farewell to Steve Carell by counting down the best Michael Scott moments from NBC’s “The Office.”

Tonight, we say farewell to Michael Scott (Steve Carell), the lovably terrible boss of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company on NBC’s The Office. Michael’s leaving Scranton, Pennsylvania to move across the country with the love of his life, Holly (Amy Ryan). If this season so far is any indication, it will be a bittersweet farewell. The Popdose staff looks back on some of the best Michael Scott moments over the show’s seven seasons, whether they were the most cringe-worthy, or the most heartwarming. While Michael may never have lived up to his World’s Best Boss mug in the strictest sense, there’s still a whole lot of love for him here, and he will be missed.

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“Diversity Day” (Season 1)
Written by B.J. Novak
Directed by Ken Kwapis

It’s not a “best of” list without a good slap, right? Well, for Michael Scott it sure isn’t. In season one’s episode “Diversity Day” Michael was at his finest, and by that I mean his most offensive. Before the writers started to soften his character, to prove that he was just a guy who wanted nothing but to be liked by all, he was in his true form, and more like his British inspiration, David Brent (Ricky Gervais).

After Michael performs an offensive Chris Rock routine in the office, the corporate office sends someone in to offer diversity training. Not feeling that it was effective enough, Michael continues to push the envelope. Michael organizes a game where people wear the name of a different race on their foreheads, and have to enact stereotypes to help others guess their card. Michael proceeds to offend everyone in the office, regardless of their race. As the employees try to tiptoe around Michael’s attempts to enforce stereotypes, the torture of working under Michael is clear. When Kelly (Mindy Kaling) joins the meeting late, and Michael demonstrates his game by offensively impersonating an Indian convenience store owner, she outright slaps him, and rightfully so. Almost in tears, Michael tries to pass it off as a successful exercise, while the rest of the staff looks on horrified. As did all of us at home watching. Just in its second episode, the show established itself as willing to go to those questionable places, and take risks. It might not have been Michael’s most lovable moment by any means, but it’s certainly one that informed Michael as part of the love/hate character he became over the seasons. –Emilia Rhodes

“The Client” (Season 2)
Written by Paul Lieberstein
Directed by Greg Daniels

“Chili’s is the new golf course.”  So begins a pivotal episode in the history of The Office. Michael and his boss, Jan (Melora Hardin) court an important client from the city (played by SNL’s Tim Meadows) and Michael changes the meeting place from the Hyatt to Chili’s. Jan is appalled by his behavior, but has no choice as Michael represents the local branch. For the duration of their meeting, Michael is in charge,veering every conversation away from business by telling jokes, playing a game of truth or dare, and discussing the finer things of small town life. Finally, after an entire afternoon of drinking, some Chili’s baby back ribs (complete with a duet from Carrell and Meadows), plus an awesome blossom, the trio winds up at the bar downing some beers. Suddenly, Michael makes his move and delivers a heartfelt statement about his hometown and why he’ll never leave Scranton. The client is moved and decides to give the deal to Dunder Mifflin. Jan is shocked, as are we, the viewers. Michael Scott may be an idiot in the office, but this guy is a closer.  Afterward, in the parking lot, Jan and  Michael are so excited, they embrace and kiss. Thus begins the ill fated Michael Jan romance.

Michael’s presence is felt back in the home office when Pam (Jenna Fischer) stumbles upon an original screenplay by Michael called “Threat Level Midnight.” The gang decides to have a table reading of the script which leads to some classic moments in the show. As I said, “The Client” had important turning points in the series: Pam and Jim (John Krasinski) had their first “date;” Michael and Jan hooked up and she quickly rejected him the next morning; and of course, there’s the screenplay, which would be made into a movie during season seven. This episode has plenty of classic Michael moments: the petty, rude remarks he says under his breath, the inappropriate personal conversations (such as bringing up Jan’s divorce) and of course, his loyalty to Scranton and his office.

Overall, this is one of the best episodes of season two and one of the classics of the series. –Scott Malchus

“Booze Cruise” (Season 2)
Written by Greg Daniels
Directed by Ken Kwapis

The writers of The Office have worked hard to give Michael Scott multiple dimensions; beyond being a terrible boss, he’s a good person. In the season two episode “Booze Cruise,” we saw that he had the potential to be a good boss, too, even if he doesn’t really get there. Michael takes the staff of Dunder Mifflin on a cruise of neighboring Lake Wallenpaupack in January for a motivational seminar on leadership. With the ship as a metaphor for the office, Michael tries to teach the fundamentals of the business, while of course, having fun. As Titanic and Gilligan’s Island references abound, the trip is destined to be a disaster.

And it is. When Michael reaches the boat, he quickly discovers he has stiff competition for the attention of the office in Captian Jack (guest star Rob Riggle), who’s not only the party captain of the ship, but also fought in Desert Storm. He’s the true motivational speaker of the night, despite Michael’s whole-hearted attempts in dance and limbo contests. Michael, in desperate form, makes a last attempt at getting his sales point across by announcing that the ship is sinking, and there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone on board. Chaos ensues, including a non-Dunder Mifflinite passenger going overboard into the freezing water.

But it’s in the rarest of moments that the heart of Michael wins over his foolish actions. As Jim forlornly looks out at the water, heartbroken after getting cut off declaring his love for Pam by Roy (David Denman) setting a date for their endlessly delayed wedding, it’s Michael who comes through. In a completely genuine moment, Michael tells Jim to never, ever give up. And without even fully knowing what he’s done, Michael motivated Jim not to give up on love just yet, a moment even greater in hindsight of where Jim and Pam are now. –ER

“The Injury” (Season 2)
Written by Mindy Kaling
Directed by Bryan Gordon

Michael Scott is the king of exaggeration, and no example is better than the season two episode “The Injury.” After burning his foot by stepping on a George Foreman grill (“I like waking up to the smell of bacon. Sue me.”), Michael believes he has undergone a serious trauma and must be treated that way within the office. The entire day that follows is about taking care of him. From Dwight (Rainn Wilson) rushing to pick up Michael, and even crashing his car into a pole speeding out of the parking lot, to Michael begging for help to go to the bathroom, he overtook the office.

And in getting the cold shoulder from his employees, he pulls the classic Michael Scott move and gathers everyone into the conference room for a lesson, this one in how to treat people with disabilities. He invites Billy Merchant (Marcus A. York), the owner of the office park who uses a wheelchair to be his keystone speaker, and much to his dismay discovers that he’s a pretty content guy. Further taking away from Michael’s point is Dwight, who needs to be rushed to the hospital after suffering from a concussion from his accident earlier that morning. Michael stays true to his self-centered nature all the way through, from calling shotgun in the van taking Dwight to the hospital, to trying to get his foot into the CAT scan machine to compare the seriousness of their injuries. It’s Michael Scott at one of his worst, and we loved every hilarious minute. –ER

“Safety Training” (Season 3)
Written by B.J. Novak
Directed by Harold Ramis

When Darryl (Craig Robinson) leads a warehouse safety seminar, Michael constantly interrupts what he has to say. Later on, Toby (Paul Lieberstein) leads a similar seminar on office safety, leading the warehouse workers to mock Michael and the others for the cushy lives they lead. Michael and Dwight set out to prove that office workers do entail physical danger… because of depression. To prove his point, Michael and Dwight come up with another ridiculous idea: Michael plans to jump off of the roof as if he were committing suicide, all to scare the others. When Dwight tests a watermelon on the trampoline and it smashes into a car, Michael’s nerves get the better of him. No worries, Dwight gets a bouncy castle that he thinks will break Michael’s fall. When the others step outside and realize what Michael plans to do, Pam, Dwight and eventually Darryl actually talk Michael down from the roof. In what was supposed to be a mock suicide attempt turns into a real intervention as Michael begins to express all of his self doubts and fears.

From beginning to end, Michael goes from cocky, sophomoric jerk to self conscious and depressed. The transformation is subtle and expertly performed by Carrell, showing all facets of his talent.  This half hour is a tour de force for the actor. It’s hard enough to make a jerk lovable, as Carrell was able to do up to this point on the show. But to make us care, feel sorry and actually sigh in relief that he didn’t jump is another feat altogether. “Safety Training” features some fine moments between Michael and Dwight (man, I’m going to miss those), a great scene with Toby, and superb sparing between Michael and Darryl. One of the finest episodes in its ability to merge the pain, pathos and hilarity of the work environment. –SM

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“Fun Run” (Season 4)
Written by Greg Daniels
Directed by Greg Daniels

Season four of “The Office” started out with a bang for Michael Scott when he hit Meredith (Kate Flannery) with his car in the parking lot of Dunder Mifflin. Having to own up to his mistake, his popularity in the office takes a nosedive into potential murderer territory. It’s overall a great and occasionally emotional episode, with subplots of Dwight killing Angela’s (Angela Kinsey) cat, and Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) and Oscar (Oscar Nunez) trying to prove that Jim and Pam are now secretly dating. But it’s Michael that remains at the forefront. Desperate to get back on the office’s good side, he sets up a Fun Run for Rabies (a disease Meredith was exposed to by a bat in the office, and wouldn’t have discovered she had if Michael hadn’t sent her to the hospital with a cracked pelvis).

If Michael put in one shred of the energy he pours into curing a disease that’s already been cured, Dunder Mifflin’s success would be much greater. But it’s his most ridiculous moments that shine in this episode. Sitting at the conference room table brainstorming animal combinations that they could possibly pay sacrifice to in order to break a curse is one of Steve Carell’s best scenes in both awkwardness and dedication. And when Michael carbo-loads with fettuccine alfredo right before the race and refuses water in an effort of solidarity with rabies victims, who live with an irrational fear of water, his ignorance has disastrous results. Just mere steps from the 5K finish line, Pam has to motivate him to finish, and assure him he is a good person despite his faults. It’s a triumph for Michael as he limps to the finish line, and a triumph for overachieving non-changers everywhere. –ER

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“The Dinner Party” (Season 4)
Written by Lee Eisenberg & Gene Stupinsky
Directed by Paul Feig

We’ve watched The Office non-stop since its debut, and of course devoured the UK version, and I have to say this episode is probably my favorite from the entire swath of Offices across both sides of the pond.

It’s one of those perfect mixtures of characters and writing; the “plot,” such as it is, concerns just a party at Michael and Jan’s condo. Michael uses a faked Friday-night working session to con Jim and Pam into attending, with Andy (Ed Helms) and Angela tagging along and Dwight turning up uninvited with an old crone. Hilarity ensues, but so also do discomfort, shock, and eventually pity.

It’s the pity for Michael Scott that’s most remarkable, when you think about it. Here is this character that was created as the ultimate ugly caricature of a clueless, wretched human being, and slowly but surely, we began to understand him, to like him, and even to root for him. In a way, the same process happens to the show’s characters; it’s hard to imagine the cast of seasons one or two paying such a memorable tribute to Michael as they did in Carell’s next-to-last episode “Michael’s Last Dundies.”

It’s a testimony to the show’s writing over seven seasons, but also to Steve Carell’s performance. There’s an indelible moment in season two’s “Halloween” that to me began the ongoing process of humanizing Michael Scott. That’s the episode where he’s foolishly waited until the last day of October to let someone go, and then horribly botches the entire process, in a way that upsets and angers his employees. As the episode closes, we catch a brief glimpse of Michael at home on Halloween night, sitting alone watching TV. Trick or treaters appear; he answers the door. He shovels piles of candy into their baskets and treats the kids like royalty.

It’s touching and revealing, played note-perfect by Carell, and I think about it often. It resonates here in “The Dinner Party.” This isn’t a Michael Scott episode; it’s an ensemble, and every character at the party is given several moments to shine. And somehow, it all comes back to Michael and his dysfunctional relationship with Jan. You see so clearly what he wants, which is what most of us want–the comfort of a family, a loving spouse who supports him unconditionally. And then you see how damaged and desperate his relationship with Jan has become, how unhealthy and diseased–above all, how poorly she treats him. He’s like a needy dog who gets kicked in the head but keeps coming back in the hope that this time, THIS time, his owner will pat his head and declare, “Good boy.”

Has there been a character evolution even close to the one we’ve seen with Michael Scott on a network sitcom? Has there been a performer as willing to play these divergent notes as Carell? I don’t think there has, and there may never be again. We hate Michael Scott, and we laugh at him; then we see how hard he tries, and we laugh with him. After seven seasons, we truly care about him, because of how much he’s changed, and in spite of how much he hasn’t. And for those reasons, we will miss Steve Carell. –Matt Springer

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“Goodbye, Toby” (Season 4)
Written by Paul Lieberstein and Jennifer Celotta
Directed by Paul Feig

The hour-long fourth-season finale caps the back end of a writers’ strike-shortened season that included some of The Office‘s all time best, such as “Dinner Party” and “Did I Stutter.” It was in one of these episodes, “Night Out,” that Toby finally decides to act on his obvious crush on Pam. In a shared moment (locked in the office after hours), he puts his hand on her knee. She reacts with repulsion, and Toby, humiliated, announces he’s moving to Costa Rica. A few episodes later, we find out that he’s not kidding.

The plot, of “Goodbye, Toby” in brief: Michael throws a parking-lot carnival to celebrate Toby’s leaving, performs Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” but with anti-Toby lyrics, and attempts to haze Toby’s replacement at the human resources desk, Holly Flax. Instead, he pretty much falls in love with her…until Kevin spots Jan at the grocery store with her new baby. It’s not Michael’s, but he of course assumes it is, which limits his urge to jump right into a romance with Holly. Meanwhile, Andy hijacks Jim’s expensive firework display which he’d planned on using to propose to Pam by instead proposing to his girlfriend, the nasty Angela. Thus, the wonderful sitcom convention of “will-they-or-won’t-they” is preserved, via cliffhanger, to some degree, for several characters.

It’s a great episode because we get to experience the full range of Michael Scott. We get the childish name-calling, his awkward performer ambitions, and ultimately, that he’s just a lonely guy who wants to fall in love and have babies. Steve Carell’s acting chops are such that we kind of hate Michael Scott, and yet always root for him. —Brian Boone
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“Frame Toby” (Season 5)
Written by Mindy Kaling
Directed by Jason Reitman

In season 5’s “Frame Toby,” Michael Scott’s nemesis Toby Flenderson returns to Dunder Mifflin, and the intro to the episode includes perhaps my favorite Michael Scott moment in the series.

At first Michael thinks the news of Toby’s return is just another one of Jim’s jokes and, after he finds an empty desk in the annex, his suspicions seem confirmed. Then Toby walks up from behind Michael, greets him, and Michael freaks out. After a few seconds of uncharacteristic silence, he screams “No, God! No God please, no! No! No!” And one last, extended cop-partner-death-scene “No!” that stretches into the opening credits.

It’s by no means one of the cleverer bits in the series. But it’s such a definitive Michael Scott scene because it’s a moment when what is so horribly real about Michael Scott mixes with what is so very fake about him. Michael’s stupid, senseless hatred of Toby is as real as anything could be. If you pay attention to the scene, you’ll notice Carell plays that first “No, God” as genuine. Scott really is horrified at Toby’s return. But after that, without missing a beat, what we get is Michael Scarn. We get the Michael who so desperately wants his too ordinary life to be the stuff of Hollywood legend, and at the same time we get the Michael who wants to violently humiliate this poor man who constantly reminds Michael how mundane his life really is. –Michileen Martin

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“Garage Sale” (Season 7)
Written by Jon Vitti
Directed by Steve Carrell

The producers stumbled across the perfect love interest for Michael when they cast Amy Ryan as Holly, the HR rep brought in to replace Toby (for a short period). Who knew that Ryan, best know for her gritty dramatic work in the film Gone, Baby Gone and HBO’s The Wire, would prove to be just as adept at the sort of lovable dorkiness that Carrell brought to Michael? Certainly not the general public. Holly quickly became a fan favorite and that long lost love that Michael was pining for. When it was announced that Carrell was leaving the The Office, long time fans had to assume (some of us even hoped) that Michael would get the happy ending he always wanted and Holly would return to him. Well, she did, and after some hemming and hawing, they fell back into each others arms.

The draw of this episode is Michale’s proposal to Holly. He spends most of the episode fretting over the ring and what will be the best way to ask her. When she reveals that she’s going to move to Denver, he doesn’t hesitate or worry because in his mind, he’s going with her. In a scene that can only be described as magical (in an Office sort of way), Michael leads Holly through the office, pointing out the places they first met, talked, kissed, even had sex, until they return to her desk, where candles have been lit. In his awkward way, he starts to propose, only to have the sprinklers go off thanks to the flames. It’s touching, sweet and funny, everything you hope for in a romantic comedy. It also has a great twist when Michael reveals that he’s leaving the office (and the show). The reaction by the other characters said everything we were feeling. We’re all going to miss Michael Scott and Steve Carrell. The Office will continue with a new boss; NBC Thursday nights of comedy will continue, as well, but it won’t be the same. —SM