When I heard The Tailgate Society was having a Mount Rushmore week, I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.
I knew that my vast experience in watching The Office qualified me to select its Mount Rushmore episodes but actually choosing the episodes that belonged on this monument to Dunder Mifflin would be an incredibly difficult task. As the best comedy television series of the 21st century, the amount of possible choices was really incalculable.
Should I lean into episodes like “Scott’s Tots” that divide even the most ardent fans of the series? What about a “Threat Level Midnight” that takes place largely outside of the real Office universe? How much should I consider Season 1 episodes like “Diversity Day” or “Basketball” before the show’s characters were fully fleshed out?
The Office is full of classic memorable episodes like “Casino Night,” “Niagara,” and “Goodbye, Michael” that drive major plot points of the series, but I decided to skip over them and go for episodes that stand alone in their excellence. After making that distinction, about a dozen episodes were under serious consideration for this honor, and any of them could have fit the bill.
But I could only choose four. After consulting with fellow TGS contributor and Scrantonicity fanatic Stephen Moldovan, it ended up being totally subjective decisions about which episodes, taken alone, are the most iconic. So, without further ado, let’s all start clapping… for the Mount Rushmore episodes of The Office.
“Dinner Party” (season 4) is the single greatest episode of The Office. In one of the best cold opens of the series, Michael tricks the entire office into believing they have to work late to ensure that Jim and Pam won’t have other plans. He then pretends to call corporate to refuse to work (“It’s not FAIR to these people! These people are my FRIENDS and I CARE about them!”) and springs an invitation on Jim at the last minute.
Without a plausible excuse not to go, Jim and Pam join Andy and Angela at Michael’s condo for a casual night of dinner, games, and most importantly, music from Jan’s ex-assistant Hunter.
We get introduced to Jan’s budding new candle business, “Serenity by Jan,” which she runs out of her workspace upstairs in the condo. And who could forget Michael’s pride as he shows off his brand new (tiny) plasma TV? Only $200!
No episode of The Office is complete without some awkwardness, and “Dinner Party” comes through on multiple fronts. Jan and Angela press Pam about her old relationship with Michael, ignoring the fact that it “never, not ever, not now, not then, not now, not ever, ever” happened. Michael tries to recruit Jim and Andy into investing in “Serenity by Jan” for the low price of $10,000.
And things boil over when Dwight shows up unannounced with his own wine glasses and his former babysitter as a date (“it’s purely carnal”), and Michael and Jan loudly disagree about whether they should be allowed in.
It’s here where we learn about Michael’s three vasectomies (“SNIP SNAP, SNIP SNAP, SNIP SNAP!”). Side note – we know Michael later has children with Holly, so presumably he got a second vasectomy reversal. We’re left to wonder about the physical toll that four vasectomies have on a person.
Michael and Jan’s argument continues to escalates through dinner, leading to Michael getting out his St. Pauli Girl neon sign, which ties the whole room together, and Jan throwing a Dundie at Michael’s television. Meanwhile, Pam won’t eat anything because she thinks Jan might be trying to poison her as Michael’s ex-lover.
Just like every great episode of The Office, “Dinner Party” is made complete with a Jim Halpert prank. Jim steals “The Hunted” CD and plays it in his car with Pam as the episode closes. Does Jan ever find out where the CD went? My theory is she had at least one spare copy. But we never find out for sure.
“The Client” (season 2) is the rare episode that has two iconic plot lines. It’s about Michael and Jan attempting to get Lackawanna County’s paper business, but it’s also where we first learn of Michael’s outstanding “Threat Level Midnight” screenplay.
Jan comes to Scranton to make the pitch for what would be a huge coup for Dunder Mifflin. She planned to meet the client at the Radisson, but Michael changed the location to Chili’s. After all, “Chili’s is the new golf course. It’s where business happens.” -Small Businessman Magazine letter to the editor.
Michael and Jan drive to Chili’s together, and upon arriving, Michael learns that Jan Levinson-Gould is now Jan Levinson following her recent divorce. They meet Christian, the representative of the county, and Jan dives straight into business.
But Michael has other ideas. Michael and Christian tell jokes, talk about their personal lives (“World, this is my blood. It’s red, just like yours. So love me!”), drink margaritas, and, of course, eat baby back ribs.
After spending all day at Chili’s, Michael gives one last heartfelt pitch about how important Lackawanna County is to him, and we see why Michael’s sales skills got him promoted to manager. Christian agrees to give Dunder Mifflin his business. Jan is thrilled, and Michael and Jan kiss in the parking lot.
Meanwhile, Pam finds Michael’s screenplay in his office, and Jim arranges for the office to read through it. Five seasons later, we’ll learn that Michael finishes this masterpiece after three years of writing, one year of shooting, four years of reshooting, and two years of editing.
Dwight reads as the lead character, Agent Michael Scarn. Phyllis is his love interest Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ryan is Scarn’s bumbling sidekick Samuel L. Chang, and Oscar is the villain Goldenface.
But things end badly when Dwight learns that Samuel L. Chang is actually based on him. One typo ruined Michael’s find-and-replace of “Dwight” to “Samuel L. Chang.” (“You are such an idiot. You’re the worst assistant ever. And you’re disgusting, Dwigt.”)
Later, Jim and Pam enjoy Jim’s famous grilled cheese sandwiches on the roof as Dwight launches fireworks across the street. It’s the start of their sort-of-romance, but as Jim recognizes, “It’s not really a date if the girl goes home to her fiancé.” (Spoiler alert: Jim and Pam end up together.)
The next morning, a taxi brings Jan back to her parked car after spending the night with Michael. This is the first sign that, one day, Michael and Jan will be sharing a condo filled with Dundies and candles. This episode is packed, and that’s why it’s on our Mount Rushmore.
“The Injury” (season 2) actually gives some good advice for a delicious, good-for-you breakfast. Before you go to bed, lay six strips of bacon on a George Foreman grill. When you wake up, plug in the grill and go back to sleep. Then you’ll wake up to the smell of crackling bacon. It’s the perfect way to start the day.
Wait – don’t actually do that. In what is maybe the most memorable Michael moment of the series, we learn that’s exactly what he did, except he stepped on the grill and it cooked his foot. No other moment in The Office really captures Michael Scott as well as this one. As Jim would say, “Therein lies the true essence of his charisma.”
Michael calls the office in a panic and asks for someone to pick him up. To Michael’s chagrin, only Dwight volunteers (“Please don’t send Dwight.”). In his rush to save Michael, Dwight crashes his car into a light pole and gets a concussion.
Michael does come into work, wanting sympathy, but not getting it. He calls his mom when no one will help him by rubbing butter on his foot (even though Ryan did bring him three rotisserie chickens worth of dark meat).
After Ryan pretends to be dead to get out of helping Michael in the restroom, Michael decides to teach the office about disabilities like his. Both Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump” and Tom Hanks in “Big” make Michael’s wall of famous disabled people (“He grew into a man overnight. Rare disability. Still works.”).
The real injury in this episode is Dwight’s concussion. When he passes out at his desk, Jim and Michael bring him to the hospital, although Michael thinks they’re going to Chuck E. Cheese’s at first.
Jim calls Pam to give her an update on Dwight’s condition. Pam, knowing that Angela and Dwight are in a secret relationship, relays the update to Oscar so that Angela can overhear it. It’s a good early example in the series of Pam’s kindness.
Dwight’s doctor orders him a CT scan. Michael goes into the room with him and, in true Michael fashion, tries to put his bubble-wrapped foot into the machine as he is told to stop. In his words, his foot makes a miraculous recovery. (As Holly would say, it’s Mikeraculous!) Because I can’t so much as look at a George Foreman grill without thinking of this episode, it’s Rushmore-worthy.
“The Deposition” (season 4) is my pick for the fourth spot. I admit I’m showing some bias here, but I think The Office in a legal setting is as good as it gets. I hope to one day represent a client like Michael Scott, just as the great James P. Albini once did (with his specialties in free speech issues, motorcycle head injuries, worker’s comp, and diet pill lawsuits).
In this episode, Jan is suing Dunder Mifflin for wrongful termination, claiming her breast augmentation played a role in her firing. She ensures that Michael knows the go-to phrase “a pattern of disrespect and inappropriate behaviors,” which Michael memorizes with some unique mnemonics (“My friend Dis Ray got new specs. My friend Inappro drives a Prius with his behind neighbor.”).
Jan says she’s in line to win four million dollars in her lawsuit, so she’s very carefully prepared Michael’s testimony in advance of his deposition. Michael memorized everything she wants him to say and even plans to throw in some ers and ahs.
Michael is then deposed in a conference room with attorneys, a court reporter, and a judge. (Judges generally aren’t present at depositions, but I’ll forgive The Office for this mistake.) He first causes an issue by responding to the question “And you were directly under her the entire time?” with “That’s what she said.”
When Michael finishes up with Jan’s lawyer, things are looking good for her case. All he needs to do is get through questioning by the Dunder Mifflin lawyer.
It does not go well.
The key fact is when Michael and Jan’s relationship began. Jan wants to prove that it was not until their relationship disclosure form was submitted to HR. The Dunder Mifflin attorney pulls out the photograph of Jan and Michael at Sandals Jamaica (the enlarged version of which Kevin took from the warehouse to hang up at home, because he doesn’t have a lot of art) to prove the relationship started earlier. When asked about it, Michael asks for a line, like in a play.
But Jan’s attorney comes back with Michael’s diary. While Michael is taken aback, the lawyer reads an excerpt suggesting Michael and Jan knew they weren’t in a relationship when they were in Jamaica:
“Just got back from Jamaica. Tan almost everywhere. Jan almost everywhere. Hehe. Oh diary, what a week! I had sex with my boss. I don’t know if it’s going to go anywhere. Jan was very specific that this is not going anywhere, that it was a one time mistake. But we had sex six times, so you tell me. I am definitely feeling very eirie. More tomorrow. XOXO, Michael”
The journal could change the whole case, so the judge orders 11 copies to be made to allow everyone to read it at lunch. Michael walks into a cafeteria to see everyone reading photocopies of his diary that Jan only knew about because he kept it under her side of the bed. (He didn’t like the lump.)
Michael is feeling vulnerable and, surprisingly, decides to sit with Toby. Just when it seems like they may be empathizing with each other while Toby is telling Michael about his parents’ messy divorce, Michael does this to Toby’s lunch tray:
If there’s one thing you know is always true in The Office, it’s that Michael hates Toby. If he had a gun with two bullets and was in a room with Hitler, Bin Laden, and Toby… well, you know the rest.
Near the end of the deposition, Jan’s lawyer reads Michael a portion of David Wallace’s deposition. When asked if Michael was a serious contender for the corporate job opening, David responded “What do you want me to say? C’mon, he’s a nice guy.”
After this, Michael ruins Jan’s case by saying he doesn’t think Dunder Mifflin exhibits a pattern of disrespect towards its employees. Because the one thing Michael Scott cares about more than anything is to have friends, be liked, and be thought of as a nice guy. He wants people to be afraid of how much they love him.
Michael decides he’s OK with turning on Jan when he realizes that Jan gave his journal to her attorney without his knowledge or consent (“You expect to get screwed by your company, but you never expect to get screwed by your girlfriend.”).
There’s another plot in this episode about Jim and Darryl playing ping pong while Pam and Kelly, their girlfriends, argue over who is better. But that plot isn’t nearly as interesting. Kelly’s best plot lines are always with Ryan, anyway. But the strength of the main deposition plot is enough to land “The Deposition” a spot on our Mount Rushmore.
And there you have it. The four Mount Rushmore episodes of The Office.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts. Maybe you’ll change my mind!* Who knows? “‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’ -Wayne Gretzky” -Michael Scott.