I have a buddy named Dubé who recently sent out a Tweet that got me thinking.
This was interesting on multiple fronts.
First off, anytime I have an excuse to think about The Office, I’m interested.
Second, thinking about the eras of the show is a little bit of a twist and I’m here for it.
Typically, television shows are looked at either as seasons or episodes. That’s just how we go about ranking them. However, The Office aired for enough time that judging the “eras” of the show works (and, if anything, might be a better way to look back at it).
In some cases, an era might consist of an entire season, but there are also eras that are merely parts of seasons or start in one season and end in another.
So, I counted them and came up with sixteen eras of The Office to try to figure out when the show officially peaked.
16: The “What Are We Doing Here?” Era
Duration: Season Nine, Episodes 1-20
It is generally agreed upon by almost everyone that The Office should have called it quits when Steve Carrell left. However, because the show had become so beloved and such a part of our lives, we were willing to cut it some slack as it tried to regroup after losing its anchor and star.
By the ninth and final season, that slack had run out.
It’s just not a good season of television—especially not by standards it had set earlier in its run.
Jim and Pam were fighting about his side hustle, Andy is a dick, Pam gets lice, Dwight says he’s going to donate money to the Taliban, Angela’s husband is having an affair with Oscar, and (for some reason) the boom operator of the documentary crew that had been “filming” the whole thing becomes a character.
The whole experience felt like the last gasps of a dying relationship where everyone involved is just trying to make it work for the sake of the friends they had who didn’t want to have to pick sides when the relationship inevitably ended.
15: The Robert California Debacle Era
Duration: Season Eight
Replacing Carrell was going to be tough and was ultimately a lose/lose situation. So you know, maybe they shouldn’t have even tried?
No, that’s a terrible attitude!
They had to try—if only because NBC was definitely going to make them. Hell, if they didn’t, you best be sure that NBC would have found someone that would have.
As a result, they made Ed Helms’ character the new manager and brought in James Spader to play Robert California, who had applied for the manager job, got it, but then talked his way into getting a job higher up in the ranks.
Neither of those moves worked.
Helms wasn’t suited to be in the manager role, especially because it felt at times like he was trying too hard to fill Carrell’s shoes. Andy was a character who worked best when used in small doses and moving him to centerstage ruined what made the character so much fun.
As for Spader? He just never clicked. Robert California was weird (and not in a good way).
It never felt like Robert California was part of the show’s world, which is especially tough for a show that is trying to be grounded in a very specific reality.
It also never felt like Robert California fit because he just wasn’t funny and (theoretically) The Office was still a comedy, despite not seeming like it at times during this particular era.
14: The Initial Post-Michael Scott Era
Duration: Season Seven, Episodes 24-26
Michael Scott had left Scranton for Colorado and his replacement, Deangelo Vickers (Will Ferrell), had an incredibly brief run before a basketball-related injury cut that short.
This left the show with a rough period of uncertainty.
Dwight was named acting manager but literally blew his shot at getting the gig permanently when he fired a gun in the office. The poor guy flew too close to the sun and got burnt.
Again, because he fired a gun. In the office.
As a result, a search committee consisting of Jim, Toby, and Gabe is formed, while Creed (as the oldest person in the office) is put in charge. The committee interviewed characters played by Ricky Gervais (playing David Brent, his character from the British version of The Office,) Jim Carrey, Ray Romano, and Will Arnett (among others).
Arnett actually would have been an interesting choice.
Damn it, man.
He really would have.
13. The Early Signs of Trouble Era
Duration: Season Six
Yes, the whole season.
This is one of the few instances when an era is made up of an entire season, from start to finish. I suppose you could make the case for the season maybe being split in two or dividing it when Sabre comes into the mix but I’m not going to make the case.
Season six is an era all to itself, and no, it’s not really a great one.
It certainly has it’s moments, such as Jim and Pam’s wedding, the tension of Michael and Jim being co-managers, Date Mike out on the scene, and “Murder,” where Michael attempted to distract everyone from the company’s growing financial issues with a murder mystery game that I do declare was delightful.
But the season was also uneven and stalled at times. It was the first time that you couldn’t help but think that maybe it was time for the show to wrap things up.
Michael’s antics had always been cringeworthy, but during the show’s sixth season, they were starting to become not as funny. It was also just hard to discern where the show was headed.
You can tread water for an episode or two here and there, but it helps to have an overall arc, which this season seemed to be missing.
12. The Calm Before the Storm Era
Duration: Season Seven, Episodes 1-10
Coming off of season six—which was generally considered the first subpar season of The Office— and heading into the next batch of episodes (knowing they would be Carrell’s last), the show’s seventh season kicked things off with a slight feeling of uncertainty. It was almost as if it didn’t totally know what to do with itself with the major change of Carrell leaving on the horizon.
Things shifted gears and got markedly better when Holly Flax returned in the eleventh episode, but up until that point, the first ten episodes of season seven felt like an extension of the season before.
With plots based around Jim and Pam dealing with parenthood, Andy dealing with Gabe and Erin’s relationship, and Michael dealing with everything from the rise of China to the rise of Darryl, the season flirted with getting stale.
The era isn’t a total loss, though, as the concerns with China were pretty funny and Michael and Oscar trading facts about the country was great—especially in light of Oscar’s emergence as the “Well, actually…” guy we all know and subsequently hate with every fiber in our body.
Plus, anytime a Halloween episode is involved, it’s a good thing.
Ultimately, this era just felt like the precursor to something else, which is kind of exactly what it was. It’s hard to fault it for that.
11. The Will Ferrell Era
Duration: Season Seven, Episodes 20-23
With Carrell leaving, The Office found itself trying to navigate its way through a transitional period, and while they may have had a plan for life in a post-Michael Scott world, bringing in a ringer to get them to that new world could definitely help.
Enter Will Ferrell.
On paper, adding Ferrell to The Office (if only for a few episodes) looked like a slam dunk. I mean, it’s Will effin’ Ferrell. How could it be anything short of absolutely amazing and wonderfully hilarious?
Well, it kind of wasn’t, and even now, it’s hard to figure out exactly why. There was something about his character that didn’t work and it very well could have been because of the time when he was on the show. At that point, everything was geared towards Carrell leaving, and as a result, it’s hard to view his work objectively.
To be fair, Ferrell was still funny playing Deangelo Vickers, who had been brought in to replace Michael as branch manager. It just wasn’t as funny as I think everyone thought it would be.
Well, except for when he “juggled.”
That was amazing.
It still is.
10. The Stretch Run Era
Duration: Season Nine, Episodes 21-25
As was previously discussed, the final season of The Office was a bit of a slog. It had all the makings of your favorite athlete staying around a year too long and unceremoniously finishing their career as opposed to finishing it on top.
Think less John Elway and more Kobe Bryant.
But, for the most part, the show was able to save face in it’s last few episodes.
Starting with episode 21, a suitable endpoint for the show started to crystalize, and with that new sense of direction, the show suddenly found itself with renewed focus and energy. It had life to it, which is something you couldn’t really say for the episodes that came before it.
It wasn’t just that they gave the audience a finale that felt right. They also successfully tied up the plot lines that had been running through the season that had become so problematic—plotlines like the growing issues troubling Jim and Pam’s marriage, Andy’s struggles and inability to truly fill the role of manager and the ongoing instability in the office itself, as Dwight was finally named manager.
A show delivering a satisfying ending is definitely a rarity and even more so when its last season or so is running on fumes.
But it’s a testament to the greatness of The Office that they were able to wrap things up in such a fulfilling way and to leave fans feeling good about the show when the general opinion of it had started to turn negative.
I mean, did I cry?
Did I get a little misty, though?
9. The Michael Post-Holly Era
Duration: Season Five, Episodes 7-20
Michael Scott was a man who possessed many of the same qualities that one would find in an animal. He could be happy like a puppy, as mischievous as a cat, or as emotionally fickle as a monkey.
He could also lash out like an animal could, especially when he felt threatened or forgotten about. Whenever this happened, The Office danced along a fine line between delightful, cringeworthy based humor and just straight up cringeworthiness.
Michael lashing out at perceived enemies or slights could be fun until it wasn’t.
In the middle chunk of season five, Michael was mostly in revenge mode and the results were all over the place (although they frequently ended up in dark places).
Whereas the season had started out so promisingly for him as he made a truly sweet romantic connection with Holly, things took a turn when corporate sent her away to New Hampshire. Michael took it hard and how the dozen or so episodes that followed “Employee Transfer” played out were greatly impacted by his resulting mood and actions.
Yet despite how it somehow felt like The Office was only about the life of Michael Scott, the show was an ensemble and this era is saved by storylines anchored by some of those characters.
There was Dwight testing the emergency preparedness of the office, Angela and Andy planning their wedding, the golden ticket fiasco, and towards the end of the era, the arrival of the new Regional Vice President, Charles Miner (Idris Elba.)
It wasn’t all about Michael, it just felt that way sometimes.
8. The Michael Scott Farewell Tour Era
Duration: Season Seven, Episodes 11-22
The Office officially entered its “Michael Scott Is Leaving” transitional period when Holly returned in the two-part episode “Classy Christmas.” Going into the season, it was common knowledge that this would be Steve Carrell’s last hurrah but what wasn’t known was how the show would say goodbye.
With Holly back in the picture, an exit strategy started to become clear. Just like with Jim and Pam, Michael and Holly seemed destined to be together. The show tried to throw us off the scent a couple of times, but by “The Search,” it was game on (much to everyone’s dismay).
Then we got the farewell tour and farewell tours are usually pretty great because it’s just the hits. There’s no need to waste our time with new stuff because who cares about that now?
Farewell tours are all about looking back, and during the last few Michael Scott episodes, it’s kind of what we did.
In lieu of a clip show or traditional sitcom retrospective, we were able to relive the tenure of Michael Scott via a showing of his passion project Threat Level Midnight, which not only featured everyone in the office, but also Jan, Karen, Roy, Helene (Pam’s mom and Michael’s former lady friend), and Todd Packer.
The era’s emotional peak was Michael’s proposal to Holly, which was the show at it’s emotionally sweet best.
Part of this era overlaps with The Will Ferrell Era and it’d be possible to simply lump that era in with this one, but doing so would be a disservice to both. They each stand on their own merits and both have their own vibe.
7. The Introduction of Holly Flax Era
Duration: Season Five, Episodes 1-6
All Michael Scott wanted was to have a family.
He tried to force the issue with Carol but that failed spectacularly. Rushing a proposal will do that. So will poorly photoshopping yourself into someone else’s family pictures.
How did that relationship not work out?
Then with Jan, well, you know.
“Snip, snap, snip, snap, snip, snap” and there went that dream.
But when Holly came to Scranton, he had found a woman that made sense. They seemed made for each other; two cheesy as hell nerds with a penchant for bad imitations and even worse jokes.
For as much as Michael made us cringe, it was still hard not to root for him and hope for him to find happiness.
I recently watched the first Halloween episode The Office did back in season two. It’s hilarious and a classic; easily the best Halloween episode the show did. But what struck me this time around was how sad the ending was, as Michael sits home alone, clearly troubled by firing someone.
He just wanted to be with someone, and in Holly, he found that person.
6. The Michael Scott Paper Company Era
Duration: Season Five, Episodes 21-26
This era was the logical result of what had transpired during the Michael Post-Holly Era, where his growing resentment and frustration continued to mount and build until he felt compelled to do what had been previously thought of to be inconceivable.
He quit Dunder Mifflin.
Not only did Michael quit but he convinced Pam to join, which always felt like a stretch, but eh, we went with it anyway. Ryan was working at a bowling alley and Michael recruited him to be the third member of his own paper company, one that immediately went into competition with their former employer.
It obviously wasn’t meant to last, similar to how Jim’s time in Stamford at the start of season three had a short shelf life. But despite that, it was a fun break in the action at a time when the show really needed it. It’s not as if things had gotten stale but there was a certain smell emanating from the fridge that was becoming a cause of concern.
And you have to give credit where credit is due.
In “Casual Friday,” when the Michael Scott Paper Company crew rejoined Dunder Mifflin, it was awkward as hell, as it would have been in the real world. Michael couldn’t help himself and demonstrated favoritism to Ryan and Pam, which predictably didn’t sit well with everyone else.
Naturally, Michael would do this. He had always wanted to be loved, and in turn, would love those that showed him love the most, whether it was the right thing to do or not.
It should also be noted that David Wallace was straight up not good at his job. No wonder the company went under.
5. The Karen Filipelli Era
Duration: Season Three, Episodes 8-25
Karen (Rashida Jones) was introduced at the start of season three when Jim had transferred to Stamford. However, the Karen Filipelli Era didn’t really start until the Stamford crew headed south to Scranton in “The Merger.”
Karen was a lovely lady who was put in the unfortunate position of being the person keeping us from the Jim and Pam relationship we had been hoping for since the series started. She was a victim of circumstance! It was never her fault.
And truth be told, it wasn’t Jim’s either. Karen was a catch.
But this era isn’t just about Karen despite being named after her.
This era brought us Andy in all his glory when he was in a role that truly let him shine: being a crucial bench player. Andy excelled in a supporting role, acting as the wild card who could sing Kermit the Frog classics in Pig Latin while playing the banjo, but also get a little heated at times.
This era also featured Ben Franklin the “stripper,” Michael and Jan’s trip to Jamaica, Dwight saving Jim from Roy, the obscene watermark, and more.
A lot of shows struggle when they bring in new characters but The Office thrived. They kept the new characters around for just the right amount of time, too.
Except for maybe Andy. I’m not saying he should have only hung around for a season like Karen, but I think they really biffed it expanding his role.
4. The Welcome to Scranton Era
Duration: Season One
Let’s not act like we were all super familiar with the British version of The Office when the U.S. version premiered. Maybe some of us were, but I’d venture to say that the majority of people were drawn to the show because of Carrell, who had made a name for himself as a solid contributor on The Daily Show.
But it’s not as if that was a major draw. There’s a reason why the initial season was only six episodes. The mockumentary was a new thing for a sitcom, as was reimagining a British show. Both seem like go-to moves now for networks, but when the show premiered in 2005, it was still very new and very untested.
Yet if the people behind the U.S. version of the show were nervous, they didn’t let it show during that first season. They just went full-steam ahead, using Ricky Gervais’ and Stephen Merchant’s show less as source material and more so as inspiration.
There are definitely similarities between the two versions in this season, more so than in the seasons that followed, but again, they’re less copying the original and more introducing new character archetypes.
All these years later, the six episodes of season one are legendary.
There’s the basketball game between the office workers and the warehouse workers and amidst the looming threat of downsizing, the forming (and breaking of) alliances. Amy Adams stopped by to sell purses, Dwight was put in charge of health care and, of course, there was Michael’s diversity seminar.
The further the show got from that first season, the more season one feels almost like a different show or, if anything, a trial run of the show. It has the vibe of an experiment where the show’s creators and writers wanted to test themselves and see how far they could push things.
Mission accomplished everyone. Good work.
3. The Stamford Era
Duration: Season Three, Episodes 1-7
Season three of The Office had some heavy lifting to do and some rearranging of the deck chairs to take care of before they even left the dock.
Jim was now working at the Stamford branch in Connecticut after taking his shot with Pam and being rebuffed and Pam was newly single following Jim professing his love to her, a move that prompted her to break things off with Roy. Dwight feels empowered with Jim no longer around and Ryan has been promoted to a salesman.
Suddenly, the show had to introduce a handful of new characters and a new setting, all while keeping things chugging along back in Scranton with its original cast.
The honeymoon that had been the show’s second season was over. Now it was time to make the marriage work.
And they did it.
They essentially created a situation where they had two shows existing within the same show.
Of course, it helped to know that this wasn’t going to go on forever and that this new reality of theirs only had to keep going for a half dozen episodes but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Almost as impressive as Karen’s ability to out drink Jim and Andy.*
*she cheated, but in this house, we respect the gamesmanship.
2. The Getting Their House in Order Era
Duration: Season Two
If season one was the show setting the table, then season two was when they got down to do some eating.
And they didn’t just eat, they feasted. Yams and pudding for everyone!
Anything that is second is generally considered to be really hard to do, whether it’s second albums, second episodes, second terms, or second seasons playing sports at a professional level. The thought is that with whatever it is that comes first, you put your all into it and have plenty of time to plan things out and layout how you want them to go.
The first time around is what you had in mind when you pitched the project in the first place. Following that up is slightly trickier because now you have to essentially put your money where your mouth is.
There were very few (if any) stumbles during the second season of The Office and they rolled off a couple runs of episodes that were bonafide murderers’ rows.
Just look at how they started the season, kicking things off with “The Dundies,” followed by “Sexual Harassment” and “Office Olympics.” A few episodes later they did their first Halloween episode and then “The Fight,” where both Michael and Dwight’s relationship and Jim and Pam’s was truly put to the test!
We also learned that Michael knows a ton of fourteen-year-old girls, but that’s neither here nor there.
Michael and Jan hooked up! Jim hosted a party! Dwight and Angela got together! Michael ruined the office Christmas Party and a booze cruise and proved incapable of keeping a secret when he let it slip that Jim liked Pam.
Season two of The Office also might have some of the most rewatchable episodes of the show with “The Injury,” “Drug Testing” and “Casino Night” all being in the top ten.
1. The Era of Champions
Duration: Season Four
So if season two was the show getting its sea legs and season three was it learning how to navigate its new surroundings, season four was The Office flexing its muscles and taking its seat at the head of the table.
This might be the one season of The Office where everything made sense and everyone was in the right position.
Jim and Pam were finally together, Dwight and Andy were frenemies, and Michael and Jan were a couple, at least for a little while. Sadly, it was not a relationship that was built to last, babe.
The season was also the culmination of the many moves that had been made in the three seasons leading up to it, whether it was The Stamford Era, the slow build-up of Dwight and Angela’s not-so-secret love tryst, or the inevitable dumpster fire that was Michael and Jam’s problematic relationship.
They were just at the height of their powers both in front and behind the camera, as the writing also might never have been better. Season four featured some of the show’s sharpest and funniest episodes with the obvious front-runner being “Dinner Party.”
But you can’t sleep on “Fun Run,” “Survivor Man,” “Money” and the season finale, “Goodbye Toby,” where Toby moved to Costa Rica, paving the way for Holly to enter the picture.
All the great shows have one run in particular that is the run people look to when extolling the show’s greatness. The Wire had the halfway point of season three through season four and Breaking Bad had from Hank learning about Walt’s true identity on.
For The Office, it was their fourth season.