All Six Surprisingly Strong Episodes from Season One of ‘The Office,’ Ranked
The American remake of The Office debuted to uncertain masses in 2005, as the original U.K. version was already a colossal cult hit. Many were skeptical of how well the comedy and show style would translate to American audiences, including the show’s own John Krasinski. The Jim Halpert actor was a massive fan of the original, admitting his fear in the waiting room of his audition to a stranger, saying, “I just don’t know how I’ll live with myself if they screw this show up and ruin it for me.” That stranger would turn out to be his future Scranton showrunner, Greg Daniels.
The American version of The Office began as a direct clone of the British one, complete with awkward silences and a difficult-to-love boss. However, the show’s second season underwent a creative overhaul, tweaking Steve Carell’s Michael Scott to be more likable and making the show itself more silly and energetic. As a result, the first season is often regarded as underwhelming, and while it’s true that the show is still finding its footing — certain things definitely don’t work — the first season of The Office may not be as bad as you remember.
Which is why we’ve rewatched and ranked all six episodes from Season One, from the worst to the very best...
Episode 1, “Pilot”
Plot: Welcome to the Scranton, Pennsylvania branch of Dunder Mifflin. We meet Michael Scott and the rest of the gang as they embark on a documentary about the American workplace. Michael introduces everyone, including a new employee Ryan “the temp” (B.J. Novak), while showcasing an amazingly awkward rapport with his staff. Rumors start swirling about a potential downsizing after Michael meets with his boss Jan (Melora Hardin).
What Works: From the opening scene, the chemistry between Krasinski and Carell is clearly electric. The two perfectly play off of each other as we get a firsthand look at how business is run at Dunder Mifflin through Michael Scott’s sales technique. All of the characters are clearly established early on, which also does the important job of setting up the Jim and Dwight (Rainn Wilson) feud while simultaneously introducing the downsizing rumors subplot that carries on throughout Season One.
What Doesn’t Work: Carell’s hairline. It’s extremely thin and distracting, and feels like an unnecessary lowball punch to someone who is already low-hanging fruit for humiliation. Additionally, Michael is mean to Pam (Jenna Fischer) during their first few interactions, becoming uncomfortably intimidating at times. This is most evident during Pam’s fake firing, which is too mean for such an innocent character and isn’t indicative of what the show will become.
Episode 3, “Health Care”
Plot: Micheal is tasked with choosing the health-care plan for the entire office and must do so with the threat of downsizing looming over his branch. Hiding from his employees and their complaints, Michael pushes things off to Dwight and announces a big surprise at the end of the day. Unfortunately, after attempting to buy everyone off with ice cream sandwiches, Michael struggles to fulfill his promise, and as the staff walks out, he goes into an endless drumroll while the terrible health-care plan remains unchanged.
What Works: Dwight breaks through his mustard-colored cocoon as he truly shows what he is all about — authority. After declaring the conference room his office, he also hilariously refutes all of his co-worker’s health claims, as everyone in the office wants whatever condition they have to be covered. The employee roundtable discussion mixed with Halpert/Beesly prank diseases is classic first-season antics.
What Doesn’t Work: The story is an incredibly small premise that meanders. Additionally, Jan and Michael, who’d later provide some of the show’s biggest laughs, don’t have their rhythm yet and come off as flat.
Plot: Katie (Amy Adams), a purse vendor, sets up space in the conference room for the day. Due to her beautiful looks, all the men in the office are talking about her, as even Roy (David Denman) reveals he would be after her if he wasn’t dating Pam. Jim prepares Dwight with some terrible dating and fashion advice until Jim finally strikes up the nerve to talk to her and eventually asks her out.
What Works: This is a simple episode with killer gags and character progression. Dwight is absolutely on fire with his clinical testing and purchase of a purse, and Jim shows real growth when he decides to finally bite the bullet and strike up the courage to ask Katie out. It’s a pivotal turn for the show because it shows Jim slightly giving up on Pam and pursuing someone else to cure his lonely heart.
What Doesn’t Work: Katie is basic and bland, though this would work well later in the series, as you can see Jim get bored to tears while dating her. Meanwhile, Michael’s pickup game gives off super creepy uncle vibes, taking away from the playful charm he exhibits later on.
Episode 2, “Diversity Day”
Plot: Michael tries to rally everyone in the office for a corporate-mandated seminar on workplace diversity headed by Mr. Brown (Larry Wilmore). After several attempts at hosting the meeting, Mr. Brown pulls Michael aside, revealing that Michael is the sole reason he is there, and references his previous behavior. Michael signs the required form and begins to host his own Diversity Day.
What Works: Michael shows his whole ass during this now-banned episode by placing his ignorance and desperation to be liked by everyone on full display. Jim and Pam’s heat is really starting to rise as the two show that they can talk about (and flirt over) anything, including their shared love for computer solitaire. The series’ comedy really starts to take shape, as Michael is unstoppable in his natural state of cringe — from creating an accidentally racist card game to signing his official company warning as Daffy Duck.
What Doesn’t Work: In addition to the dated racial aspects of this episode, the other clear distinction is Jim Halpert actually trying at his job. Jim makes several sincere attempts to close a yearly sale, going so far as to celebrate with a tiny bottle of champagne. Who is this guy?
Episode 5, “Basketball”
Plot: Michael pits the warehouse and office staff against one another in a basketball game. The stakes are high, with the loser being forced to work overtime on Saturday and employees from both sides showing off their athletic “talents.” During the heated game, we see Jim and Roy’s competitive juices spill over, and when elbows start accidentally flying, Michael calls the game on account of employee safety.
What Works: This was an excellent premise for an episode with great pacing and even better jokes. The subconscious battle between Jim and Roy greatly added to an already heated rivalry. Michael is in full swing here, too. After claiming to hoop regularly, he throws the ball around like a toddler while acting like one too.
What Doesn’t Work: Michael calling the game early was a bit lazy and kind of a weasel move. However, Michael excusing his staff from working on Saturday shows the full heart he has for his employees (despite them all still potentially being downsized).
Episode 4, “The Alliance”
Plot: With the rumors hotter than ever, everyone is discussing the potential downsizing. Dwight feels particularly threatened and forms an alliance with his usual nemesis Jim. Jim, in turn, spends most of his time just going through a regular workday but playing with Dwight’s thoughts and emotions via made-up conspiracies. Michael, meanwhile, is trying to un-donate to Oscar’s (Oscar Nunez) nephew’s charity walk and simultaneously throw Meredith (Kate Flannery) a very early birthday party to boost morale.
What Works: This episode excellently executes the downsizing storyline, which is potent and accurate for small corporate offices. Dwight and Jim are at their best, and bringing in Pam only builds on the Halpert/Beesly love story. Dwight hiding in a box in the warehouse while listening to Pam’s fake phone call may be the biggest laugh in this first batch of episodes.
What Doesn’t Work: Trying to un-donate to Oscar’s nephew’s charity is a stretch in the world of Michael Scott, as is his roast of Meredith’s birthday, which consists of about six different “punch lines” that never land. The cringe doesn’t hit the exact tone that we would come to know and love about the series. Thankfully, they’d have many more seasons to figure it out.