As lackluster, short, and — let’s face it — nearly irrelevant as season one of The Office was, the decision to pick it up for a 22-episode second season was as surprising as it was fortuitous. Maybe it was Steve Carrell’s charisma that convinced the network to do so, but good decision, boys!
I consider the first episode of the second season to be the “real” start to The Office. A lot of work went into rethinking characters and getting into a comfortable groove, and the employees of Dunder Mifflin that we know and love today emerged as a true ensemble force here. And looking over the episode list, I’m amazed at the sheer quality of hilarious stories that are packed into this season, which is why it propelled The Office into a “must watch” type of show.
“I’m sorry I misinterpreted our friendship.”
The real framework for season two, of course, is the unrequited romance between doofy lovable Jim and engaged-forever Pam. The first episode, The Dundies (which is the first episode of the series to mostly take place out of the office), establishes the crux of this romantic drama. The two are obviously infatuated with each other to varying degrees, but Jim is too hesitant to reveal his feelings and Pam is too loyal to her idiot fiancee Roy to consider investigating this relationship further.
It really was a terrific will-they-or-won’t-they setup that had a lot of spark to it but also was heading down a path of inevitable decision. The writers couldn’t string viewers on forever, yet those furtive glances and prank team-ups were all the more delicious because it was unrequited. It also allowed us to learn a lot about who these two were, with Pam’s unwillingness to stand up for herself and Jim’s dedication to playing the nice guy to the hilt. The resolution of the season, Casino Night, brings both an ending and a beginning to the next chapter of the Pam/Jim saga, and it’s one of the most beloved episodes of the series.
“I taught Mike some, uh… some phrases to help with his interracial conversation. You know, stuff like, ‘fleece it out,’ ‘going mach 5,’ ‘dinkin’ flicka.’ You know, things us Negros say.” ~ Darryl
But enough about sappy doe eyes, what about the rest of the cast? First of all, I’m so happy that the team reworked Michael Scott from his rather unlikable self in season one. Michael is still an oblivious idiot at times, but the writers start to work in good qualities that make you warm up to him just as you were about to write him off. He’s a sharp dresser, he does consider his employees his family, he is a terrific salesman, and once in a while he manages to deliver wise advise or really motivate a worker as a good manager should. But most of the time he bumbles into horribly awkward situations due to a combination of childish emotions and a complete misunderstanding of social mores.
Dwight really became the breakout star of the show due to a bizarre mix of character attributes, such as being gullible yet a know-it-all, a beet farmer, a good salesman, an inflexible wannabe-leader, a total nerd, and the yin to Jim’s yang. Jim’s pranks on Dwight become ever more complex (and hysterical), including convincing Dwight that Thursday was Friday and coaching Dwight to be a public speaker using speeches from fascist dictators.
With more episodes, the rest of the large cast each got to make his or her mark. Darryl became the deadpan voice of reason, Toby the target of Michael’s ire, Angela the uptight prude, Kevin the slow-witted slob, Oscar the other voice of reason, Ryan the dumping ground for Michael’s neediness, Kelly the self-obsessed ditz, Phyllis the put-upon matron, and Stanley the guy who is just putting in his hours until retirement. Season two is also the beginning point for the whole Creed saga, as this background character with a completely insane mind came into the forefront.
So what are the best episodes of season two? Here are my top five picks:
- The Injury: Michael accidentally burns his foot on his George Foreman grill while trying to cook himself bacon in bed, and he totally acts like a whiny baby as the office ignores his plight. Meanwhile, Dwight suffers a concussion and actually turns into a nice guy. One of my favorites of the entire series.
- The Dundies: Michael’s weird annual award show become somewhat of a tradition during the series (I think it comes back for two more episodes as well as other references), and as cringe-worthy as some of the awards were, it actually shows that Michael puts in thought and energy into making the workplace fun. Plus, it’s pretty funny to see Pam get blitzed and Ryan come to grips with being “hottest in the office.”
- Office Olympics: When Michael and Dwight are away, Jim organizes an office-wide olympic competition with made-up sports to combat boredom. It showed Jim as a leader, Pam as a natural partner, and a rare moment of office unity.
- The Client: Both stories here are strong and significant to the show at large. Michael shows his talents as a salesman by landing a huge deal with a client while hooking up with Jan, while the employees find Michael’s legendary screenplay (Threat Level Midnight) and decide to do a group reading of it. Jim and Pam even have their first pseudo-date at the end.
- Casino Night: Widely regarded as one of the best episodes of the entire series, Casino Night ties together several threads from the season and is both funny and moving. It’s not just Jim’s admission of his feelings for Pam, but Michael’s juggling of two women, Creed’s klepto nature, Toby’s triumph at the card table, and Kevin’s skill as a musician.
Season two got me hooked on The Office and set the standard for the quality of writing, acting, and storytelling that the show would become known for.