This week we’re celebrating the 15th anniversary of The Office. Also check out our ranking of the show’s 20 best episodes, a virtual Dundie Awards honoring its best moments overall, as well as essays on the show’s enduring legacy and why it still holds up in the #MeToo Era.
We’re at a strange point in American history: The coronavirus is raging across the country, and for everyone’s safety, most of us are self-isolating. We’re holed up in our apartments and homes, either working remotely or furloughed or otherwise jobless. For those of us who are new to the work from home life, though, we might actually miss the comforting drudgery of our offices: the hum of the copy machine, the awkward repartee between desk mates, the overbearing boss who wants to be your best friend and complete master all at the same time.
It’s a small blessing, then, that this month also marks the 15th anniversary of the premiere of the American version of The Office, one of the most seminal (and, judging by the $500 million Universal paid to get it off Netflix starting in 2021, most rewatched) sitcoms of the 21st century. In its first season, Greg Daniels’ adaptation tried a little too hard to ape the caustic, grim office nihilism of the Ricky Gervais original, but by Season 2, it settled into the sunnier, quirkier, longer-lasting incarnation we all know and love.
A key part of that, of course, was the show’s utter mastery of the cold open, little vignettes of life around Dunder-Mifflin Scranton that occasionally allowed us a sneak peek at the plot of the week, but more often than not just gave us a chance to live inside the quirks of its colorful characters. Whether it was one of Jim’s insidious pranks against Dwight, Stanley’s endearing grumpiness, or Michael Scott’s unceasing demands to be loved and admired, The Office‘s cold opens contained some of the show’s finest and most meme-able moments.
Now that many of us are considering an umpteenth rewatch of the show given the anniversary (and, frankly, America being glued to its couches at the moment), we thought we’d break down some of our favorite cold opens from the nine whopping seasons of the show’s history. (Season 1 didn’t have any cold opens, so it’s missing from this list.) Cook up a pot of Kevin’s famous chili, parkour hardcore your way over to a nice comfy chair, and let’s get this party started!
25. Phyllis Enjoys 50 Shades
Season 9, “Promos”
Season 9 came right smack dab in the middle of 50 Shades fever, and it was natural that oversexed romantic Phyllis would gravitate toward it in the show’s final season. In keeping with late-period Office‘s move towards the cartoonish, though, Phyllis does a little bit more than listen to the 50 Shades of Grey audiobook; she’s blissed out in her office chair. The only solution? A bucket of water to the face. (And in fitting smash-cut fashion, it’s what a deeply horny Andy needs too.)
24. Meredith Gets Hit By a Car
Season 4, “Fun Run”
The plot-based cold opens tend to be less interesting than the hijinks, but I’ll make an exception for Season 4’s opener. It does the heavy lifting of establishing the new status quo for the show (e.g. Michael’s return to work as manager, his domestic bliss with Jan, Jim’s return to the office), while putting a gut-busting button on the proceedings with an inattentive Michael slamming into Meredith with his car. The abruptness of the hit, Kate Flannery’s hilarious pratfall over Michael’s hood … just beautiful.
23. Lip Dub
Season 7, “Nepotism”
Mid-series Office liked to kick off its seasons with the Dunder-Mifflin employees replicating one Internet fad or another. Some were more successful than others (more on that later), but Season 7’s lip dub around the office to The Human Beinz’ “Nobody But Me” is an infectious way to reintroduce the characters. By this point, the coworkers had fully settled into their roles as an unlikely family, even with their more caustic quirks, so watching them work together for a fun maybe-viral video is a treat. That is, of course, until Dwight spends most of his time showing off his terrifying combat knife and holding it to people’s throats. Still, Magic Mike Scott saves it with a fireball flourish.
22. Cheese Ball Masters
Season 5, “Heavy Competition”
Season 5’s Michael Scott Paper Company arc was one of the coolest shakeups to The Office‘s status quo, and it’s honestly a shame it didn’t last longer than it did. Still, this cold open gave us a glimpse of the claustrophobic utopia that MSPC promised in its few scant weeks of operation, as Michael, Pam and Ryan killed time by perfecting the art of catching a cheese ball in your mouth. It’s dorky and impressive in equal measure, and one of the few times these three characters would have so much genuine fun together. (Plus, as the video above can attest, watching it in reverse is some real Lynchian stuff.)
21. Let’s Put a Smile on That Face
Season 5, “Employee Transfer”
The Office‘s yearly Halloween episodes were okay-to-great, with the Dunder Mifflinites dressing up in cheeky new costumes that befit the year’s trends (except for you, Jim, you cynical poser, no one’s impressed by how little you care). But Season 5 was the year The Dark Knight came out, so naturally not one, but three office weirdos dressed up as Heath Ledger’s clown prince of crime. Dwight’s is adorably tryhard, Kevin just looks like a normal party clown, but it’s Creed’s super-realistic, menacing take on Mr. J that crosses over into genuine disquiet.
20. Explain This to Me Like I’m 5
Season 5, “Surplus”
The Michael-Oscar dynamic may well be one of the show’s most underrated — what do you do when you give the dumbest man in the office total authority over the smartest man in the office? The cold open of “Surplus” is a great showcase for that, Oscar having to find new ways to explain to Michael the very concept of a surplus so they can spend it before the year’s budget runs out. Even the context of a lemonade stand seems to elude Michael: “Why don’t you explain this to me like I’m five?”
19. Andy’s Baby Talk
Season 6, “Scott’s Tots”
“Scott’s Tots” is one of the most oft-skipped over episodes in my Office rewatches — even as a fan of this show, the episode’s premise is much too cringe-inducing to handle — but at least the cold open is a dopey-fun interaction between Michael and Andy, as the former chastises the latter for “talking baby talk” around the office. Among the phrases Andy’s been accused of saying: “widdle-iddle”, “footy-wooty”, and “Wode Iwand,” among others. But given Michael’s own penchant for voices, he finds it hard to begrudge Andy too much; after all, he thinks Michael’s Elvis impression is great. “Thank ya,” Michael rumbles in a Presleyan snarl. “Thank ya a lot.”
18. Knock Knock
Season 5, “Golden Ticket”
The cold open that launched a thousand gif reactions, “Golden Ticket” sees Michael and Dwight on a charm offensive with knock-knock jokes. In keeping with their characters, Michael’s is goofy but simply obtrusive (slapping butter on Pam’s desk), whereas Dwight’s has an air of the authoritarian. Luckily, Jim has the final answer in the form of a slap to the face as part of his own take on Dwight’s KGB joke. “The KGB will wait for no one!” To the camera — and us — Dwight warns as he nurses a stinging face: “It’s true.”
17. Asian Jim
Season 9, “Andy’s Ancestry”
Jim’s long-form gaslighting of the gullible Dwight will never get old, but it reaches a strange zenith in The Office‘s final season when Jim and Pam hire an actor friend of theirs (played by Randall Park) to play Jim. They plan ahead, too, briefing him on Jim’s paper sales, crafting couple photos for the desk, and even stealing a kiss from Pam. “Jim’s not Asian,” Dwight protests. “Oh, you never noticed?” Not-Jim responds: “Hats off to you for not seeing race.” The series of confused half-grunts that emanate from Dwight after the scheme fully breaks his brain are just beautiful.
16. The DVD Square
Season 4, “Launch Party”
’90s kids will remember this precious game — staring at the floating screensaver logo on a paused DVD as it bounces from one edge of your bulky CRT TV to the other, never giving you that pattern-recognizing catharsis of finally hitting the corner dead on. In a cold open undoubtedly borne of a writers’ room that underwent the same predicament, “Launch Party” shows the Dunder-Mifflin staff more engaged in a Michael meeting than ever — not because of anything he’s saying, but because they’re still waiting for that logo to hit the perfect corner. In one of the greatest indicators that this show is fiction, the DVD corner finally does, giving Michael the cheers he always wanted in an office conference room meeting, but not for the reasons he thinks.
15. The Quiet Game
Season 8, “Trivia”
Some of the show’s best cold opens are the ‘group goof-offs’, the moments where the entire office is united in a shared goal. This time, it’s to maintain the longest silent streak in the office’s history. It’s a masterclass in comedic tension, from whether to answer an incoming call to Andy’s pantomiming of a raccoon eating a sandwich outside. But the thing that breaks the dam — Kevin’s uncontrollable need to grunt “oh yeah” when he eats a candy bar — is the icing on the cake. Play the silent game with any group of friends, and the thrill of victory and agony of defeat becomes all too relatable here.
14. Turn the Clock Forward
Season 5, “Company Picnic”
Another great example of the group goof-off is the office’s mutual scheme to leave early by taking advantage of Michael’s mid-day nap (brought on by the consumption of a chicken pot pie — scratch that, an entire family-sized chicken pot pie). They manually turn clocks forward, crack into Michael’s watch and car to turn the clocks ahead, and even wake him up with a well-timed fake laugh. What’s more, Michael’s innate desire to be included — right down to laughing right alongside them — helps them actually pull it off. The resulting cheers of victory are one of Dunder-MIfflin’s most adorable moments of unity.
13. Jim is Michael
Season 5, “Blood Drive”
Okay, this one’s more of a personal favorite, but the cold open in which Jim pretends to be Michael to shoo off a door-to-door salesman selling an automated calling technology that would render Pam jobless is just pure Office. Jim’s aping of Michael’s mannerisms is one thing, but Jim, Pam and Dwight stopping the real Michael cold by bombarding him with Fonzie “Ayyyyyyy”s is one of the most bizarrely funny moments in the show’s history. Just look at that zoom on Michael’s confused, manic, bug-eyed face! He’s an easy guy to short-circuit, but it never ceases to entertain.
12. You Said You Didn’t Have Any Plans!
Season 4, “Dinner Party”
“Dinner Party” is rightly lauded as one of The Office‘s best episodes, and the cold open is a beautifully caustic amuse-bouche for the high-wire tension that will follow. The setup is classic Michael Scott, in all his needy manipulativeness: transparently faking a menial task so no one will make plans for the night, only to call it off with an impassioned call to corporate. “These people are my friends and I care about them!” he shrieks into a phone with no one on the other line. And of course, as soon as he defuses the situation of his own making, he pounces on Jim and Pam: “You said you didn’t make plans!” He fools no one, and yet, it arms us for the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? shenanigans we’ll be privy to for the next 20 minutes.
11. Future Dwight
Season 3, “Branch Closing”
We haven’t had all that many Jim/Dwight pranks on here, and that’s because they all tend to blur together. Some, however, stand out over others, including this Season 3 prank in which a Stamford-based Jim infrequently faxes Dwight messages from “Future Dwight” on his own stationery. Dwight’s gullibility and love of the fantastical always gets him, leading to a mad dash to slap Stanley’s coffee out of his hand because he thinks it’s been poisoned. “You’ll thank me later,” he assures Stanley.