Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Top 10 pranks from The Office

By Rick Morris

With the writers' strike having been settled awhile back, TV shows that had been in limbo went back into production. This Thursday, April 10, television's greatest program, The Office, returns to NBC in its usual 9 PM EDT timeslot. Incidentally, if you argue that there is a finer program anywhere on TV, you are flat-out wrong.

To celebrate the return from the mini-hiatus of Michael, Dwight, Jim, Pam and the gang, The FDH Lounge blog is proud to present to you the Top 10 pranks in the history of the show (and if you're looking for more background on the show, check out show transcripts here, the official show website and the Television Without Pity Office section. I'm not going to be too specific about these pranks, because I want to encourage those unfamiliar with the show to check out the episodes, so I'm not going to ruin anything with too much detail.

10. Pavlov's Altoids (Phyllis' Wedding, Season 3). Jim hands Dwight a breath mint every time his computer makes a certain noise and tries to condition him to expect an Altoid on his own.

9. My name is Dwight! (not shown but recounted during Conflict Resolution, Season 2). Can $5 per person convince an office full of people who already don't care much for Dwight's antics to all call him "Dwayne" for a day? Jim tries to find out.

8. Getting Dwight to creep out a waitress (A Benihana Christmas, Season 3). When a heartbroken Michael goes to Benihana's with his "entourage" to try to get over being dumped by Carol, Jim finds an opportunity to screw with Dwight. With the Schrutemeister seated at the other end of the table and desperate to participate in conversation with Michael and the others, Jim tricks him into explaining loudly, for the benefit of the waitress and everyone else, how to slaughter a chicken in graphic detail. Ironically (or not), this was the same episode in which Jim told Pam he was trying to give up pranking people -- which turned out to be a feeble and futile attempt to stay out of Pam's orbit.

7. Mind Control (Casino Night, Season 2). In the same episode that changed the Jim-and-Pam dynamic forever when Jim "put his cards on the table," these two characters pulled off one of their greatest pranks right before the start of their yearlong schism began. Jim convinced Dwight that he was capable of moving objects with his mind and when Dwight called his bluff by trying to get him to alter the location of a specific object, Pam took it upon herself to help out.

6. Gaydar (Gay Witch Hunt, Season 3). In the opening episode of Season 3, Jim has put the shock of Casino Night behind him by moving to the Stanford office. Although shaken to the core by the way that everything blew up, he was still able to focus when Dwight and Michael called him to find out if he knew of a device that could help spot gay people. His "help" was classic indeed.

5. Inventing diseases (Health Care, Season 1). If you ever needed proof that Jim and Pam are without equal when it comes to messing with someone, this episode provides it. When Michael, in his typical clueless manner, allows Dwight to choose the new company health plan and Schrute predictably tries to cut benefits to the bone, Jim and Pam get revenge by inventing a slew of diseases on the health forms that he must try to verify. Here's one: "hot dog fingers." Even humorless Angela laughed at that one!

4. The website comes alive (Launch Party, Season 4). When Dwight annoys the office by being even more over-the-top than usual during his "sales challenge" (attempting to gain more sales in a day than the new company Internet store logs in the same day), Jim and Pam strike back. They send him instant messages that are purportedly from the website itself. He believes that the website has come alive and is taunting him about his inferiority. Hilarity ensues when Dwight gets into a flamewar "with the website."

3. Future Dwight (Branch Closing, Season 3). In the last episode before the Stamford branch merges with Scranton, Jim reveals to the cameras his latest ongoing prank on Dwight. He stole some of Dwight's letterhead before he went to Stamford and has been sending him faxes from "Future Dwight." Never has Dwight's gullible nature been more hysterical -- even if Stanley doesn't think so!

2. Nickels in the handset (not shown but recounted during Conflict Resolution, Season 2). How can you get somebody to hit themselves hard in the head with their own phone? Slowly, over time, load up their headset with nickels until a peak weight is reached, then when the conditioning has taken over, abruptly remove ...

1. Cell phone in the ceiling (The Return, Season 3). The greatest prank in the history of the show stemmed from unlikely circumstances, at least on the surface -- demonstrating the genius of the writers. Andy was behaving very annoying, even more so than usual, and had already become a resented figure in the office by forcing Dwight's resignation at the end of the previous episode (how much of a turd do you have to be to make Dwight a sympathetic figure?). When he repeatedly tormented Jim with his stupid new ringtone on his cell phone, Jim pursued revenge. He first sought out his girlfriend at the time, Karen, then Ryan (how desperate do you have to be to go to a stiff like Ryan for pranking purposes?), then Pam when he was rebuffed by the first two. This was meant to convey the depths of the alienation between the two, as this was at a low point in communication between them. But when Pam, not seeming to care that she was the last resort for executing the prank, eagerly agreed to help, the best prank ever was underway. The two schemed to get their hands on Andy's phone, hide it in the ceiling above his desk, then call it repeatedly to sound the ringtone. They may have suspected that Andy had an anger management problem, but they wouldn't fully learn the depths of it until he went out of his mind trying to locate his phone. His shocking reaction was the icing on the cake of this outstanding moment and foreshadowed the turn Jim and Pam would eventually take by showing how well they worked together even when communication was at a minimum.

I'm not implying that the show consists merely of moments like these; if you appreciate writing that accurately conveys a lot about relationships between people (not just romantic relationships, but certainly including those), the absurdities of office life and subtle nuances that the camera barely picks up due to the mockumentary format, you'll love it as well. But most people I know love it for the humor and these pranks reflect it better than anything else does.

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