‘The Office’: Fans Think This Is the Hardest Episode to Watch

The Office may have ended in May 2013, but the show is still popular today. In his podcast, An Oral History of The Office, Brian Baumgartner examines why the show is watched by so many. 

From the trainwreck that was Michael Scott (Steve Carell) to the will-they-won’t-they romance between Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer), there were plenty of awkward moments for fans to unpack. Still, there’s one episode that sticks out to fans as the most difficult to watch.

Steve Carell
Steve Carell as Michael Scott | Justin Lubin/NBCU Photo Bank

Cringe humor is part of what makes ‘The Office’ so appealing

Fans of The Office have likely noticed the show’s cringe-worthy humor. Some scenes might be uncomfortable to watch, but viewers can’t help but watch.

That kind of humor isn’t for everyone. As Ed Helms explained to Baumgartner, The Office requires a special audience. 

“Our generation embraced the comedy of failure and awkwardness,” Helms said. “That’s a thing that’s extremely funny to our generation. My parent’s never got The Office — they were mortified by it. They weren’t able to see the humor in it. But [cringe] is so much of what drove comedy writing at that time.” 

‘The Office’ became more relatable, thanks to cringe humor 

Part of the reason The Office is such a relatable show is its ability to turn life’s most uncomfortable moments into comedy. 

If you’ve watched The Office and cringed, that’s probably because you related to what was happening to a character. Showrunners purposefully turned some of the worst experiences people could go through into a joke. 

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“To me, the most awful embarrassing moments in your life are so hellish when you’re going through them, that to sit like a horror movie in a safe position and watch somebody else go through something that you’ve been through, is so liberating,” director Paul Feig explained. 

No one experienced more embarrassing moments than Michael Gary Scott. 

Michael Scott brought cringe comedy to new heights 

In The Office, cringe comedy lived somewhere within the viewer’s relationship between a boss and his employees. Watching those relationships ebb and flow was part of the joy of watching the show. 

Because that boss was Michael Scott, there was plenty of ebbing and flowing and therefore plenty of cringe-worthy moments. 

“When Michael replaces his girlfriend’s ex-husband with himself in a family photo or when Michael insists on hoisting a new ‘larger’ employee onto a conference table as part of a welcoming ceremony” are just a few examples Baumgartner listed. 

Then, he revealed which episode of the series still makes fans cringe so much, it’s hard to watch.

‘Scott’s Tots’ is the hardest episode for many fans to watch

“The season 6 classic, ‘Scott’s Tots,’ famously took cringe to the extreme,” Baumgartner said. 

In the episode, Michael found himself unable to keep a promise he made to a group of school children, offering to pay each of their college tuition. Michael has to break the bad news after being celebrated at a special ceremony.

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“Many fans have told me that this episode, for them, is the most difficult to watch,” Baumgartner added. “There are even subreddits dedicated to this very topic.” 

The episode was written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, two fans of the British version. “Gene and I really liked the cringe comedy of the British one,” Eisenberg explained. “That’s a comedy engine that we really dug, trying to make it as grounded as possible but also sitting in [those uncomfortable] moments for a really long time.” 

Ironically, those cringe-worthy moments are what keep viewers continually coming back for more to this day.