Season 3 always seems to be a big year in any great sitcom. They’ve got the comedic rhythms down, the show is still fresh and fun, and the cast has been fleshed out. The Office might be the most quintessential example of this pattern. The first season was an occasionally toothless version of its UK predecessor, the second spent a lot of time looking towards the supporting actors on the show, trying to give them characters that played to their comic abilities. By Season 3, one of the minor characters in Dunder Mifflin can step out of the background, say their funny line, and it adds a lot.
The third season balances comedy and real heart almost perfectly. Let’s not mince words here, Season 3 is the season of Pam. And her arc throughout the season is my arc; a quiet wallflower type who only comes to life around select people, who then tries to assert themself more and winds up pissing people off along the way.
At the start of the year, Pam is someone who has broken the heart of her best friend. Even when Jim is back in Dunder Mifflin, that closeness is gone. So Pam has to spend most of the season exploring other relationships, including a heartwarming little sister relationship with Michael (he’s the little sister). After she’s grown on her own terms, only then can Pam speak up and make things right with Jim. I absolutely love this throughline, though it is kind of strange to realize that my favourite season of The Office is the only one in which its central relationship is almost non-existent.
Comedy? Oh, right. This is the year that did a lot of “supersized episodes” meaning episodes that run about 25-30 minutes without commercials, and those were invariably the strongest. Plus you have guest directors like JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon coming in (when they were TV titans but not yet synonymous with Star Wars and the MCU), and with Harold Ramis working on so many episodes he’s basically a regular. There was just something exciting about the show this season, there was a feeling that a lot of people were catching onto something really great.
Classic episodes are scatter across the entire run of The Office, but Season 3 is almost nothing but.
If I Had to Nitpick…: It was necessary for the story and most of the episodes were strong, but the six episode stretch with Jim off in a different branch wasn’t as good as the rest of the season. And “Phyllis’s Wedding” was the lone dud of the year. It’s one thing when Michael is in front of his Dunder Mifflin employees and the stakes are limited to his own humiliation. It does something to the comedy when he’s ruining someone’s wedding.
Notable Episodes: “Branch Closing” and “The Merger” formed a great mini arc, kicking off a (nearly) unbroken run of greatness. “The Return” saw Ed Helms/Andy reach hither unknown annoying heights. “Safety Training” managed to bring in some very high stakes in a very silly way, and “Beach Games” was a terrific ensemble effort.
Honorable Mentions: I love Season 2 as well, and have to give a shout-out to the second half of Season 7.