Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: With the Primetime Emmy Awards taking place September 20, we’re looking at “award shows”—episodes that depict award ceremonies, that is.

The Office, “The Dundies” (season two, episode one; originally aired 9/20/2005)

An off-set outing is always risky, especially for a season premiere. That risk skyrockets when product integration determines the location. But “The Dundies” takes the characters out of the office without taking The Office out of the characters. The Dundies, Michael Scott’s annual awards ceremony, offers a savvy overview of the show’s dynamics for viewers jumping into the second season without bogging down in exposition.

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It’s bad enough that Michael assigns honorifics and awards for “Spiciest Curry” (Kelly Kapoor), “Tight Ass” (Angela Martin), and “Longest Engagement” (Pam Beesly), and that he browbeats his employees into socializing with him. But hosting The Dundies also provides a captive audience for his repertoire of clumsy, derivative, often racist jokes. Pam describes The Dundies “like a car wreck”: “You want to look away, but you have to stare at it because your boss is making you.”

Early in the episode, Michael chastises his employees, “The Dundies are about the best in every one of us! Can’t you see that?” He urges them to make this year’s ceremony “the best Dundies ever,” but the episode resists any hint of glamour Michael’s tuxedo or a location filming might conjure. Despite his excitement, it’s all resolutely mundane, just another night at Chili’s. The humdrum shabbiness of the night is cemented by Michael’s announcement—once everyone’s seated and ordering drinks and “appeteasers” on the company tab—that they’re picking up their own checks. The staff doesn’t even command the entire Chili’s bar; they’re surrounded by strangers who overhear the awards patter, including Kevin’s “Don’t Go In There After Me” award for stinking up the men’s room. Their idiosyncracies, their embarrassments, the odd little rapports and resentments usually hidden away in the office are all out in the open, and they blame their boss.

When some bystanders heckle Michael, the episode’s energy turns on a dime. Humiliated and—for once—chastened, Michael tries to wrap up his ceremony early, but Pam leads her co-workers to his rescue, cheering him on with a rousing “Dundies! Dundies! Dundies!” Flushed with pleasure (and too many drinks; Jenna Fischer’s drunk acting is superb), Pam calls for a round of applause for Michael, and his naked gratitude illuminates the need at the core of the character, which Steve Carell precariously balances between off-putting and heartrending.

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The novelty of the outing reinforces the strong personalities and peculiarities of The Office, while the scrutiny they draw bands them together. It’s a pivotal episode for Pam, who stands up to Roy and lets loose without him, for Jim, who spends the evening watching Pam knock back drinks (and ends it with her leaping into his arms for a quick celebratory kiss), and for Michael, who wins the boisterous support of his usually lukewarm crew. In “The Dundies,” this tedious awards ceremony really does bring out the best in all of them, and—as Pam crows when she staggers out, blackballed from the entire Chili’s chain—it really is “the best Dundies ever!”

Availability: “The Dundies” is available streaming on Amazon, on YouTube from NBC, and on DVD.

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