Many of the complaints voiced about The Office‘s first season was that the plots and characters were too derivative of the original British series. Many of the British the American episodes focus almost solely on David/Michael doing something stupid followed by the reactions of their respective co-workers. “Health Care,” the third episode of the then-fledgling American version, however, helps to differentiate the two series by taking the focus away from the boss and allowing another character the opportunity to steer the show.
In a nutshell: Dunder Mifflin is choosing a new health care package and Michael Scott is charged with picking the package for the Scranton branch. Being the procrastinator he is, he bestows the task to an all-too-anxious Dwight who immediately goes to work slashing benefits “to the bone.” The office complains and Michael promises a surprise, which turns out to be ice cream sandwiches. In order to appease his workers, Michael promises something even better, but never delivers. The episode ends with Dwight’s ridiculously awful plan sticking.
The real stand-out in this episode is, of course, everybody’s favorite Assistant (to the) Regional Manager, Dwight. Dwight’s no-nonsense personality is finally allowed to shine with this one small task. Instead of picking a plan and sending it straight to Corporate, a task that would probably take 30 minutes in the real world, Dwight pontificates to the camera and describes his Social Darwinian view of health care (see, Best Quote below). After his fellow works complain, does Dwight relent? No! He makes questionnaire forms with diseases and eventually makes everyone verbally announced the diseases they would like covered. Ouch.
Another great aspect of this episode is Pam and Jim’s pranking. Later episodes would take the pranking to a ridiculous, albeit funny, level. In this episode, however, the pranks are simplistic but beautiful. In order to mess with Dwight, Pam and Jim make up fake diseases. This infuriates Dwight:
“Count Choculitis,” he asks Jim, “Why did you write that down [...] Is it because you know I love Count Chocula?”
The diseases get more and more ridiculous and more and more funny: Spontaneous Dentohydroplosion, Hot Dog Fingers, and a bad case of a government-created nanobot infection (which I am nearly positive is a reference to The X-Files episode “S.R. 819″).
“Health Care” was the first episode of The Office that I saw, and to this day, I remember it vividly. I was staring at the screen with my mouth ajar. Was I being naive thinking that it was a real documentary? Maybe, but the acting and dryness of it was wholly convincing. To this day, I appluad this episode and consider it the best of the first season. The episode successfully took the plot away from Michael Scott and managed to let another character lead the show. In this manner, “Health Care” became the first excellent episode in the series long run.
Final Rating: 9.8 out of 10
Best Quote: “In the wild, there is no healthcare. In the wild healthcare is ‘Ow, I hurt my leg. I can’t run. A lion eats me, and I’m dead.’ Well, I’m not dead. I’m the lion. You’re dead.” — Dwight Schrute