• The Office‘s darkest moment is a throwaway joke about the closure of Prince Paper, making the usually likable Michael Scott seem cutthroat and ruthless.
  • The joke raises the stakes for Michael’s paper company, questioning how it could survive when a well-established business like Prince Paper couldn’t compete.
  • The episode’s evidence of Michael’s extreme measures highlights that even the well-meaning manager had been pushed to his limits, adding a dark twist to his character.



The Office features plenty of black humor and some sad scenes, but the show’s darkest moment comes in the form of an unexpected background gag. The Office is nowhere near as dark as its original UK incarnation, but the sitcom still packs an emotional wallop on occasion. Episodes like The Office season 3, episode 17, “Business School,” and season 5, episode 6, “Employee Transfer,” get surprisingly heavy despite the series’ status as a workplace sitcom. Few episodes of Parks and Recreation or Brooklyn Nine-Nine match the level of poignancy in these outings, but these installments don’t feature the show’s saddest moment.

Most of The Office’s cast of characters get a moving storyline over the show’s nine seasons, but it’s a throwaway background gag that comprises the bleakest moment in the entire series. For this dark joke to make sense, it is important to note that The Office aired through the recession of 2008 to 2010, and the show occasionally reminded viewers of the economic downturn. The Office season 5 refers to the economy being bad numerous times, as the outing aired in 2009. In this context, The Office’s saddest gag makes its usually likable hero seem like a surprisingly cutthroat villain.

The Office Made A Throwaway Joke About The Prince Paper Company Closing

Custom image of Steve Carell as Michael Scott juxtaposed with Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute in The Office.

In The Office season 5, episode 21, “Two Weeks,” there is a quick joke that could easily go over viewers’ heads. However, this gag is a very sad callback to a previous episode. Michael looks for another job and makes a call, only to be met with a voicemail saying that Prince Paper is no longer in business. While this link is not explicit, viewers might remember Prince Paper as the little family-run paper company from season 5, episode 13, “Prince Family Paper.” That episode sees The Office’s Michael and Dwight getting ahold of Prince Paper’s client list so that they can poach their customers.

What makes this especially sad is the fact that Michael, who usually acts as the show’s resident sweetheart, helps put the Prince family out of business. If viewers understand the callback as it happens, the voicemail sounds grim and heartbreaking rather than like a harmless reference. While Dwight doing something ruthless in the name of profits is no surprise — and even Jim can be surprisingly amoral — Michael is the heart of The Office. As such, the episode’s evidence that even the well-meaning manager of the branch had been pushed to these extremes is dark.

The Prince Paper Joke Raised The Stakes For Michael’s Paper Company

Michael Scott in front of the Michael Scott Paper Company sign.

If a 40-year-old independent family business paper company couldn’t compete with Dunder Mifflin, then viewers have to question how Michael’s tiny company could have survived with no money and no history. While The Office’s ending implies that Michael gets a happy ending, Michael Scott Paper Company is a pretty big bump in the road to his happiness. This misadventure sees Michael trying to outdo Dunder Mifflin by setting up a paper company of his own. And while Michael Scott Paper Company is eventually bought by Dunder Mifflin, the enterprise was never going to succeed. The Office’s darkest joke proves just how inevitable its failure was.

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