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The Office vs. The Big Bang Theory: which one is the better sitcom?

In the long and storied history of TV, there have been plenty of great sitcoms. From All in the Family to Friends to Seinfeld, popular, critically-acclaimed situational comedy shows tended to bring plenty of awards with them, and they also ran for an insanely long time. Two of the more recent shows to vie for entries in the pantheon of all-time great sitcoms are undoubtedly The Office and The Big Bang Theory. 

Although the two shows overlapped in their runs, they represent two fundamentally different approaches to sitcom storytelling. The question remains, though, as to which show is actually better. Let’s break it down in a couple of crucial ways:

Which one is funnier?

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The longevity and popularity of both shows prove that either one of them could have taken this, but ultimately, The Office was the sharper, more incisive show, especially at its best. The Big Bang Theory had its moments, but the best jokes told on The Office rank up there with the best jokes ever told in any sitcom, period.

Stress Relief, the season five double episode that premiered following the Super Bowl, is a prime example. The episode’s culmination, in which Michael roasts every other character, is a hilarious cascade of “boom, roasted” jokes that will get you laughing anytime you see them. The Big Bang Theory could poke fun at its characters, but it never reached the same heights of specificity that made The Office feels special.

Winner: The Office

Which one had a higher peak?

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Another way to think about which show is better is to consider which series was better when it was at its best. This one’s pretty easy. When The Office was firing on all cylinders, particularly in seasons 2 through 5, it was better than almost everything else on TV. From Michael Scott’s “fun run” in the fourth season to the quick rise and fall of the Michael Scott Paper Company in season 5, the show kept figuring out new ways to develop its plot that feel totally surprising. The show falls off somewhat in quality in its later seasons, but there’s a reason so many people still obsessively watch those earlier episodes.

The Big Bang Theory, meanwhile, was often hesitant to shake up its formula unless it was absolutely necessary. The cast expanded, but it was a sitcom in the truest sense of the word.

Winner: The Office

Which one was more consistent?

CBS

While The Office may have been better at its best, The Big Bang Theory was remarkably consistent, churning out episodes that its fans loved for well over a decade. The show runs on a formula, which is part of the reason it was so successful. They may have tweaked that formula over the years, but it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it.

The Office, in contrast, went into fairly severe decline later in its run. The jokes were less consistent, the plot developments felt less grounded in reality, and the character choices felt slightly strange. The Big Bang Theory was simply in the pocket for much longer, with episodes from its 10th season proving to be just as great as those in its first.

Winner: The Big Bang Theory

Which one had the better cast?

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Image used with permission by copyright holder

Another close call, but one of the things that gives the cast of The Office the edge here is how stacked it was. Steve Carrell, Rainn Wilson, Jenna Fisher, and John Krasinski are all great, but every minor player on the show also had plenty of moments to be hilarious. In contrast, Big Bang Theory‘s second and third-tier characters like Stuart Bloom just can’t measure up to Stanley, Phyllis, or Holly Flax.

The Office came to feel like a family over its years on the air, and part of how it did that is by ensuring that even its smallest role player was someone you loved.

Winner: The Office

Which one was more emotional?

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Any great sitcom should bring the funny, but what’s equally important in these long-running series is for there to be some sort of emotional throughline that grounds the story and keeps you coming back week after week. In this case, it was simply impossible to choose a winner.

The Office weaved emotional stories into its entire run, including the romance between Jim and Pam and Michael Scott’s evolution from a jackass to a more thoughtful, slightly kinder jackass. The Big Bang Theory also delivered some genuine emotional wallops, especially as we watched each of our nerds grow up and become better people, in part through the bonds they formed with one another. The finale of Big Bang Theory is moving for some of the same reasons the later seasons of The Office are. Sheldon finally expresses the love we always knew was there, and the audience was immediately reduced to tears.

Winner: (tie) The Office and The Big Bang Theory

Which show was better?

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Image used with permission by copyright holder

Although both The Big Bang Theory and The Office sit near the top of the all-time lists of great sitcoms, The Office was ultimately the better show as a whole, and it had a much bigger impact on the overall culture.

It helped to popularize mockumentary as a style of comedy and also launched a generation of stars both in front of and behind the camera. On top of all that, The Office is endlessly rewatchable, filled with wonderful jokes and plenty of genuine pathos. It’s an all-time great sitcom and an all-time great show.

Winner: The Office

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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