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All About The Office's Fire Drill Episode: How "Stress Relief" Made For One of the Wildest Scenes

Looking back at the origins of pure Dunder Mifflin mayhem: The Office's Fire Drill Episode: "Stress Relief."

By Matthew Jackson

By its fifth season, The Office was already one of the most acclaimed and celebrated sitcoms on American television at the time, with loads of future classic episodes already under its belt. But even by this show's standards, what happened on February 1, 2009 was a chance at something bigger: a double episode before a post-Super Bowl crowd. 

How to Watch

Watch every episode of The Office on Peacock.

That year, NBC chose The Office as the program to follow its broadcast of the 43rd installment of the Big Game, also known as the biggest television night of the year. That meant creator Greg Daniels and the show's writers had to come up with something big, an episode that would be friendly to millions of new viewers who'd never seen the show before, while also continuing the storylines already established by Season 5's first half. Most importantly, in this case at least, it had to be the kind of episode that would instantly make people rethink changing the channel after the game was over.

The Birth of The Office's Fire Drill

What the writers eventually came up with was "Stress Relief," a two-part episode that opens with one of the most elaborate and bonkers sequences in the history of the series. It starts with a typical day at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, and the camera follows Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) as he moves through the office, disabling doors, heating up doorknobs, and preparing for the most chaotic fire drill in the history of the company. With a single cigarette left to burn in a trashcan, Dwight sends smoke drifting through the office, and sends his coworkers running for their lives. It's absolute pandemonium, but according to a 2020 oral history of the scene posted over at Vulture, it almost didn't turn out that way. 

RELATED: Here Are All The Major Characters on The Office

"That was a very stressful time because Greg came in one day and he had a big idea inspired by some French film he saw," writer Gene Stupnitssky recalled in the oral history, excerpted from Andy Green's book The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s. "Basically the idea was that Jim loses Pam in a poker game. He was like the father of us all and we were like, 'Dad … Your idea … We’re not so sure about it.'"

Despite their reservations, the writers went to work trying to flesh out Daniels' idea into an hourlong broadcast, built around the concept that Jim would "lose" Pam in a card game. After a while, when it was clear the idea wasn't quite working for the Super Bowl episode, the writers concocted the notion that Dwight would stage an elaborate fire drill and cause panic, eventually leading to a heart attack for coworker Stanley Hudson (Leslie David Baker) and thus launching the "stress relief" phase of the episode. To pull it all off, it was crucial that the episode's opening minutes be absolutely unforgettable, pulling in all those new viewers who'd stuck around after the game.

"Greg was like, 'It’s the Super Bowl episode. We need it to be big and crazy and wild and this is the first thing they’re gonna see, so we want people to stick around,'" writer Anthony Farrell recalled. "He said to me and [fellow writer] Ryan Koh and some of the writers’ assistants, 'You guys work on this cold open.' We knew it would start with Dwight setting off the fire alarm and Greg was in a place where he was like, 'We need it to be bigger and crazier.' So we just started adding all sorts of crazy s-it happening with the mayhem and the melee, like them using the photocopier as a battering ram and cats falling out of the ceiling. A lot of it wound up getting shot."

Filming the fire drill was certainly chaotic, and involved everything from stunt performers falling through ceilings to getting two identical cats to pull off the gag when Angela's (Angela Kinsey) cat Bandit is thrown up through one part of the ceiling and falls down through another. But it was arguably even tougher for the writers to come up with what happened next. After the mayhem of the fire drill, audiences had to want to stick around to find out what happened to these characters. To make that work, the writers delved into everything from Stanley's heart attack recovery to some Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) drama involving Pam's parents deciding to get divorced. They even got special guest stars in on the act by coming up with a fake in-universe movie starring Jack Black, Jessica Alba, and Cloris Leachman.

Coming Up with the Ending of "Stress Relief"

Steve Carell and John Krasinki in Season 5, Episode 14 of The Office

Then came the even bigger question: how to end it all? After struggling with the right way to close things, the writers eventually realized they needed a way to break all the tension stirred up in the fire drill, and the solution was for everyone in the office to come together and roast their boss, Michael Scott (Steve Carell). 

RELATED: Stanley Hudson's Best Moments on The Office

"This was probably the most difficult episode to write that season," writer Halsted Sullivan recalled. "It took longer than any other episode because it had to be an hour and it had to be stand-alone. I remember for a long, long, long time we did not have an ending. And I came up with the idea for the roast. That’s because I grew up in Atlanta and my father was president of a medical school. Every year, they had a follies where all the students would make fun of the professors and we would go to that. It was a fun evening, but it was also like, 'Oh, is this really what you think of me?' And that turned into the roast of Michael, where he was able to bring the office together again and restore order after all this chaos by becoming the victim. Of course, it did really hurt his feelings, but in the end it brought the office back together."

How to Watch The Office's Fire Drill Episode "Stress Relief"

And that's the story of a how a Super Bowl timeslot gave The Office one of its craziest episodes of all time. For more on the making of the show, check out Greene's book. If you want to watch "Stress Relief" yourself, you can head over to Peacock to stream the episode, along with every other episode of The Office, plus tons of exclusive bonus features for superfans. The episode falls right in the middle of the show's fifth season, specifically across episodes 14 and 15, right before Michael heads out for "Lecture Circuit."

Relive all nine seasons of The Office — now streaming on Peacock. Die-hard audience members who have made it through the entire series more than once can discover never-before-seen bonus footage in the extended "Superfan Episodes" currently spanning Seasons 1-6.

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