12 Compelling Fan Theories About 'The Office'

NBC
NBC

Mind-bending shows like Lost and Westworld bring out the conspiracy theorist in all of us. But even less cerebral shows have a way of inspiring some absolutely bonkers ideas. The Office was a sitcom that ran on NBC for eight years. But the way some of its fans talk on Reddit, you’d think it was a piece of science fiction. Here are 12 of the wildest theories about Andy’s “alcohorse,” radon poisoning, the Loch Ness Monster, and beyond.

1. MICHAEL SCOTT IS A SECRET GENIUS.

One of the most enduring fan theories is that Michael Scott, noted idiot and jerk, is actually a brilliant businessman. A lot of people have suggested that Michael is putting on an act the whole time, making clients and bosses underestimate him so that he can manipulate them into giving him what he wants. Reddit points to the season two episode “The Client” as one example; this is the episode where Jan Levinson and Michael have a very important meeting, which Michael moves from the Radisson to Chili’s. He’s completely blowing it from Jan’s perspective, coming off as an unprofessional clown to their VIP client (Tim Meadows), but Michael’s approach loosens the guy up, allowing him to swiftly close the deal. There are a few other examples of Michael’s possible genius. Or he could just be a lucky dummy.

2. JIM HALPERT WROTE THE SHOW.

From season one, fans were rooting for Jim Halpert to win over Pam Beesly and get out of the paper business. But one fan theory suggests Dunder Mifflin’s slacker salesman manipulated us all. Reddit user Yahnster thinks Jim actually wrote the show, which is why he comes off as the hero and the coworkers he doesn’t like (i.e. Dwight Schrute) seem so annoying. Meanwhile his boss Michael, who never punishes Jim for his pranks or for being plain lazy, is written as a buffoon.

3. KEVIN MALONE WAS EMBEZZLING FROM THE COMPANY.

Kevin Malone isn’t the sharpest employee at Dunder Mifflin. He shreds his own credit cards by accident and can’t transfer a call to save his life. In one especially mean prank, Dwight convinces new HR exec Holly Flax that Kevin is mentally challenged. Like the Michael Scott theory, some fans believe Kevin was just pretending to be dumb—in this case, so that no one would notice he was embezzling money from the company. It would explain how he was able to buy a bar, and why he makes a weird comment about insider trading. (“I had Martin explain to me three times what he got arrested for, because it sounds an awful lot like what I do here every day.”) Check out the video above for even more evidence.

4. ALL THE EMPLOYEES ARE SUFFERING FROM RADON POISONING.

Anyone who has watched all nine seasons of The Office has probably noticed that the characters get a little bit stranger as the series goes along. There’s a theory that explains this—and it’s kind of dark! There’s a running joke on the show that the office is due for radon testing. But because Toby Flenderson is always the one bringing it up, it’s dismissed. According to one theory, Toby was right—and the entire staff has slowly been developing brain cancer. Eventually, the illness begins to alter their personalities, causing them to act in demented and strange ways. It’s also why Michael is way more mature in the series finale. Moving to Colorado with Holly did wonders for his radon-poisoned brain. Once he was out of the toxic office, he could finally grow up.

5. ANDY BERNARD RUINED HIS BRAIN WITH “ALCHOHORSE.”

Reddit has piggybacked off the radon theory to explain Andy Bernard’s behavior, which is probably the most exaggerated of the bunch. While Andy could be suffering from radon poisoning, one theory suggests his brain damage is more directly the result of a fateful drink. In the season seven episode “Viewing Party,” Andy is having a hard time dealing with his ex Erin Hannon’s new relationship with Gabe Lewis. He’s processing all this while he’s in Gabe’s room, where he finds a mysterious container. Temp Ryan Howard tells him it’s full of powdered seahorse, which gives people superhuman strength. Andy dumps it in his wine and downs it all. The combination of alcohol and, uh, seahorse messes Andy up permanently. If this theory weren’t crazy enough, it also comes with a ridiculous name: “alcohorse.”

6. TOBY IS THE SCRANTON STRANGLER.

Fans might like the Michael theory, but they love the idea that HR’s milquetoast Toby is the Scranton Strangler. Seriously, there are entire videos laying out the claims (see one above). Could Toby actually be the notorious criminal who dominates the local news in later seasons? Fans have built up quite the case. For starters, he wasn’t at work when everyone watched the police chase and apprehend the Scranton Strangler. He didn’t even show up for the Glee party later that day! Then he makes it onto the jury, where he can help put the other guy behind bars. He’s pretty eager to share insider info from the courtroom with his coworkers—eager because of the attention, or because he’s getting away with murder? Later on, after the Strangler is found guilty, he tells everyone he’s not so sure they convicted the right guy. Did his guilty conscience overwhelm him? Or is Toby just a normal dude who takes jury duty seriously? You decide.

7. THE OFFICE IS ACTUALLY HELL.

No really, hear this one out: A bunch of people sincerely believe that the Scranton office is hell—but that it didn’t become a hellscape until after one key episode. “Stress Relief” is a two-parter from season five. In the first part, Stanley has a heart attack in the middle of a safety drill. He survives, and soon returns to work. But what if Stanley really died that day? The theory goes that Stanley’s heart attack kills him and he’s sent straight to hell. (He did have all those affairs, after all.) Stanley hated his work more than anyone, so for him, hell is the office. But because this is hell, all his coworkers are exaggerated versions of themselves: more annoying and more cartoonish.

8. BOB VANCE JUST WANTS SOME FREE ADS.

It’s impossible to forgot where Bob Vance works, because he repeats the name of his business (Vance Refrigeration) every time he introduces himself. But is Bob an awkward hype man, or a savvier businessman than we all suspected? One popular theory says that Bob isn’t selling his services to the people he meets onscreen, but to the people watching the documentary. It’s his way of scoring free ads, even if he does seem a little strange to Phyllis’s coworkers.

9. DWIGHT THINKS EVERYTHING ON TV IS REAL.

Rainn Wilson in 'The Office'
NBC

Dwight Schrute frequently struggles to separate fiction from reality. Here’s a quick list of examples, as documented by TimmestTim: He thinks he can raise and lower his cholesterol at will; he thinks Jim might be turning into a vampire and that his neighbor’s dog is a werewolf; he can’t tell the difference between a hero and a superhero or a Benjamin Franklin impersonator and the actual Benjamin Franklin. TimmestTim posits that Dwight has this disconnect because he wasn't allowed to watch movies growing up. Once he got older, and got very into fantasy and sci-fi (i.e. Battlestar Galactica), his brain couldn’t quite separate what he saw on the screen from real life. Since he had no exposure during his formative years, the distinction was harder, which is why he has no problem believing Jim is a creature of the night.

10. THE CAMERA CREW KEPT THE SCRANTON BRANCH OPEN.

Dunder Mifflin is never the most financially stable company. Even before Sabre buys it out, Michael’s bosses are constantly warning him about layoffs or branch shutdowns—and begging him to stop spending large amounts of money on holiday parties. Based on the wider company problems and Michael’s frequent mistakes, the Scranton branch should’ve been shuttered during the first episode. So how does it survive for so long? One Reddit user theorizes that the camera crew kept them in business. Sensing that the office antics would make for great television, the crew bought up Dunder Mifflin paper so they could keep filming, and eventually make their money back on a TV show deal. Considering the damage Michael does to the warehouse alone, it must have been a lot of paper.

11. THE SHOW EXISTS IN THE SAME UNIVERSE AS PARKS AND RECREATION AND DEXTER.

There’s a pretty convincing case that The Office is happening at the same time as Parks and Recreation and Dexter, and it all comes down to office supplies. In season six, a printer company called Sabre buys out Dunder Mifflin. A few Sabre employees became recurring characters, like Jo Bennet (Kathy Bates) and Gabe Lewis (Zach Woods), and the Scranton office suddenly has to drink out of metal water bottles, as per company policy. Otherwise, not much changes. But Sabre is important, because its products have appeared on other shows. Eagle-eyed viewers have spotted Sabre printers on Parks and Recreation and even Dexter. But some people think the connections run deeper. (Here’s a lengthier case for crossover involving Creed and a Parks and Rec cult.)

12. CREED IS TRYING TO CATCH THE LOCH NESS MONSTER.

Creed, the strangest man at Dunder Mifflin, is the subject of many theories. But by far the best one is that he’s trying to catch Nessie. In “The Seminar,” Creed gives a speech about the Loch Ness Monster (which you can watch above), where he describes the creature and mentions the totally fake reward for its capture: all the riches in Scotland. So he’s clearly fixated on this folklore, but LaxBro316 pieced it together with another Creed non sequitur to explain his ultimate goal. “If I can’t scuba, then what’s this all been about?” he asks. “What am I working toward?” It’s unclear if Creed ever found Nessie, but we hope he’s enjoying all the riches of Scotland.

10 Amazing Facts About Stan Lee

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Comic book legend Stan Lee’s life was always an open book. The co-creator of some of the greatest superheroes and most beloved stories of all time, Lee—who passed away on November 12 at the age of 95—became just as mythical and larger-than-life as the characters in the panels. In 2015, around the time of Marvel’s 75th anniversary, Lee had the idea to reflect on his own life, as he said, “in the one form it has never been depicted, as a comic book … or if you prefer, a graphic memoir.”

The result, published by the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster in 2015, was Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir—which was written by Lee with Peter David and features artwork by cartoonist and illustrator Colleen Doran. Here are 10 things we learned about Lee.

1. HIS WIFE WAS ALSO HIS BARBER.

As a bit of a throwaway fact, Stanley Martin Lieber (Stan Lee) revealed the secret of his slicked back mane on the second page of his memoir. “My whole adult life, I’ve never been to a barber,” he wrote. “Joanie always cuts my hair.”

2. HIS CONFIDENCE CAME FROM HIS MOTHER.

Lee wrote that as a child he loved to read books by Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and others, and his mother often watched him read: “I probably got my self-confidence from the fact that my mother thought everything I did was brilliant.”

3. YOUNG STAN LEE WROTE OBITUARIES.

Before writing about the fantastic lives of fictional characters, Lee wrote antemortem obituaries for celebrities at an undisclosed news office in New York. He said that he eventually quit that job because it was too “depressing.”

4. CAPTAIN AMERICA WAS HIS FIRST BIG BREAK.

A week into his job at Timely Comics, Lee got the opportunity to write a two-page Captain America comic. He wrote it under the pen name Stan Lee (which became his legal name) and titled it "Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge." His first full comic script would come in Captain America Issue 5, published August 1, 1941.

5. HE WROTE TRAINING FILMS FOR THE ARMY WITH DR. SEUSS.

After being transferred from the army’s Signal Corps in New Jersey, Lee worked as a playwright in the Training Film Division in Queens with eight other men, including a few who went on to be very famous: Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan, cartoonist Charles Addams (creator of The Addams Family), director Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939] and It’s a Wonderful Life [1946]) and Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

6. HE DEFIED THE COMICS CODE AUTHORITY WITH AN ANTI-DRUG COMIC.

In 1971, Lee received a letter from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare asking him to put an anti-drug message in one of his books. He came up with a Spider-Man story that involved his best friend Harry abusing pills because of a break-up. The CCA would not approve the story with their seal because of the mention of drugs, but Lee convinced his publisher, Martin Goodman, to run the comic anyway.

7. AN ISSUE AT THE PRINTERS TURNED THE HULK GREEN.

The character was supposed to be gray, but according to Lee, the printer had a hard time keeping the color consistent. “So as of issue #2,” Lee wrote, “with no explanation, he turned green.”

8. HIS WIFE DESTROYED HIS PRIZED TYPEWRITER.

According to Lee, during an argument, Joanie destroyed the typewriter he used to write the first issues for characters including Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. “This happened before eBay," he wrote. "Too bad. I could’ve auctioned the parts and made a mint.”

9. A FIRE DESTROYED HIS INTERVIEWS AND LECTURES.

When Lee moved his family to Los Angeles, he set up a studio in Van Nuys where he stored videotapes of his talks and interviews, along with a commissioned bust of his wife. The building was lost to a blaze that the fire department believed was arson, but no one was ever charged with the crime.

10. HIS FAVORITE MARVEL FILM CAMEO WAS BASED ON ONE FROM THE COMICS.

Beginning with the first Spider-Man film in 2002, Stan Lee has made quick cameos in Marvel films as a service to the fans. He said that his appearance in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) was inspired by the story of Reed and Sue Richards’ wedding in Fantastic Four Annual Volume 1 #3, in which he and artist/writer Jack Kirby attempt to crash the ceremony but are thwarted.

A version of this story ran in 2015.

JK Rowling Reveals the Sweet Reason Why She Wrote Fantastic Beasts

Angela Weiss, AFP/Getty Images
Angela Weiss, AFP/Getty Images

With the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald just a week away, ​JK Rowling is reflecting on her time writing the book that inspired the first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and why she decided to expand on the Wizarding World she had created with the Harry Potter series.

While on the red carpet for the premiere of ​The Crimes of Grindelwald in Paris last week, Rowling spoke about how appreciative she is of the Harry Potter fandom that allows her to keep writing books and films. She also revealed the reason why she wanted to continue past the original series and write these movies: Potterheads!

"This fandom is the most remarkable in the world, for me, obviously," Rowling said. "Their loyalty and their passion for these stories really is the reason that I went back, because, without that, I don’t think I would have written these movies."

So there you have it, Potterheads: you really have yourselves to thank for the ​Potter universe's continued expansion. Keep it up and maybe Rowling will keep giving us more. In the meantime, Fantastic Beasts 2 hits theaters on November 16.

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