The Office Season 4 episode "Dinner Party" was "universally hated" after its initial airing, recalls director Paul Feig, who says fans "just couldn't take" the episode's extra servings of cringe. "Dinner Party" sees Dunder Mifflin manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) dupe Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) into attending a couples-only dinner party with Andy (Ed Helms) and Angela (Angela Kinsey). When an uninvited Dwight (Rainn Wilson) crashes the party with his childhood babysitter (Beth Grant), adding to growing tensions between Michael and candlemaker girlfriend Jan (Melora Hardin), the disastrous dinner party boils over into a squabble that leaves most attendees — and viewers — uncomfortable.
"When this episode first aired, it was universally hated," Feig said on EW's Couch Surfing. "But I remember, we were all celebrating, we were really happy with the episode. We were kind of like, 'We can't wait to show this, the response on our message boards is gonna be so great, the fans are gonna love it.'"
But the episode, scripted by Lee Eisenberg & Gene Stupnitsky, was met by "this vitriol" when it premiered on NBC in April 2008.
"Like 'oh no, we made people so cringey-feeling that they just couldn't take it,'" Feig recalled of the now classic episode. "What's happened now is, once you've seen it once, and you get through [it], you know what'scoming, then you can really enjoy it. It's the same thing we suffered with on Freaks and Geeks. It made [viewers] too uncomfortable when they were watching it for the first time."
In a 2018 oral history by Rolling Stone celebrating the episode's ten-year anniversary, Helms called the episode a "crucible for the various relationships on the show" at that time.
"It's a tight, contained space where so many relationship issues are bubbling around between Jim and Pam, Andy and Angela, Michael and Jan," Helms said. "It's that pressure-cooker aspect that heightens everything, plus the decorum of the dinner party, the sort of need to rise to a different sort of social construct, as opposed to just being co-workers in an office space. It's just a boiling-hot crucible of comedy."
Stupinsky added the episode aimed to capture Michael "at his most pathetic," owing to his relationship with the dominating Jan, Michael's former boss.
"We kind of talked about 'The Dinner Party' as Who's Afraid of Jan Levinson-Gould? That was the inspiration for it," Stupinsky said. "And just the world's worst dinner party, the most awkward dinner party — with your boss."
Feig told Rolling Stone the episode, which won him a Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series, is the "proudest thing I've ever done in TV directing, outside of Freaks and Geeks."