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The Office: The Reason Michael Scott Hates Toby Flenderson So Much

The Office, which has become one of the most beloved television comedies of all time, was home to plenty of running gags, but one of them stands out from all the rest — specifically, the explosive, hateful tension between Dunder Mifflin regional manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein), who works as the office's human resources representative.

Throughout the series, Michael spends an inordinate amount of time antagonizing Toby — yelling at him during meetings and trying to frame him by hiding "drugs" in his desk (luckily for Toby, Michael can't tell the difference between marijuana and a Caprese salad). However, he never totally explains why he hates Toby so much.

In real life, Steve Carell was the mastermind behind this contentious dynamic — and Michael's long-standing hatred of Toby was born quickly and early on.

Speaking with The Daily Beast, Paul Lieberstein, who also wrote extensively for the show, revealed the background of the relationship between Michael and Toby. In a scene during the season 1 episode "The Alliance," Michael desperately tries to think of a joke for a co-worker's birthday card (while avoiding the fact that he must figure out which employee he will later lay off). Then, Toby inadvertently steals the joke Michael is considering. After he makes Toby cross out the joke, Michael gets even angrier, calling Toby an "a**" for ruining the card entirely.

As Lieberstein told the Daily Beast, "I just go in, write something quickly, and leave — that's the scene. But it takes me a while to physically write it, and I could just feel him watching me, and feel that burning. Steve [Carell] told me afterwards that it was in that moment that he just decided to hate me so much... it's terrifying acting with Steve. He misses nothing. If you slip in any way, he pounces — just in a fun way, but it's embarrassing."

Turns out Carell's instincts were right on the mark. Over years of Office marathons, fans have become obsessed with Michael's seemingly inexplicable hatred of Toby. Throughout the show, Michael openly mocks Toby for being alone and divorced, threatens Toby's life, calls him names like "a waste" and an "evil snail," and wishes Toby would just die already. When Toby briefly leaves for Costa Rica, Michael is elated — but when he returns to the office shortly after, Michael absolutely loses it (a moment that ultimately led to a classic meme). Michael even goes so far as to say that if he had a gun with two bullets and he was in a room with Adolf Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and Toby, he would "shoot Toby twice." (He later says he'd kill Toby and Bin Laden, but still.)

It might seem like Michael is a bit over-the-top with his hatred of Toby, but it may also be true that Toby isn't exactly the best person in the office. He can be overtly creepy — after harboring a longtime crush on Pam (Jenna Fischer), he puts an unwelcome hand on her leg just before announcing his temporary move to Costa Rica — and lots of viewers think he might actually be the Scranton Strangler, a menacing presence mentioned throughout the series. (After The Office ended, the minds behind the show seemed to confirm the theory by uploading a Making a Murderer-style video addressing the entire thing.)

A distaste for HR as a whole seems to run throughout the series during most of its early seasons. In the third season, when Ryan Howard (B.J. Novak) ends up securing the job that Michael, Jim (John Krasinski), and Karen (Rashida Jones) all interviewed for, Dunder Mifflin head honcho David Wallace (Andy Buckley) tells Ryan that the only bad thing about the New York office is the unpleasant HR rep. However, that all gets turned on its head when Holly Flax (Amy Ryan), Toby's replacement, is introduced. The irony of Michael falling in love with his HR rep is pretty clear, and when she gets transferred to Nashua and Toby returns, Michael's animosity only intensifies.

The Office has earned its place in television history for plenty of reasons, from its brilliant performances to sharp writing to groundbreaking mockumentary style, but jokes like this one are what elevated the show from good to great. And even though poor Lieberstein had to take plenty of pretend abuse on set, it's clear that it made for incredible television.