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The Office Fan Theory That Explains Why Michael Scott Hates Toby

When you think of the most beloved television shows of the past few decades, The Office likely comes to mind right away, and whether you've only seen a few episodes or can recite most of the series from memory, it's easy to understand why the show has remained a pop culture phenomenon for nearly two decades. It got off to a relatively inauspicious start as a remake of the British series of the same name, it didn't seem like a particularly good idea — but after nine successful seasons on NBC, a devoted fan base, and critical acclaim, it became clear that The Office was not only a great idea, but a game changer.

One of the factors that made The Office so successful (beyond great writing, a groundbreaking mockumentary framework, and excellent comedic performances by the entire cast) is its string of instantly recognizable running jokes. Among those, a longtime favorite is the one-sided animosity between Dunder Mifflin manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and its human resources representative, Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein). Throughout the series, Michael's hatred for Toby remains constant and vicious, and leads to everything from repeated insults to weird acts of "revenge," like when Michael tries to plant "drugs" in Toby's desk and get him fired (not realizing it's actually just a bag of caprese salad).

Michael and Toby's ongoing feud is pretty funny, but naturally, the internet has come up with some fan theories as to why Michael could possibly hate Toby this much. Here's one reason that might explain it.

One Redditor may have found the reason Michael hates Toby

One Redditor, Athena_Nikephoros, has a pretty solid explanation as to why Michael could possibly hate Toby, and it comes down to one defining moment of Toby's life: his divorce (via ScreenRant).

The Office doesn't typically spend too much time on its characters' backstories or family histories, but audiences are repeatedly reminded of a few things involving divorce, both of which are related to Michael and Toby. Toby goes through a divorce early in the series, and Michael never fails to remind him of that fact, but as the theory goes, Michael's obsession with Toby's marital problems might be related to his own life.

When recounting traumatic moments from his own life, Michael frequently mentions his mom's "friend" Jeff, whom she married during his childhood — apparently after his real father took off. Michael even mentions his birth father during an HR session with Toby, but is mostly reticent about what happened to him, and ultimately, he seems filled with resentment towards his mother and Jeff for changing his life so radically. 

Even in the aftermath of his divorce, Toby appears to be an involved and caring father, remaining a big part of his daughter Sasha's life, but it's possible that Michael harbors resentment for Toby for splitting up his family, reminding Michael of his own childhood trauma — which is to say nothing of the fact that Michael desperately wants a wife and kids, which Toby has seemingly given up. As our intrepid Redditor points out, Michael's sense of subtlety and nuance is extraordinarily lacking, so he may conflate Toby's divorce with his own past in a way that makes him hate Toby with every fiber of his being.

Behind the scenes of Michael's hatred for Toby

Fans can theorize forever about why exactly Michael hates Toby, but according to Lieberstein, who also served as a writer and executive producer on the show, Carell came up with the bit right from the beginning.

After an early episode where Toby steals the joke Michael was going to make on a coworker's birthday card (in a scene that never even made it to air), Lieberstein explained the moment to 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." Lieberstein continued, "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."

Michael Scott's hatred of Toby might be unfounded or be due to a very specific reason, but just like The Office's various running gags, it's kept fans guessing and entertained for years. If you want to relive their feud, The Office is currently streaming on Netflix, though it will eventually move to NBC Universal's new streaming service, Peacock.