I think Ed Helms is a great comic actor, but Andy Bernard is a bad character on The Office. It’s clear they mapped out a starting point for him where he’s this duplicitous little weasel; a kind of comic foil for Jim in Stamford but who’s different from Dwight. The character then reaches his zenith (or nadir, depending on how you look at it) when he punches the wall and has to go to anger management. When he comes back, it’s clear that the writers aren’t exactly sure what to do with him but Helms is making the most of it. They try to refashion Andy into a sweet, well-meaning nerd whose bravado was covering up for his duplicity. They then tried to get a new Jim/Pam thing going with Andy and Erin but it never clicked despite the strong performances from Helms and Ellie Kemper.
So why did Andy, the show’s weakest character, end up replacing Michael when Steve Carell left the series? An except [via Rolling Stone] from an upcoming oral history of the show, Andy Greene‘s The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, sheds some light on exactly what happened. Most of the writers he talks to think that Dwight would have been the better choice. They felt that making Dwight manager would have ultimately challenged him in ways that would force him to grow and change whereas Andy was too much like Michael: a people pleaser who was too insecure to be a leader. Aaron Shure was the lone voice of dissent on why Dwight shouldn’t be manager:
I did not think Dwight should be the boss because I think Dwight is not as benign as Michael Scott. He’s like this weird amalgam of Mennonite and Star Trek nerd. There’s just so many candy bags to draw from that he carries around that I was worried that if we gave him the boss position it would just be disastrous. I also didn’t want Dwight to be empowered because I was afraid he wouldn’t be funny anymore with power. It’s funny if he sets the office on fire and blowtorches all the doorknobs. But if he did that all day long without any sort of check on his behavior, it would be terrifying.
With most of the writers pushing for Dwight to replace Michael, why did the gig ultimately go to Andy? Because of The Hangover. Writer Brent Forrester explains:
The writers and the cast, generally speaking, were really excited about Dwight becoming the boss. It just felt correct, and that was our creative thrust. Mostly it was pushback from the network saying, “Well. Is there someone more famous that we can put in here?” Of course, the creators always bristle at that and just want to do the right thing creatively. That was a big thing. But Ed Helms had this giant advantage because of course he was in The Hangover. Not to completely read the minds of the network, but that was my understanding of how that decision got made.
That’s a bad reason! And the consequences of that action were borne out in the final seasons with Andy failing to center the show despite Helms’ comic talents. Again, Andy isn’t a well-defined character, and you see that on overdrive in the final seasons as the show basically tosses him around to whatever kind of personality they need him to be. If they need him to be loving and selfless he’ll do that. But after fighting to regain control of the office from Robert California (James Spader), he throws it all away to be on a singing competition? Andy sucks.
The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s hits shelves on March 24th.