The Office: The Character That The Show Kept Changing
Try to follow the character evolution of The Office’s Andy Bernard and you might need a neck brace from the comedy whiplash. It’s hard to think of a sitcom character who underwent so many changes from series start to finish. What in the heck were the writers thinking? That’s exactly what we’re going to try to decipher.
We meet Andy Bernard 1.0 in Season 3 -- an unctuous go-getter who’ll use any manipulative trick in the book to get ahead. He’s the kind of guy who forever calls you Tuna if you bring the wrong sandwich for lunch one day. Essentially, the office cock-a-doodle douche.
What were the writers thinking? OK, Jim’s got a job in a new office. There’s no Dwight to harass. Jim needs an antagonist! Boom: We’ll invent Andy Bernard.
Andy Bernard 1.1 transfers to the Scranton branch, personality intact. Although now we’re getting the idea that the guy might have some very real anger issues.
What were the writers thinking? As Stamford branch employees drop one by one after the transfer, Andy is one of the last guys standing. A violent outburst would have been a great way to write him out of the show. But Ed Helms turned out to be so darn likable -- even when acting the jerk -- that the writers needed to soften him up and keep him around. Which leads to …
Andy Bernard 2.0 returns from anger management a new man. He even has a new name to reflect his evolved persona, though no one will call him Drew. Even Andy’s wardrobe softens as he transforms into an acapella-loving sweetheart who’ll do anything to win Angela’s heart. The manipulator is now the manipulated, climbing any wedding planning mountain to please his lady love.
What were the writers thinking? Andy’s change here mirrors the work writers did with Michael Scott from Season 1 to Season 2. In both cases, writers realized that while Michael and Andy could be deeply flawed, they also needed to be vulnerable and inherently good guys for the audience to love them. And both times, it worked. At this point, Andy’s change is even more believable than Michael’s -- at least he went through an anger management program to motivate his new outlook on life.
But once Angela is out of the picture, we’re on to Andy Bernard 3.0 -- the aimless fool in pursuit of Erin. It’s a less pathetic version of Andy 2.0 -- he’s no longer being controlled -- but also strangely more aggressive. He’s almost confrontational in setting up their first date.
What were the writers thinking? With Jim and Pam finally past their will-they-or-won’t-they? phase, the writers needed a new budding romance to capture audience attention. Andy and Erin made sense, but just putting them together eliminates two seasons’ worth of storylines. So let’s let ‘em dangle for a while.
Andy Bernard 4.0 finds himself in a position he says he never expected: The boss. (Which makes no sense since Andy Bernard 1.0 was clearly angling for the job from the get-go.) This version of Boss Andy is vulnerable -- he admits to Jim that he doesn’t know what he’s doing and he gets a tattoo in an attempt to win over his office underlings.
What were the writers thinking? The show is floundering and we need a new Michael Scott! Flawed, likable, vulnerable! Can Helms do it?
Who knows? Because without warning, Andy Bernard 5.0 transforms into someone else entirely -- borderline abusive to office employees (especially Nellie Bertram) and completely irresponsible as he disappears for a Caribbean cruise. What?
What were the writers thinking? Now writers are dealing with an offscreen reality -- with the release of The Hangover, Ed Helms is now a massive movie star with big opportunities to make more. That means Helms isn’t always available for Office filming, a problem when he’s ostensibly the lead character. Hence: A cruise? There was probably a more graceful solution.
Our final look at Andy is a man who has been turned into a national joke, courtesy of an awkward acapella audition tape that went viral. It’s a fitting comeuppance for Andy Bernards 1.0, 1.1, and 5.0 -- but a sad ending for the sweet, awkward Andys who only wanted his father’s approval.
Some of him deserved better.
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Top image: NBCUniversal