Who's the (new) boss? It was the question on every Office fan's mind ever since Steve Carell announced in June 2010 that he planned to leave Scranton for good at the end of Season 7. In the end, it took more than a year for Dunder Mifflinites to get their man — Andy Bernard — but star Ed Helms believes the waiting game was actually a blessing.
"I think it gave us all time to just sort of zen out about it and come to terms with whatever it might be," Helms told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.
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But how exactly did the Nard Dog get one of the most coveted jobs on prime-time TV? Despite the stiff competition from both inside the office (Jim, Dwight, Darryl) and outside of the company (season finale guest stars such as Ray Romano, Jim Carrey and Catherine Tate applied for the gig), executive producer Paul Lieberstein says it was one of the big similarities between Michael and Andy — their emotional investment in their co-workers — that made Andy the right candidate. "He cares about people more than he does about the product," he says. "Andy is someone who is really caring and interested and empathetic. Any little problem that anybody's having, he would feel very deeply, which makes him very suited to be a comic lead in the show."
However, life at the regional paper company will be far from just another day at the office. While viewers were first introduced to the team years into Michael Scott's reign as regional manager, Andy is just now learning what it takes to be the boss. "The biggest difference right out of the gate is that Michael was a well-established manager for much of his run at Dunder Mifflin and that Andy is just finding that. It's a fresh new thing," Helms says. "Andy's leadership is a little bit of an open question and that's what I'm really excited to flesh out."
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But learning how to lead the team won't be Andy's only obstacle. Now that he's in charge, expect other changes to the Dunder Mifflin landscape:
Andy isn't the only new boss in town: Unlike Michael, who only had to deal with the occasional visit from Jan and, later, Jo, Andy will have to contend with the big presence of Sabre CEO Robert California (James Spader) in the office, which should prove to be an interesting match. "One of the things we're most delighted about is how Andy manages upward and how both scared he is and courageous he is at the very same time when dealing with Robert California," Lieberstein says. Adds Helms: "Robert California is a kind of an aggressively confident person who seems to take a lot of pleasure in exerting his power and that is a really crazy energy because it's so new to Dunder Mifflin and it's not something that Andy Bernard is particularly well equipped to deal with."
There's no easy answer for Andy and Erin: Sure, Erin (Ellie Kemper) is no longer tied down by her wet blanket of a boyfriend, but that doesn't mean she'll be jumping into Andy's arms. "They're a pretty odd pair because they have very strong emotions and very poor communication skills. And there's always been something kind of charming about watching them try to connect and try to communicate," Helms says. "Of course now with Andy's new boss position, there's a power dynamic that comes into play which just makes all of that tension and awkwardness that much more difficult. And things do get tricky, especially around Halloween."
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Dwight will actually help, not hinder, Andy: First, they fought over Michael and the No. 2 office position (which actually belonged to Jim). Then, they fought over Angela. But now that Andy has defeated Scranton's longtime assistant in landing the regional manager's post, how will Dwight (Rainn Wilson) handle it? "Dwight is someone who responds very well to a firm hand of leadership, which Andy is still sort of searching for a little bit. But I'm really excited that in that first episode we started to just see the very first inklings of a backbone in Andy," Helms says. "It makes Andy's leadership more plausible in a way and also shows you a lot of where Andy still has to go and where he has to travel. Dwight provides a constant friction for that."
Gabe is, like, so the new Toby: For years, Toby (Lieberstein) was Michael's Achilles' heel — the one person who could always bring him down from even the highest of free-pretzel-day sugar highs. So who gets the honor of being Andy's foil? "I feel like in some respects Gabe (Zach Woods) is Andy's Toby," Helms says. "We saw a little hint of that on 'The List' episode. But Gabe certainly has been Andy's nemesis in love with Erin."
Expect music (and fireworks!) when Andy's brother stops by: This season will see an appearance from the Bernard clan — including Andy's brother played by Josh Groban. "Josh's appearance is part of a really exciting episode for me and for Andy because it's really where we learn a lot about Andy and not all of it's good. Some of it's sort of poignant. Of course there is some fun music that gets mixed in there too," Helms says. "I'll just say that there is some rivalry, but it takes a compelling turn that is unexpected. ... I'm excited to show the fans where and how Josh's character fits into Andy's life and also what it means for who Andy is."
The Office airs Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC.