It was Andy Bernard! That’s who got tapped as Dunder Mifflin’s new regional manager unveiled Thursday night on NBC as “The Office” started its eighth season — its first without star Steve Carell.
The surprise promotion of Andy (well, we never saw it coming!) — played by Ed Helms — was revealed at the very beginning of the episode. He explained how it happened, but since the explanation was typical Andy, who tends to confuse matters, we’re not 100 percent sure how it came to pass.
From what we could determine, from piecing together the story from Andy’s explanation and one offered by Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) of the office’s “search committee,” the job applicant named Robert California (James Spader) actually got the job last spring.
But according to Jim, California walked in for his first day of work, took one look at the staff, turned on his heels and then drove all the way to Florida, where the charismatic character somehow persuaded company owner Jo (played last season by Kathy Bates) to basically give him her title of CEO. So he took over the entire paper company and somehow, Andy became regional manager in Scranton.
Or so it seemed. Whatever happened, both Andy and California were ensconced in the Scranton office as the new season opened. Certainly, the presence of the new CEO, who had set up his temporary office in the conference room, unsettled the staff, especially when they came across a mysterious list the new chief exec had jotted down in a notebook he left at the front desk — with their names arranged in two columns with no headings.
Naturally, the staff concluded the names represented those who the new boss was thinking of firing or keeping. In the end, we never did find out definitively what the list meant. Our take is: This new boss left the undefined list on the front desk on purpose, as some way to divide the office, and also to motivate them. Later in the episode, he continued his divisive tactics when he took half the office out to lunch and then labeled those left back at the the office as “losers.” He pretended he said that accidentally, but we suspect he dropped that bomb on purpose too.
Whatever he was plotting, the strategy at least seemed to work on Andy, who asserted himself at the episode’s end in a way we’d never seen before.
The real question is: Why’d the producers settle on Andy/Ed Helms instead of some new star cast from outside the show? Or, perhaps more importantly, will this casting move help us move on from memories of Steve Carell?
We have to admit: We definitely felt his absence while watching the Thursday premiere — kind of the same way we felt last spring when watching the final episodes of last season, after he’d left, and Will Ferrell turned up as a guest-star for some of them.
As for the first question above: Maybe Andy was chosen for a very simple reason — thanks to the “Hangover” movies, Ed Helms is now the biggest star on “The Office.” Maybe NBC insisted he be elevated to star of the sitcom and that was that. Of course, we’ve always found Helms easy to like. And we’re hoping we’ll become accustomed to him in his new role as the season continues.
Truth be told: We’re still shocked that news of Ed Helms becoming star of “The Office” — in an episode filmed in gossipy Hollywood more than a month ago — never leaked out from the “Office” set, and the surprise was preserved until this week. Amazing!