Writing Characters People Love: Why Andy Bernard is No Michael Scott (Or, Why It’s Easy to Love a Shmuck With High Ideals)

Oh, The Office, how did you let this happen?  With all the build-up over who would succeed Michael Scott as boss, you picked the wrong man.  Don’t get me wrong, Andy Bernard’s insecure and obliviously unself-aware dork is often amusing.  And Ed Helms has absolutely nailed the stiff-legged physicality of Andy’s pastel chino-wearing White Guy.  But ultimately, Andy Bernard’s a shmuck.  And audiences don’t want to root for guys like that, unless, of course, there’s something underneath the schmucky exterior.

Take Michael Scott for example.  The guy was the very definition of a jerk—egotistical, self-absorbed, immature, with a self-perception that bordered on (and often crossed into) delusion.  But the thing about Michael Scott was that we loved him despite all that.  Or maybe even because of it.  Wherein lies the very reason Michael Scott was such a brilliant character—because his greatest flaw, his total ineptitude, also doubled as his greatest talent.

Interestingly, Andy Bernard and Michael Scott share many personality traits.  Yet, I find it impossible to care about Andy Bernard’s downtrodden goober, whereas I rooted for the highly flawed Michael Scott right from the get-go.  And here’s why.  When writing highly flawed characters—and all of your character should have flaws—it’s important to give readers (or audiences) access to that character’s vibrant inner life.  What do your characters think about in bed at night when they’re all alone?  What makes their heart sing?  And which of their secret innermost desires breaks our hearts, even just a little?

Michael Scott wore his grandiose delusions on his sleeve.  And even though we laughed at them, the unabashedly bold scope of these ridiculous dreams was always something to admire. Andy Bernard, in contrast, has no high ideals.  Yes, they’ve tried to make us root for him by tossing him the unrequited love plotline with Erin.  But the poor guy’s inability to admit his love for the woman he wants makes him come across as more of a sad sack than a tragic hero.  Why?  BECAUSE WE NEVER GET TO SEE ANDY SEE HIMSELF AS A HERO.  Not once have we been allowed to see Andy picture himself as the man he hopes to be.  And even if he’ll never step up to become his higher self, the hope that he will, however repressed or foolish, NEEDS TO BE THERE.

The whole reason human beings love to root for the underdog is because we see that small glimmer of promise twinkling in a character’s eye.  But sadly, we can’t root for our characters to overcome their miserable lives unless they first imagine it for themselves.

Published by hilarywgraham

TV writer, screenwriter, author

One thought on “Writing Characters People Love: Why Andy Bernard is No Michael Scott (Or, Why It’s Easy to Love a Shmuck With High Ideals)

  1. Very well-written. I haven’t seen much of season 8, I find it has strayed from its roots, but I’ve noticed that at season 6. I guess after so many seasons writers have to find SOMEthing to come up with. I’ve had quite a few yawns since Andy became boss, or lack thereof. I’ve also found that the subtleness and home-grown charm has worn off. That’s just my opinion though

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s