The Tragical History of the Nard-Dog

I could argue that The Office is not an ensemble comedy but actually a tragedy about the fall of Mr. Andrew Bernard, Cornell alumnus and life’s quintessential also-ran.

At first he’s a blowhard, subduing the usually unflappable Jim Halpert when Jim first transfers to the Stamford, Connecticut office of Dunder Mifflin to sling paper. Andy sums up our regular protagonist, Jim, with one look at his sandwich, dubbing Jim “Big Tuna.” In contrast to Jim’s repartee with Dwight Schrute back in Scranton, Pennsylvania’s office, Jim seems deferential toward Andy. Andy is loud and obnoxious and relatively humorless—like Dwight—but Jim either hasn’t been around him long enough while the Stamford branch exists to repeat the constant pranks he played on Dwight—or else he’s afraid to. One prank results in an Andy meltdown that makes Jim cower just a bit—something Dwight’s rage could never do.

The next time Andy takes the spotlight he’s making holes in the walls of Dunder Mifflin, Scranton. Anger Management appears to change the man, and in fact it deflates Andy, more or less, for the rest of the series. While in control of his anger, it appears that all that remains to fill the void of Andy’s rage is his repressed sadness. His parents deemed him enough of a failure to give his original name, Walter, Jr., to his younger brother and offered him the name Andy as a consolation prize. His glory days at Cornell that he holds so dear are merely the result of his family connections. His ping-ponging relationships with the women of the office all end poorly, either with him as the pathetic cuckold or as the oblivious, self-centered man-child he turns out to be. We cannot hate the man, and we pity him more often than not: while everyone else in the office appears to be slowly getting what they want, Andy keeps slipping down one rung after another.

Even as manager, he is usurped almost immediately. Someone is able to simply walk in and take his chair, and he cannot claim it back. This is likely because he knows he’s a sham as a manager, just as he’s been at everything else. His parents are bemused by him, at best. His lovers are confused. His friends are few. His dreams are pared down little by little to such basic pieces—sailing the boat, throwing a party, holding a work position through merit, for once in his life—that when they all eventually fall apart he becomes a tragic figure.

There are moments where he finds himself surrounded by friends, or in a good relationship, or recognized for his small accomplishments, but these do not rectify Andy’s tragedy, but only heighten it. He was not an evil man, he was simply misplaced. While the office rises, he has to fall further and further. As the episodes show us more and more of the man, peeling back layers on the gruff guy from Connecticut, they seem to remove layers of competence, agency, and satisfaction with them.

A documentary crew can uncover an awful lot of material given time enough. Andy Bernard was the biggest casualty of Dunder Mifflin’s documentary.