Frances Fisher

Andy Richter does not control the universe, but it would be splendid if he could carve out a half-hour of primetime. After striking out with his underappreciated Fox series, he's back with another clever single-camera comedy that turns him into a latter-day Walter Mitty -- an accountant who occupies a private eye's former office and starts catching cases.

Andy Richter does not control the universe, but it would be splendid if he could carve out a half-hour of primetime. After striking out with his underappreciated Fox series, he’s back with another clever single-camera comedy that turns him into a latter-day Walter Mitty — an accountant who occupies a private eye’s former office and starts catching cases. Filled with knowing references to movies such as “Chinatown” and a top-notch supporting cast, “Andy Barker, P.I.” should earn critical praise, but that won’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world if it can’t find an audience.

Created by Richter’s former boss Conan O’Brien and Jonathan Groff (“Father of the Pride”), “Andy Barker” might be too hip for the room, beginning with its Quinn Martin-like credit sequence. Number-cruncher Andy leaves chirpy wife Jen (Clea Lewis) as he embarks on a new adventure as a solo accountant, only to have a mysterious woman waltz into his office, hand him cash and ask him to find her missing husband.

Andy is clued in to the history of his new digs by Simon (“Arrested Development’s” Tony Hale, again hilarious), a video-store worker who, in a later episode, hits on Andy’s African-American assistant by asking if she’s ever seen “Jungle Fever.” Andy’s posse grows to include another local store owner (Marshall Manesh) and the retired detective (“Fargo’s” Harve Presnell), whose response to every situation is to slap someone around or kick them in the nuts.

The premiere, perhaps out of necessity, devotes most of its time to establishing the premise, which is fleshed out wonderfully in the second and third installments, with the reluctant Andy thwarting crime bosses, often using his tax-cracking talents to save the day.

Doughy and bland, Richter remains an unlikely TV star, but he’s an appealing one, and the yeoman support from Hale, Manesh, Presnell and Lewis clearly lightens the load.

Even so, the show’s wry, media-savvy sensibility has historically been a tough sell on a mass scale, more suited to the less-demanding confines of O’Brien’s latenight slot or cable than Thursdays on what NBC now less ambitiously calls “Comedy Night Done Right.”

In the blessing/curse dept., “30 Rock,” which the series spells, has enjoyed critical support but only mediocre ratings, setting the bar relatively low for NBC to give “Andy Barker” the second look that, based strictly on execution, the show clearly deserves.

Ultimately, though, it will all come down to crunching the numbers, where Andy might discover that the Nielsen arbiters are every bit as unyielding as those at the IRS.

Andy Barker, P.I.

NBC, Thurs. March 15, 9:30 P.M.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Red Pulley Prods. and Conaco in association with NBC Universal Television Studio. Executive producers, Conan O'Brien, David Kissinger, Jonathan Groff, Jeff Ross; co-executive producers, Peter Schindler, Chuck Tatham; producer, Andy Richter; director, Jason Ensler; writers, O'Brien, Groff.

Crew

Camera, Byron Shah; editor, Jeffrey Wolf; music, Adam Cohen; production designer, Aaron Osborne; casting, Brett Greenstein, Collin Daniel. Running time: 30 MIN.

Cast

Andy Barker - Andy Richter Jen Barker - Clea Lewis Simon - Tony Hale Lew Staziak - Harve Presnell Wally - Marshall Manesh
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