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Andy Barker, P.I.: The Complete Series

(NBC; US DVD: 17 Nov 2009)

Andy Barker, P.I. ran for just six episodes in 2007 as a mid-season replacement on NBC’s Thursday night comedy lineup. Co-created by Conan O’Brien and Jonathan Groff, a former staff writer on O’Brien’s show, the series stars frequent O’Brien collaborator Andy Richter in the title role as Barker, a mild-mannered CPA who accidentally gets pulled into doing detective work when he opens up his own office in a shopping plaza. Andy quickly befriends Simon (Tony Hale), owner of the plaza’s video store, and Wally (Marshall Manesh), the Afghani owner of a highly patriotic kabob restaurant. 


With only six half-hour episodes created, Andy Barker, P.I.’s potential was largely left untapped. After setting up the unconventional cast of characters and the series’ premise, the show was just starting to settle into itself. Then it was canceled. 


As the show revolved around Andy’s almost easygoing approach to solving the various cases that fall into his lap, he frequently uses his background as an accountant as a skill set in his detective work. Andy is meticulous and detail-oriented – essentially, a stickler – and this character trait works well in establishing him as the grounding force in a world of wacky cases and antics involving his well-meaning, but frequently inept friends.


Andy’s new office was previously Lew Staziak’s (Harve Presnell) private detective office. Lew is straight out of a ‘40s pulp novel. He is all noirish affectations and fast-talking witticisms and he quickly becomes a strange sort of mentor to Andy. Their relationship is one of the more engaging aspects of the series. Again, Andy is the sensible one while Lew is impulsive and brash. Presnell plays Lew as imposing and over-the-top and his delivery of classic pulp detective dialogue are some of the funniest moments in the series.


The series shifts back and forth between Andy’s work and time spent in the shopping plaza and his home life. Jenny (Clea Lewis) is Andy’s wife and essentially, a female Andy. Initially hesitant about Andy’s new venture, she quickly comes around and is supportive, if at times taken aback by the seedier elements of his new work. She and Andy both have an innocence and goodness about them, punctuated by inoffensive exclamations such as “Mother Hubbard”, that makes it easy to root for the Barkers. 


In many ways, Andy Barker, P.I. resembles another NBC show, Chuck. However, where Chuck benefits from being a full hour long, Andy Barker, P.I.’s half-hour format can be somewhat limiting. The series attempts to weave mystery and comedy and while the humor works quite well, the mystery aspect suffers. For instance, the first two episodes rely rather heavily on videotaped evidence to solve a case and the culprit is usually obvious right from the beginning. While neither Andy Barker, P.I. nor Chuck pretend to be a gritty, suspenseful series, Chuck is able to mix these elements in with the comedy much more deftly. 


The real strength of Andy Barker, P.I. lies in its characters and their ridiculous quirks. Tony Hale’s Simon is particularly outrageous as Andy’s self-appointed partner in crime-solving. Simon always thinks he’s unraveled the mystery through his film knowledge and his misplaced confidence works very well against Andy’s more level-headed approach. Simon is also infatuated with Nicole, Andy’s office assistant. He spends all of their interactions making inappropriate interracial innuendos. His over-the-top sexual advances, including one involving a black and white cookie, are particularly hilarious.


Wally is the character with the most potential to be a caricature, but Manesh does a nice job of keeping him just the right amount off center. A running gag involving surveillance cameras hidden in the busts of American presidents is used frequently in some aspect of Andy’s detective work. Wally’s exaggerated patriotism and sincerity is one of the funnier ongoing jokes in the episodes.


While Andy Barker, P.I. never really got the chance to fully realize its potential, these six episodes are a good showcase for what could’ve been a very funny series. Much of the credit goes to the cast, as they clearly had a lot of fun with the material. Unfortunately, the premise may have been a little too weird for it to really gain enough viewers right off the bat. Given more time, it may have found its footing and an audience.


The bonus features include commentary tracks for each of the six episodes, featuring Conan O’Brien, Jonathan, Groff, Richter, and various cast members. There is also a featurette on the making of the series that offers insight into the premise and plans for the series had it not been canceled so quickly; as well as a gag reel.

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J.M. Suarez has been a contributing writer at PopMatters since 2008. She's happy to talk about TV any time, any place. Really.


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