Richter gives us reason to root for 'Andy Barker'
ANDY BARKER, P.I.
I'm among the handful of TV fans who fervently mourned the premature passing of "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" (Born 2002-Died 2003). Not only was it a delightfully offbeat twist on the tired sitcom, it proved that its star could shine without being joined at the hip with Conan O'Brien.
Ever since, we've been waiting for Richter to be rewarded with another TV vehicle worthy of his comedic talents. (Sorry, but "Quintuplets" didn't count). And thus, we celebrate the debut of "Andy Barker, P.I.," a highly amusing series starring Richter that -- wouldn't you know it? -- has O'Brien's fingerprints all over it.
"Barker," co-created by NBC's late-night goofball and featuring his highly whimsical sensibilities, sets up Richter as a mild-mannered accountant who opens a new office in a strip mall only to see it quickly tank.
No worries. Andy, an affable schlub, eventually stumbles into a new line of work when a mysterious woman implores him to find her husband, whom she has accused of faking his death. Turns out she has mistaken Andy for a detective who previously occupied the office space.
With nothing better to do, Andy takes the case and winds up having a blast. Explaining the thrill of crime-solving to his syrupy sweet wife (Clea Lewis), he says it gives him the same rush as "when I punch the `equals' button and the number is the same as the number on the worksheet."
"Andy Barker, P.I." is getting a brief tryout in the "30 Rock" slot and, happily, it's further proof that NBC has regained its sitcom touch. It's a quirky and wry show that floats along on its own gleeful wavelength as it wallows in absurd crime capers and spoofs 1970s-era detective shows -- complete with frantic chase scenes and amped-up dramatic music.
Greatly bolstering the enterprise is a hilarious cast that includes Tony Hale ("Arrested Development"), as a video-store clerk in the strip mall who can induce giggles with a simple arching of an eyebrow. Then there's Harve Presnell, who is a real hoot as the gruff, old-school private eye who becomes Andy's mentor, and Marshall Manesh, as a highly patriotic foreigner who runs the mall's Afghan restaurant ("MSG NO! USA YES!" reads a sign in his window).
As much fun as "Barker" is, you have to wonder if its off-the-wall silliness will play to the masses -- especially considering the brief length of its tryout (six weeks) and the competitiveness of its time slot (vs. "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI").
Clearly, the odds are once again stacked against Richter, but here's hoping he sticks around a little longer this time.
NBC has another detective debuting Thursday, but he's not nearly as much fun to be around.
He's Michael Raines (Jeff Goldblum), an eccentric LAPD homicide investigator who sees -- and talks to -- dead people. How is this any different than that other NBC drama, "Medium"? Apparently, Raines doesn't have an extra-sensory gift (no hob-nobbing with ghosts), just a very vivid imagination.
Anyway, Raines uses his hallucinations to resurrect the murder victims, who in turn, help him nail the perpetrator. The whole thing has a noirish-type feel to it as our hero is a wannabe writer who idolizes the detective-genre greats like Raymond Chandler.
Created by Graham Yost, who gave us the fantastic "Boomtown," the show certainly has a great pedigree. Ah, but don't get your hopes up. Thursday's pilot episode feels pretty predictable throughout and is marred by a sluggish pace that is in no way alleviated by Goldblum's mannered delivery.
"Raines" is scheduled to fill in for "ER" for two weeks. We'll be counting the days.
Life in Hollywood really must be the pits. How else do you explain the fact that TV writers continue to find irresistible the fantasy of retreating to some charming hometown to reconnect with the simple life and start their lives from scratch? (See: "Ed," "Judging Amy," "Providence," etc.).
The new ABC drama "October Road" marches across this familiar terrain with one key difference: The protagonist doesn't exactly get a warm welcome upon his return.
Bryan Greenberg plays Nick Garrett, a best-selling novelist, who after a 10-year absence, returns to his Massachusetts hometown to teach at the local university. Just a couple of problems: Many of his friends and neighbors are resentful over being used as fodder in his novel, and the girlfriend (Laura Prepon) he so rudely abandoned is now the single mother of a boy who could be his.
In early episodes, "October Road" occasionally overplays its hand with dialogue that is a little too precious and melodramatic situations that might have you rolling your eyes. On the other hand, Greenberg is an appealing lead and Prepon ("That `70s Show") doesn't miss a beat in making the transition from sitcom to drama. Also, Tom Berenger is a great fit as Garrett's world-weary father.
Getting a midseason tryout from ABC, "October Road" will air for at least four weeks in the post-"Grey's Anatomy" time slot.
ANDY BARKER, P.I.
When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday
When: 10 p.m. Thursday
When: 10 p.m., Thursday