Judge Erich Asperschlager is a private investigator who gets mistaken for an accountant. It's not very exciting.
Andy: "Well, it's my first day as my own boss. I don't know when I'm
gonna be home."
2009 has been a great year for Andy Richter fans. First, the cult classic TV show Andy Richter Controls the Universe got the DVD release most people who cared—this reviewer included—never thought would happen. Then, when Conan O'Brien took over for Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show, he announced that pal Richter would join him as the show's announcer. Now, Richter's other short-lived comedy series, Andy Barker, P.I., is getting the DVD release it so desperately deserves.
Andy Barker premiered on NBC in early 2007. Co-starring Arrested Development-alum Tony Hale, Marshall Manesh (How I Met Your Mother), the late Harve Presnell (Fargo), and Clea Lewis (Ellen), Barker is a fish out of water story about an unwitting accountant-turned-P.I. who uses his unique skill set to solve mysteries. Rather than the gritty "ripped from the headlines" formula of modern police procedurals, it harkens back to classic cop shows and hard-boiled detective stories. Unfortunately, it didn't last beyond the six episodes NBC originally ordered. In fact, the network pulled the plug after only four episodes, choosing to burn off the last two in an hour-long block on a Saturday night.
Sad as this tale is, it has a happy ending. Thanks to Shout! Factory, Andy Barker, P.I.: The Complete Series is coming out on DVD, giving everyone who missed it the first time the chance to discover this sharp, stylish comedy for themselves.
Facts of the Case
Andy Barker, P.I.: The Complete Series splits the show's six episodes over two discs:
• "Fairway, My Lovely"
• "Three Days of the Chicken"
• "The Big No Sleep"
• "The Lady Varnishes"
Looking back, Andy Barker boasts one of the most impressive pedigrees of any cancelled TV comedy. Conan O'Brien co-created the show with Jonathan Groff, who is now a writer/producer for the CBS hit How I Met Your Mother. Barker producers went on to big shows like Psych, Battlestar Galactica, and the Emmy-winning powerhouse 30 Rock. As for Richter, he's finally found the right TV gig for him. As O'Brien's announcer, he's seen by millions of people every night—vindication for a man who just couldn't seem to catch a break.
It's annoying that this series only lasted six episodes, but those episodes are so perfectly realized, it's hard to complain. Even with the recent trend away from multi-camera sitcoms, very few TV shows are as carefully crafted as this one. Barker is cinematic without being indulgent. It's sharply written and acted. Most importantly, it's hilarious. The comedy comes not only from the conceit of watching an accountant solve crimes, but from the fully realized characters who populate this world.
As Andy Barker, Richter plays to his strengths. No one plays flustered everyman quite as well as he does. Tony Hale plays Andy's strip mall neighbor-cum-P.I. partner Simon, an over-eager video store manager whose knowledge of obscure actors and classic film plot twists doesn't translate into real-world detective skills. Marshall Manesh plays Wally, an Afghani restaurateur who serves up equal parts U.S. rah-rah patriotism and falafel—a poster in his eatery window proudly proclaims, "MSG NO! USA YES!" But it's Harve Presnell as grizzled ex-P.I. Lew Staziak who steals the show. Every time Andy tries to extract himself from the P.I. gig, Staziak pulls him back in—giving this series about a milquetoast number-cruncher the grittiness it needs to work as a detective show. Clea Lewis, who plays Andy's wife Jenny, and MADtv's Nicole Randall Johnson, whose incompetent receptionist disappears after two episodes, aren't onscreen as much as their male counterparts, but it's impossible to imagine the show without them.
Andy Barker packed some impressive guest stars into its six episode run, including B-movie superstar Traci Lords as a sexy grifter, Nestor Carbonell (Richard Alpert on Lost) as a sleazy doctor, the hilarious Amy Sedaris as a framed dame with a wooden leg, and Ed Asner as Lew Staziak's crooked ex-partner.
Andy Barker, P.I. may have been unceremoniously shoved out the door by NBC, but Shout! Factory doesn't skimp on the DVD set. The Complete Series is presented in widescreen, with 5.1 surround, and has audio commentaries for every episode featuring just about everyone who worked on the show, including Groff, O'Brien, Richter, Hale, Lewis, Manesh, and Randall Johnson. Disc one also has the 30-minute "Writers Class 101" roundtable. More than your average featurette, the writers go into great detail about the writing process, character development, and comedy. It's fascinating. Disc two has a gag reel, and a lengthy making-of retrospective, "Going Where the Numbers Take You."
Like a fat man running a race while eating a hoagie, Andy Barker, P.I. was hilarious, hard to look away from, and tragically short-lived. The entire series runs just over two hours in total, but that shouldn't keep comedy fans from picking up this DVD set. It would be a crime not to.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Episode Commentaries
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