Andy Barker, P.I. was, by far, my favorite new series to premiere during the winter of 2007. Andy Richter’s second foray into half-hour comedy was a hybrid comedy/mystery series, co-created by executive producers Conan O’Brien and Jonathan Groff. Although a critical darling, it only lasted six episodes before vanishing from the air. Luckily, the smart people at Shout! Factory have chosen to release the entire series on this new 2-disc DVD set. In addition to each episode containing commentary by Groff and at least two cast members, there are excellent bonus features including a look back at the show with interviews with all the major players.
Richter stars as the titular character, a nerdy accountant who has always succeeded in life. When he opens a private practice in an L.A. strip mall, Andy expects business to take off. It doesn’t. Instead, he waits patiently for the hours to pass before returning home to his loving, perky wife, Jenny (Ellen’s Clea Lewis). At the strip mall, Andy quickly befriends Simon, the manager of a video store (played by the hilarious Tony Hale, late of Arrested Development) and Wally (Marshall Manesh) an Afghani restaurant owner. In the pilot, a woman mistakes Andy for Lew Staziak, a retired private investigator that used to occupy the storefront where Andy now runs his office. Although he tries to convince the woman he’s no private dick, the money she slaps down in front of him — and the intrigue of being a gumshoe — is too thrilling to pas up. Simon, a walking encyclopedia of old movies, comes along as Andy’s sidekick. Eventually Andy runs into Lew Staziak (Fargo’s Harve Presnell), and the retired tough as nails P.I. becomes Andy’s mentor.
Richter seems to have two types of characters: the lovable oaf right out of Mayberry and the snarky jerk who’s only out for himself. Fortunately in Andy Barker he plays the former. His “aw shucks” charm goes a long way and the naiveté he brings to the character helps him in all of the ridiculous situations Andy Barker gets into. If Richter is the straight man, Hale is the wild card and the perfect compliment to Richter. Together the two comics seem to be having a great time and possess the kind of on screen chemistry that makes a great comedy duo. The same goes for Lewis, who plays the dutiful wife at home. She and Richter are believable and funny as a married couple. I love Presnell in the role of Staziak, too. He approaches the role like he was in one of the detective classics Andy Barker is sending up. If at times Staziak seems out of touch, or even out of time with the modern world, it adds to the comedy. Ed Asner and Amy Sedaris guest star in the final episode, making it one of the strongest of the series and an indication that the show had potential to carry on.
With its likable, goofy and sweet cast, intelligent scripts and a quick pace full of verbal and visual gags, Andy Barker had all the hallmarks to be a classic series. If memory serves me correctly, NBC promoted the hell out of the premiere, offering the pilot free on iTunes and having it available on their website. For whatever reason the show did not catch on, a great disappointment for those of us who watched it when it aired and rewound our DVRs to catch new jokes during repeated viewings. The sting of that disappointment is finally alleviated thanks to this collection by Shout! Factory.