Andy Richter: Pilot (2002) TV Review

Thirty-minute sitcoms are a dime a dozen in TV land. Shows like “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” are called mid-season replacements, which, as the name implies, means they are “replacements” for shows that have either been cancelled or didn’t quite make it through their current year. Shows with low ratings are scrapped by the networks (or they go “on hiatus” — in TV speak “on hiatus” is the kiss of death) and new shows inserted into their time slot to see if they’ll “hit.” If a mid-season replacement show doesn’t hit, it’s not considered a big loss, since the networks don’t produce many, and thus they lose very little money if the shows don’t succeed. This is why when a TV network puts money into the production of a show, they’ll hype it ad nauseam and insert the show in a prime spot on their rotation, usually after their biggest hits. For the FOX network, this is Sundays, wedged between “The Simpsons” and FOX’s current big hit, “Malcolm in the Middle.”

After a long self-imposed disappearance from TV, Conan O’Brien’s former TV talk show sidekick, Andy Richter, re-emerges with a new sitcom on the FOX network called (appropriately enough) “Andy Richter Controls the Universe.” Richter, of course, stars as Andy (last name unmentioned), a technical manual writer for the “5th largest company in the world” (a sort of G.E.), who dreams of being a writer. Andy is a creative fellow who daydreams his way through his 8-hour shift. On this particular day, Andy has just been given a new officemate without being informed, and who he takes an immediate disliking to. The new officemate, a manic-depressive name Byron, is the new illustrator on Andy’s current writing gig. We also meet Andy’s friends: Keith (James Patrick Stuart), a man so handsome that people practically gives him money just for being so handsome; and Jessica, Andy’s department boss, who is a long-time friend, and who once considered dating him until both realized they had zero chemistry. And then there’s Wendy (Irene Malloy), the new and very pretty receptionist who Andy has a crush on, and who Keith has already slept with. Uh oh. (Well, no… Read on.)

Being that “Andy Richter” is a sitcom and only has 22-minutes of running time (minus commercials) to set up its premise and convince us to come back, the show does a very good job. There are a lot of chuckles to be had, but no real laugh-out loud moments. Luckily the show does have a lot of “chuckle time” and most of them involve Andy’s creative daydreams. Although they’re not actually “daydreams,” but more like scenarios that occur inside Andy’s head when he’s faced with difficult or awkward situations. Most of the scenarios are humorous and gets to the point very quickly, which are both pluses since there are a lot of them. For instance, whenever he encounters the attractive Wendy, the lights dim all around them and people disappear until only Andy and Wendy are left standing in the spotlight. Of course, the glimpses into Andy’s scenarios aren’t anything new. A lot of shows have done it over the years, and even “Ally McBeal” has used it every now and then. What does make “Andy Richter”‘s scenarios stand out is that they are the kinds of scenarios that only writers think about doing.

“Andy Richter” was created and produced by Victor Fresco, who also wrote the pilot. Andy Richter has producing credit, but then what star whose name is also on the title of his/her own TV show doesn’t? This means I don’t know if Richter contributed anything to the show except his presence. (I know what you’re thinking: “But the show is named after him!” Well, there’s been a lot of shows with actor’s names in the title, and we all know most of them weren’t very good — yes, I’m talking about the actors and the show.)

Not surprisingly, Andy Richter is very likeable as Andy, and a lot of writers out there will see themselves in him. (Having liked him as Conan O’Brien’s sidekick for years, I always found the big man (he’s somewhere around 6’2″) to be very likeable, a sort of Everyman with a sharp wit.) A well-known screenwriter once wrote that the real reason people become writers is because they wish they could go back in time, to some moment in their life and change what happened by doing something, or saying something else, other than what they originally did or said at the time. This “different” action or dialogue, of course, transfers into the action or dialogue they write for other people (themselves by way of fiction). This is probably also the case for a lot of people who aren’t writers, since how many of us can look back at our past and say we did and said everything right the first time we had the chance?

“Andy Richter” is a funny show with a lot of potential. The cast is very affable, and as Andy likes to say to people in the episode, he’s very shy and it’s “endearing.” The only weak spot I can possibly see among the cast is Irene Malloy (Wendy), who is indeed a pretty face, but I’m not sure if she’s up to the task of playing Andy’s would-be love interest. The rest of the cast seems to have a much better grip on their characters, in particular James Stuart as Keith, Andy’s he’s-so-handsome-he-should-be-shot best friend. Byron, the nervous manic-depressive has a lot of potential, as do Jessica, Andy’s boss, who is equally interesting and sexy. Oh, and there’s a recurring character who is the now-deceased founder of the company Andy works for, who is something of a cranky racist, and pops up every now and then to insult Andy. His scenes are probably the only ones that had me almost laughing out loud.

“Andy Richter” is good for a chuckle — a lot of chuckles, actually — and has potential to be a really funny show. I might be one of the few people who don’t find FOX’s “Malcolm in the Middle” to be particularly funny (or much of FOX’s current “comedy” line-up, actually), so maybe “Andy Richter” works on me at a level that I’m more familiar with. Whatever the case, “Andy Richter” is definitely a charming little show that deserves a better timeslot than 7:30p.m. on Tuesdays. Its premiere episode should have been shown right after “The Simpsons” and before “Malcolm in the Middle” on Sundays, FOX’s only real “powerhouse” day. The fact that it wasn’t means the suits at FOX has very little vested interest in the show’s success.

Let’s hope “Andy Richter” bucks the odds, since it definitely deserves a chance.

CAST: Andy Richter
Irene Malloy
James Patrick Stuart