Friday, February 08, 2008

46.Andy Richter Controls the Universe

It occurred to me that the problem with my last entry was that I spent way too much time focusing on why the show (“Grosse Pointe”) didn't work, rather than the purpose of the Blog: why a particular show works for me. After all, this is my Blog, my list on my favorite shows, who cares why it didn't work for the rest of the TV-watching world? (Jesus, that last sentence had more “my's” than a Johnny Gill song). That being said, at first blush, the title of this show, “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” could be considered among the worst titles ever imagined for a sitcom.

But look again.

Unless you were a fan of “Late Night with Conan O'Brien”, the name Andy Richter probably meant nothing to you. If you were a fan, you might have been saying to yourself, “Sure, Richter is funny, but he can't star in a television show, much less control the universe.” And that may have been the exact point the producer was trying to make about the show and life in general. Andy Richter (the character on the show has the same name as the actor) was just normal guys who worked from 9-5 at a place he didn't like because it paid the bills. Despite never realizing his dream of becoming a writer, Richter still controlled the universe in his mind. The show was sort of an updated version of the classic short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber.

The premise of the show was simple and a bit mundane: Richter got into a sticky mess and 30 minutes later he got out of it. Standard stuff.

But the genius wasn't how he got out of the mess per se, but like Mitty, it was the journey that he took to get out of the mess. Laced with dream sequences of how Andy really wanted things to go, talking to his company's 170-year-old (and dead) founder and using an omnipotent narrator (Richter) the show fooled with typical TV and story telling conventions. For example, the company's founder would often portray Andy's “bad” side and urge him to look at or solve problems in a less-than-PC way. Or Richter would dream of solving a problem in a most absurd or violent way, before ultimately deciding against it.

These solutions were often the funniest and more surreal bits of comedy on the show and despite an often absurd dream solution, grounded Richter as a nice guy who does the right thing.

ARCTU only ran for 19 episodes over two years and when the show originally aired, I vowed not to watch a second of it because it took the place of another favorite of mine, “Undeclared”. However, I broke down after the initial episode and found that it was both quirky and smart. Which meant that it was going to be cancelled soon. Fox pulled the show after a few weeks and aired it again as a mid-season replacement the following year before giving it the Old Yeller treatment at the end of the 2003 season.

Aside from Conan O'Brien, who guest starred in an episode late in the show's run, Fox never tried to use any sort of stunt casting that they would often do to spice up low-rated programs. For example, on the aforementioned “Undeclared” both Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell were key guest stars on different episodes and it was not an uncommon occurrence to see someone like Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron guest star on “Arrested Development”. This allowed for the cast and the writing to speak for itself. Unfortunately not a lot of people were listening.

As with the last show that I looked back on, Irene Molloy was the “hot one” in this show too. But unlike her character in “Grosse Pointe”, Molloy played a sweet, almost naïve girl who is the secretary that is new to the office. Andy is silently smitten with her, but she is unaware of his feelings as she is dating his best friend. Obviously this is vein that has been mined many times in many different sitcoms, however ARCTU put a new spin on it with some of the unconventional story telling methods listed above.

In spite of it's short run and relative obscure cast list, “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” was a fun, original television show. If you happen to catch the reruns or bump into the DVD (which hasn't been released yet—though there are rumors that say that it will be), do yourself a favor and watch it.

Richter is a terrific talent that was utilized well on the Conan O'Brien show and was excellent in his one appearance on “Arrested Development”, even his subsequent show “Andy Barker, PI” was decent too, though it lacked the originality of ARCTU. The problem isn't that he's a bad actor, he's great with the right roles, it may be that the public that knows him sees him a second banana (from his days on Conan) and the public that doesn't know him, don't find much in the way of his subtle comedy stylings. And that's a shame.

No comments: