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With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:
ANDY BARKER, P.I. (NBC)
(TBA at midseason)
The network's description: "Andy Richter ("Late Night with Conan O'Brien") re-teams with co-writer and executive producer Conan O'Brien in this comedy as he portrays Andy Barker, an earnest, hard-working CPA who has succeeded at everything -- that is until his new accounting business fails to take off. But when he's mistaken for Lew Staziak (Harve Presnell, "Fargo") -- the retired private detective who used to occupy his office -- Andy embraces the twist of fate and takes the case. Andy's incessantly supportive wife Jen (Amy Farrington, "The New Adventures of Old Christine") isn't sold on this risky new venture, that is, until she notices a sudden boost in Andy's self-confidence. Andy's neighboring merchants -- Simon (Tony Hale, "Arrested Development"), Wally (Marshall Manesh, "Will & Grace") and Jessica (Ion Overman, "The L Word") join him in the dicey investigation. Whether chiding thugs for "renting instead of buying" or being pursued by Sri Lankan gangsters, Andy will prove to be a consummate problem-solver."
What did they leave out: Ion Overman actually doesn't have any lines in the pilot and appears only briefly as Andy's tanning salon owner neighbor.
The plot in a nutshell: C.P.A. Andy Barker (Andy Richter) is about as honest and hard-working as they come. He drives a Saturn, he doesn't take his lunch until exactly 12:00 PM, he tries not to peek ahead on his "Dilbert" calendar and he refuses to poach his old client list now that he's struck out on his own. But 30 days into his new venture, he's wondering how he'll make rent on his strip-mall office space not to mention take care of his wife (Amy Farrington) and baby. Fate thankfully intervenes in the form of a mysterious Russian woman who offers him $4,000 to find her missing husband, a presumed dead councilman. It seems Andy's office used to be home to retired private investigator Lew Staziak (Harve Presnell) and it's Andy's job now if he wants it. After some prodding by his new neighbors - video store owner Simon (Tony Hale), whose intricate knowledge of gangster movies proves useful; and Afghani restaurateur Wally (Marshall Manesh), whose video camera system proves to be equally as useful - he decides to take the case. And just like in "Chinatown," the "wife looking for her missing husband" angle eventually reveals there's more to her than meets the eye.
What works: It's exactly what you'd expect from the premise - loveable sad sack Andy Richter as a private eye - and it works. He's the more-or-less straight man to a goofy, only-on-TV P.I. world in which kidnappers fall for cheap theatrics and there's enough time in a car chase to talk about financial planning with a potential new client. Equally as amusing is Tony Sale as Andy's "partner" Simon, whose snobbish distaste for the current state of movies is frequently played up for laughs, as well as Marshall Manesh's Wally, whose post-9/11 patriotism has caused him to rename everything on his menu after famous American presidents. Basically if the image of "Arrested Development's" Buster doing a barrel roll over a hood of a gold Saturn or Andy Richter apologizing to an old lady for framing her for shoplifting so he can swipe some tax files makes you smile, you'll be right at home here.
What doesn't: Andy's transition from nebbish accountant to jack-of-all-trades P.I. at times feels a little forced, but I still can't help but enjoy it. The show is obviously not meant to be a documentary on the P.I. trade so any liberties are done for the sake of laughs. In a lot of ways, "Andy" reminds of me of Conan O'Brien's failed pilot "Lookwell," in which Adam West played a TV actor who decides to fight crime using his knowledge from being a TV detective. It's just goofy, harmless fun and there's plenty of room for that on TV nowadays.
The challenges ahead: Will NBC make room for another new comedy on its drama and reality packed schedule?