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'Richter' Scales Comedic Heights

Plus: Winter's Reality Avalanche.

by Mark D. Johnson
January 17, 2003

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'Richter' Scales Comedic Heights_Mark D. Johnson-Plus: Winter's Reality Avalanche. Andy Richter Controls the Universe
Sundays at 9:30/8:30c & Tuesdays 8:30/7:30c on Fox

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the state of the television sitcom is not well. There is currently only one bona fide landmark comedy series on the tube these days that is tops among critics and fans alike. At a time when network schedules are overflowing with solid dramas and reality overkill, any sitcom not named “Friends” is either bland and repetitive or suffering in the ratings. Most in the latter category are there for good reason, but there are a few that deserve better, such as Fox’s creative office comedy “Andy Richter Controls the Universe.”

“Andy” first hit the air waves last year as a mid-season replacement, winning instant critical acclaim. It returned late this fall as part of Fox’s Sunday night comedy line-up and an additional Tuesday night time slot with the hope that it would help the network’s weak overall performance this season, yet it still hasn’t caught on. Is it the show itself, or just that audiences haven’t given the show a try? If the masses simply don’t like the show, then the state of the sitcom is worse than I thought, because “Andy” has a lot going for it.

You may remember star Andy Richter from his sidekick days on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” where he frequently displayed his sharp wit. We can be grateful for the career change though, because he’s a fine lead actor for this comedy series. His character, also named Andy, is an ordinary unmarried Chicago technical writer who frequently dreams up unlikely alternate scenarios of his life’s situations in a sort of Walter E. Mitty way. He often finds himself being nagged by the dead founder of the company, old Mr. Pickering, and in a refreshing departure from many sitcoms, Andy’s work friends are also the center of his social life. The four other main characters are Jessica, his tough boss but long-time friend, Keith, Andy’s handsome best friend, for whom everything seems to go right, Wendy, the receptionist, who is dating Keith, and Byron, the slightly odd, but amiable illustrator who shares Andy’s small office.

While the show has a tone and pacing similar to other current shows (“Scrubs,” “Malcolm in the Middle”), the concept is made fresh with clever scripts, enjoyable characters, and a well-cast ensemble. I’m a firm believer that sitcoms that forego live studio audiences and laugh tracks are a superior form of entertainment to the more traditional fare. Providing audible laughs for the audience would completely alter Andy’s “Universe,” which is a more intriguing and intelligent place without it.

Channel Hopping…
  • Six reality shows debuted on the major networks last week, and if that’s not enough for you, you’re about to get several more before summer arrives. The red-hot dating themed shows (“Joe Millionaire,” “The Bachelorette”) continue to perform well, which means a flood of these things is on the horizon. Also coming up from ABC: “Are You Hot: The Search for America’s Sexiest People”, “All American Girl,” a beauty pageant series, and the return of “Extreme Makeover” for a six-episode run.

  • ABC has now aired two episodes of “Celebrity Mole: Hawaii,” starring B-List contestants, including Stephen Baldwin, Corbin Bernsen, and Michael Boatman. This light-weight version of an otherwise fine series, has the potential to either interest viewers unfamiliar with previous regular-contestant installments which would give the next outing a much-deserved ratings boost, or weaken the franchise even more by diluting a solid premise. Host Ahmad Rashad does a serviceable job in place of regular host Anderson Cooper, who is wisely sitting this one out to maintain his other gig as a CNN anchor. I have to admit that this run does have its entertaining moments. Comedian Kathy Griffin is hilarious – let’s hope she can stick around to the end because the others are not terribly dynamic. The incredibly obnoxious Balwin managed to stir things up in a good way before getting “executed” this week.

  • The Cartoon Network has expanded its Adult Swim programming to late weekday nights. The underrated “Futurama” now airs Sundays through Thursdays at 11/10c, followed by the amusing improvised dialogue of “Home Movies” (see article by S.E. Shepherd).

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