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Andy Barker, P.I.

TITLE: ANDY BARKER, P.I. - NBC MID-SEASON 2007


Info:

Premiere Date: Thursday, March 15, 2007 (NBC Universal Television Studio and Conaco)
Network: NBC
Time: Thursdays at 9:30 PM ET/PT
Cast: Andy Richter, Clea Lewis, Tony Hale, Harve Presnell, Marshall Manesh


Introduction:

Andy Richter ("Late Night with Conan O'Brien") re-teams with Conan O'Brien (series co-creator and executive producer) in this comedy as he portrays Andy Barker, an earnest, hard-working CPA who has succeeded at everything -- 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 storefront office, Andy embraces the twist of fate and dives into his double life.

Andy's relentlessly supportive wife Jen (Clea Lewis, "Ellen") isn't sold on this risky new venture, that is, until she notices a sudden boost in Andy's self-confidence. Andy's fellow strip mall neighbors -- Simon (Tony Hale, "Arrested Development") and Wally (Marshall Manesh, "Will & Grace") join him in the dicey investigations.

This comedy series was created by O'Brien and former "Late Night" head writer Jonathan Groff ("Ed"), who executive-produce the series with Jeff Ross and David Kissinger. "Andy Barker, P.I." is from NBC Universal Television Studio and Conaco. The pilot was directed by Jason Ensler ("The West Wing").

All six episodes of the series are available for free viewing on NBC.com and for purchase on iTunes, but my review will be based on the screener disc I was sent, containing the pilot and two other episodes.


Cast Details:

Andy Richter as Andy Barker, Clea Lewis as Jenny Barker, Tony Hale as Simon, Harve Presnell as Lew Staziak, Marshall Manesh as Wally

Andy Richter produces and stars in the new NBC comedy series "Andy Barker, P.I." Richter portrays Andy Barker, an earnest, hard-working CPA who has succeeded at everything -- that is, until his new accounting business fails to take off.

Richter rose to fame while having the best seat in the house on NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" as O'Brien's sidekick, beginning with its premiere on September 13, 1993. Richter and the "Late Night" writing team were nominated yearly for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a comedy or Variety Series, and won the 1997 Writers Guild Award for Best Writing. Richter has made quite a leap off of the late night couch since his departure from the show in 2000.

Richter starred in the Emmy-nominated series "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," and most recently starred in the series "Quintuplets." Richter has been very active in feature films as well. His many appearances include such feature films as Robert Altman's "Dr. T and the Women," as well as "Scary Movie 2," "Elf," "Madagascar" and "Talladega Nights." Richter will appear again in "Madagascar 2," and he will also star in the upcoming film "Semi-Pro" with Will Ferrell.

Richter attended the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign and Columbia College, where he studied film and video.

Clea Lewis plays Jenny, Andy Barker's supportive wife, on the new NBC comedy series "Andy Barker, P.I."

Lewis has spent most of the past five years in New York where she returned to the stage. Her Broadway credits include "Absurd Person Singular," Woody Allen's "Writers Block" (directed by Allen), "Last Easter" and "Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight."

On the feature-film side, Lewis can next be seen opposite Bruce Willis and Halle Berry in the thriller "Perfect Stranger," due out in April 2007. She is also the voice of Mini-Sloth in "Ice Age: the Meltdown." Her other films include "Diabolique," "The Rich Man's Wife" and "Scotch and Milk."

Lewis is probably most known for her four seasons as the lovable Audrey on the series "Ellen." She has also been a regular on the series "Madigan Men," "Maggie Winters" and "Flying Blind." In addition, Lewis' numerous guest-star appearances include "Friends," "Mad About You," "Tracey Takes On" and "The Martin Short Show." Lewis is also the voice on the animated series "Pepper Ann," and reads the "Princess Diaries" books-on-tape for Random House.

Lewis resides in New York City with her husband, screenwriter Peter Ackerman, and her two little boys.

Tony Hale plays Simon, the video store clerk on the new NBC comedy series "Andy Barker, P.I."

Hale most recently starred as Buster Bluth, the eccentric, one-handed Mama's boy on the groundbreaking "Arrested Development," which won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. Details magazine called his character "the most hysterically unhinged supporting player since Cosmo Kramer."

For the big screen, Hale recently co-starred as Dave, the best friend and co-worker of Will Ferrell's character in the feature, "Stranger Than Fiction," directed by Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland").

Hale has most recently been cast as the voice of Furlough, the treacherous brother mouse, in Universal Pictures' animated feature, "The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, A Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread." It is an adaptation of the 2004 Newbery Medal-winning children's book by Kate DiCamillo ("Because of Winn-Dixie"). In the story, Furlough tattle-tales on his brother Despereaux for falling in love with a human princess. The film's all-star cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Kline, Christopher Lloyd, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Tracey Ullman and Sigourney Weaver. Universal plans to release the film during the 2008 holiday season.

Earlier this year, Hale had supporting roles in director Barry Sonnenfeld's roadtrip comedy, "RV," with Robin Williams and Cheryl Hines as well as "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector," produced by J.P. Williams and Alan Blomquist ("Walk the Line," "Chocolat").

Hale's first professional job was in a "Shakespeare in the Parking Lot" production of "Taming of the Shrew," staged in an East Village parking lot. He landed a commercial agent and was featured in spots for Volkswagen (singing "Mr. Roboto") and Citibank. He also guest-starred on such popular television series as "Sex and the City," "The Sopranos," "Mad TV," "Stacked" and "Dawson's Creek."

Hale resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Emmy-winning makeup artist Martel, and their daughter, Loy.

First earning an international reputation in opera and musical comedy, Harve Presnell made his feature-film debut in the film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown playing opposite Debbie Reynolds.

Though he has spent the bulk of his career on the stage, Presnell periodically appeared in other films through the '70s. After taking no film roles in the '80s, Presnell re-emerged in the Coen brothers' Fargo (1996) and has since continued to play character roles in films such as Julian Po (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Old School (2003).

Marshall Manesh plays Wally on the new NBC comedy series "Andy Barker, P.I." Born and raised in Persia, Manesh moved to the United States in his early twenties and joined the Persian Theater Group, traveling extensively throughout the United States, Canada and Europe.

Manesh's television credits include recurring roles such as Mr. Zamir on "Will & Grace" and "How I Met Your Mother" as Ranjitt. Manesh has also guest starred on "The Unit," "Entourage," "Boston Legal," NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "NYPD Blue," "Alias," "JAG," and "The X-Files."

Manesh just completed filming "Pirates of the Caribbean at the World's End," where he plays Pirate Lord Sumbhajee. He has also appeared in several other films, including "Hidalgo," "Surviving Christmas," "True Lies," "The Big Lebowski," "Car Babes," "Tom 51," "The Untitled Onion Movie" and "Kazaam" starring Shaquille O'Neal. He also has worked on various projects with directors such as Albert Brooks, the Coen brothers and Burt Reynolds.

In addition to television and film, Manesh has appeared in more than 40 television commercials. Manesh currently resides in California with his wife of 18 years.


Pilot Plot:

In the pilot episode, Andy Barker, begins his double life as a private investigator when he's hired to solve a case involving a missing husband and the Russian mafia.

Writer: Jon Ross, Jonathan Groff, Conan O'Brien
Director: Jason Ensler
Guest stars: Steve Cell (Nikolai Karensky), Derek Mears (Thug), Nicole Randall Johnson (Archives Clerk), Ingrid Coree (Real Nadia)

In addition to the pilot, I received two other episodes:

Fairway, My Lovely
When a client of Andy's (Andy Richter) drops dead while playing golf, his wife hires Andy to find the murderer. Andy is shocked to discover that his overweight, crass and rude client had been the object of desire for many people. Simon (Tony Hale), Wally (Marshall Manesh), Lew (Harve Presnell) and Andy's wife Jen (Clea Lewis) lend him a hand with the case. Meanwhile, Simon develops a crush on Andy's assistant.

Writer: Conan O'Brien, Jonathan Groff
Director: Jason Ensler
Guest Star: Nicole Randall Johnson (Nicole)

Three Days of the Chicken
When Wally, (Marshall Manesh) owner of the falafel restaurant is being scammed and forced to serve tainted chicken, Andy (Andy Richter) and Simon (Tony Hale) begin to investigate the chicken processing plant. Lew (Harve Presnell) gives Andy and Simon important information about the chicken industry. Meanwhile, in an attempt to impress her new coworkers, Jenny (Clea Lewis) hosts a barbecue at the house but Andy crashes Jenny's party when he suspects the chicken she is serving could be tainted.

Writer: Conan O'Brien, Jonathan Groff
Director: Jason Ensler
Guest star: Boogie (Rasta Dude), Ben Falcone (Scott), Terry Rhoads (Tom Larivee), Brian McNamara (Dale)


Analysis:

I've always been a fan of Andy Richter since his "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" days. He's had two previous sitcom attempts with FOX's "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" and "Quintuplets," which failed to catch on with viewers. This may be the best vehicle for him yet. He plays a very likable character. The rest of the supporting cast is hilarious and brings lots of comedy experience. Tony Hale plays a character somewhat similar to Buster on "Arrested Development." He has some very funny lines about celebrites and movies, as well as physical comedy scenes. Harve Presnell has a number of hilarious one-liners as the gruff, old-school private detective. There is lots of dry humor. The sight gags will remind you of the skits you see on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and "Police Squad!". I just felt like there were too few of them. Another thing I liked about the show was the musical score and the use of some hits from the '80s. The chase scenes have music like you've heard in "Starsky & Hutch." The opening title sequence will remind you of "Mannix" and "The Rockford Files." Of the three episodes I received, the pilot is the weakest. The other episodes have better pacing and funnier moments. The show is shot with a single camera and has no laugh track. Many of the scenes are shot outdoors and on location.


Conclusion:

There's lots of potential for the series. I don't think NBC will give up on it that soon. They have been known to develop and nurture their sitcoms in the past like "Seinfeld" and "The Office." The fact that is co-created and produced by Conan O'Brien will certainly help. It would be nice to see him guest star in an episode if it is brought back for a second season. Some people might compare it to "The Knights of Prosperity," but I think this series has a better chance of survival. The cast is more well-known, has more sitcom experience and all of the episodes are standalone and wrapped up nicely.

This is a series that you can't judge by just the pilot. I think NBC probably should have aired the funnier second or third episodes as the premiere. The writing and pacing seemed better and hopefully will improve even more with the remaining episodes. It's an interesting strategy by NBC to offer all 6 episodes online for free before they even air. Hopefully it generates some buzz that leads to additional viewers. NBC plans on airing 5 episodes with the sixth episode, with guest stars Amy Sedaris and Ed Asner, available only as an online exclusive.


Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Watchability: 4/5
Funniness: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

-- Reviewed by Todd Fuller on 03/14/07

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