Andy Barker, P.I.: The Complete Series
Shout Factory // Unrated // $24.99 // November 17, 2009
Review by Casey Burchby | posted October 17, 2009
Highly Recommended
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Andy Barker, P.I. ran for six episodes on NBC in 2007. It was a mid-season replacement and part of their blockbuster Thursday night lineup for four weeks, with the final two episodes being dumped on a Saturday night. NBC took a chance putting an odd new show on its Thursday schedule, especially one starring the always-cancelled Andy Richter (Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and Quintuplets). It's as if the show was forced to run across a mine field already strewn with corpses.

Andy Barker (Richter) is a young CPA opening his own business in a Los Angeles-area strip mall. Sharing the complex is a video store managed by Simon (Tony Hale) and an Afghani kebab stand owned by Wally (Marshall Manesh). Unbeknownst to Barker, his office was once occupied by private investigator Lew Staziak (Harve Presnell). Confusion over the prior tenant brings Barker clients who want husbands found and deaths investigated. Barker reluctantly opens a parallel P.I. operation to supplement his slow-growing accounting business. With his wife Jenny (Clea Lewis) supporting him, and the assistance of Simon, Wally, and Lew, each episode follows Barker on a new set of misadventures.

Across its six short episodes, Andy Barker, P.I. manages to develop a unique comic tone, blending the gentle milquetoasty humor of Richter's character with the oddball antics of his associates, all amid the visual trappings of hard-boiled detective films. Adding an unusual angle to that atmosphere is the grizzled, hilarious performance of Harve Presnell, whose breathless strings of 40s-era insults and wiseguy jargon are easily the show's funniest bits.

Like a lot of shows - comedy or otherwise - the first few episodes feel choppy, unpolished, and unsure of themselves. But unlike most shows, a sense of self-assurance is well-established after just the first three episodes. It's remarkable - especially in light of the show's tragic fate - that a distinctive tone and engaging character dynamics were developed over such a short length of time. Simon is a wimpy fanboy poseur (portrayed with a heaping dose of Hale's Buster from Arrested Development). Wally is a quick-tempered self-promoter. Lew is a half-insane old man, always ready to hurl insults at anyone within earshot. Jenny, Barker's wife, is played with a sense of affectionately dippy frivolity - Lewis's specialty. This motley crew of diverse characters quickly become familiar faces whose dynamics are the driving force of the show. It's a rare comedy that achieves that character-driven core, rather than depending upon outlandish plot devices, physical humor, and over-the-top gags.

The writers on the show deserve special mention. Led by co-creators Conan O'Brien and Jonathan Groff, the writing staff carefully constructed a world that depends upon a special balance of tone and character. The infusion of noir elements could have been handled as parody, but instead is played more or less straight, with character dynamics remaining the main source of comedy. Andy's devotion to accounting, for example, and his attitude of distaste for the criminal element lead to some very funny lines throughout the series.

The show features some top guest stars - in the final episode, "The Lady Varnishes," the cast is joined by both Amy Sedaris and Ed Asner, both of whom contribute excellent, colorful performances. Production values are high, and the show's visuals are well-composed. It really is a shame that this ramshackle comedy team was unable to work together longer. The death of Presnell in June makes the show's short run even sadder. But we can be grateful that Shout! Factory has released the six episodes that were produced.


The Package
The two disc set is housed in a single-width clear keepcase with double-sided cover art. In an increasingly rare move, Shout! Factory has included an insert, which helpfully lists the episodes and the bonus content.

The Video
The enhanced 1.78:1 transfer shines. Great consistency here, with daylight scenes looking bright in the LA sun, and night scenes are lit with an appropriately noir-ish glow. Colors - including blacks - are very solid, almost without a blemish. The well-shot show is done great justice by Shout! Factory.

The Sound
An excellent 5.1 surround track is provided. The sound is well-mixed, even surprisingly so for a half-hour comedy program. Well-known pop music stings and the occasional use of surrounds come through particularly well.

The Extras
A number of quality bonus features are included. For a failed TV show, this is a choice group of extras. First, every episode is accompanied by an optional commentary track, featuring the writers and cast; O'Brien makes an appearance on the commentary for the pilot episode.

On Disc 1, we also have Writers 101 (30:18), which is actually a very interesting an in-depth piece about how the television writing process worked on the show. On Disc 2, there is a behind-the-scenes featurette called Going Where the Numbers Take You (32:45), which summarizes the show's history. Also included is a short gag reel (4:11).

Final Thoughts

These six episodes comprise the remnants of what could have been a great television comedy; the elements were all there, but it was doomed from the outset by its ambitious placement on NBC's killer Thursday schedule. Cheers to Shout! Factory for the excellent technical presentation and solid bonus content. Highly recommended.

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