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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Andy Barker, P.I.

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  You know how it works.  I watch one of the DVDs I own, I blog my thoughts about it.  I'm delving into a "brilliant but cancelled" TV series with Andy Barker, P.I.  This is in my notes at August 25, 2019.

The 2000s were truly a great time for television and making sure that great TV shows don't die.  It seems that every "brilliant but cancelled" TV show (i.e.  ones that the critics loved, but flopped and were cancelled after a single season) were almost immediately released on DVD in a "complete series" set.  I've got at least a dozen or so such series in my collection.  Firefly has got to be the most famous example.  And one who has a few brilliant but cancelled TV shows under his belt is Andy Richter. 

Richter first rose to fame as Conan O'Brien's sidekick on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.  He left the show in the year 2000, eager to try new projects.  He spent most of the 2000s furthering his acting career, being a supporting player in many films, popping up in guest appearances on many TV shows, and was even the star of three "Brilliant but cancelled" TV shows.  Richter has just launched a podcast, and in a recent episodes, he fondly reminisced about one of them, Andy Barker, P.I.  Well, I have Andy Barker, P.I.: The Complete Series on my shelf, so I tossed it in the ol' Blu-ray player.  Only six episodes were ever made, so I binged the entire series in one night. 

The show was a reunion of sorts for Richter and O'Brien.  O'Brien is one of the creators, and produced it through his company.  I remember in interviews at the time, O'Brien said he got the idea from driving into work every morning.  He'd drive through several bedroom communities, passing by many a strip mall, and he'd start daydreaming about the businesses in those strip malls and what the people who run them must be like.

Andy Richter plays Andy Barker, one of the most mild-mannered men  you'll ever meet.  He's now living the dream!  He's just launched his own accounting firm, and he's working out of a shiny new office in a strip mall.  One day, a women comes into his office, imploring Andy to find her missing husband.  Turned out that Andy's office was once occupied by a private investigator, and this woman mistook Andy for said investigator.  Well, something about the woman's story tugs at Andy's heart, and he starts doing some digging, and before you know it, he's got himself a nice little side hustle as a private investigator.  And the series plays out as a loving spoof of hard-boiled detective shows. 

Joining Andy in his side hustle are his neighbours in the strip mall.  There's Simon, played by Tony Hale, who was fresh off playing Buster on Arrested Development.  Simon owns and runs the video store in the strip mall, and has a movie reference for every occasion.  There's Wally, played by Marshall Manesh.  Wally is an Afghani immigrant who runs the most popular diner in the strip mall.  Thanks to his extensive security system, he becomes Andy's surveillance guy.  And then there's Lew Staziak, played by legendary character actor Harve Presnell.  Lew is the hard-boiled private eye who used to be in Andy's office, and becomes Andy's mentor in the private eye game.  Rounding out the cast is Clea Lewis as Jenny Barker, Andy's equally mild-mannered and supportive wife. 

Probably my favourite episode had to be the second one.  One of Andy's accounting clients drops dead on the golf course.  The coroner calls it a heart attack, but his widow is convinced it was murder.  As Andy starts going through this client's list of mistresses, the bigger mystery becomes how this obese, disgusting slob was so irresistible to women.  Throw in a snide groundskeeper who rolls through on a lawn tractor delivering one-liners, and a climactic golf cart chase, the whole thing is just ridiculous.  And you just gotta love that nonchalant final line, delivered by Jenny. 

SPOILER WARNING FOR A 12-YEAR OLD TV SHOW YOU NEVER HEARD OF BEFORE THIS:  Turns out this client of Andy's was bi and he was having a fling with his caddie, and it was the caddie who did it.  As Andy settles in for the night, he remarks to his wife that, perhaps the greatest part of this, was being able to provide a sense of closure to the widow.  "Yes," says Jenny.  "I'm sure she'll rest easier knowing that he wasn't murdered by his hot Asian mistress, but by his skinny blonde boytoy.  Good night!" 

And no doubt our best character was Lew, who acted like he stepped straight out of a 1970s cop show, and spoke in a never-ending string of TV-friendly expletives.  Too bad it only got six episodes, because in the final episode, we meet his equally grizzled, yet corrupt, ex-partner, played by Ed Asner.  No doubt they were setting him up to be a major recurring villain. 

Andy Barker was the special kind of spoof...the kind that didn't look at it's source material with cynicism, but knew the comedy would come by making one of the least likely people to have one of these adventures your star.  With his kind and gentle demeanor, Andy always saved the day.  I don't know how you can watch it these days -- pretty sure this complete series DVD has been out of print for a few years now -- but check it out if you can

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