Who would have expected NBC to build another quality comedy lineup so quickly? Just a couple of years after the “Friends” finale marked the end of its “Must-See TV” comedy era, the new Thursday “Comedy Night Done Right” has garnered both critical raves and solid ratings. Added to that night is “Andy Barker P.I.,” the latest in a round of quirky, multi-layered sitcoms that manage depth and intricacy in a way that the old laugh-trackers couldn’t have conceived.
Andy Barker (Andy Richter, “Elf”) is a simple man. He works as an accountant, lives in a quaint suburban colonial and drives a Saturn – all in a little slice of American monotony known as Fair Oaks. His loving wife packs his lunch every day and even in the most frustrating situations, the most you’ll ever hear him mutter is “Cheese and crackers!” He talks pleasantly, nods cordially when you greet him and always uses his turn signal – even while being tailed by the Russian mob. And that last one is a problem because, you see, Andy Barker is a detective.
Like Jake Gittes, Dick Tracy or Sherlock Holmes before him, Barker’s methods are cunning, his cover impenetrable. Don’t let those pressed collars, sack lunches or piles of W-2 forms fool you; when Andy Barker means to get something done, it gets done. Teaming up with an obsessive video store owner, a slightly over-patriotic Afghani kabob-house owner and a geriatric retired private investigator, Andy anchors perhaps the greatest team of crime-fighters with day jobs in TV comedy history.
After a somewhat shaky pilot (a mildly amusing homage to “Chinatown”) subsequent episodes of “Andy Barker” – all streaming online at NBC.com – are colorful and consistently funny. Though far from fresh, the show’s situational element is never contrived; the characters are real enough that it’s all too easy to imagine yourself in their shoes. The misfits are a great compliment to the upstanding, righteous Andy. After all, what’s a crime-fighting team without attitude?
The star of the group is Simon the video store guy, a smoothly neurotic, painfully blas