Posts Tagged ‘Mystery’

Canned TV Show #23: Andy Barker, P.I.

February 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Well hello there.

I’m not gonna dwell on the fact that it’s been a long time since I’ve been on here, because if you’re at all a fan of these, you’ve probably realized that already.  Not that I have much excuse; it was just something that got put on the back burner for a long time.  In fact, I actually considered ceasing altogether, particularly when the A.V. Club, the site whose “My Year of Flops” columns served as the inspiration for my own blog, started up a new column specifically examining one-season series.  Despite the fact that, yeah, I’ve been doing it a while, their far superior readership and credibility made this seem more like an amateur project than ever.  But then I decided, you know what?  There’s room enough for both of us on this rock to cover canceled TV shows, right?  Besides, where will people go to read about all the two season series that are out there?  I’m still covering those.

Andy Barker cast

But not today.  Today, our show sadly only lasted six episodes.  The show is of course Andy Barker, P.I., the unfortunately short-lived vehicle for funnyman and beloved Conan O’Brien sideman Andy Richter, co-created by O’Brien and Jonathan Groff (not the guy from Glee, at least I don’t think so.  That would be surprising!).  Apparently, with three canceled series to his name, Andy Richter is a hard sell for the American public to accept as a leading man, which is a real shame, because he deserves a vehicle for his particular brand of charm.  I had originally planned to do a whole sequence of posts about Richter’s past flops, but I’ve had a hard time locating Andy Richter Controls the Universe in any free capacity.  I haven’t much looked into his other show, Quintuplets, but maybe I will one of these days.

Barker follows Richter as the titular character, a milquetoast accountant who goes into business for himself, renting an office in a shopping plaza populated with colorful characters like Simon (the great Tony Hale), owner of a video store (so 2007!), and Wally (Marshall Manesh, one of those actors who gets cast as all the ethnic types, regardless of whether he is actually from the same country or even general region as his character, such as his recurring role as the cab driver Ranjit on How I Met Your Mother), an Afghani immigrant who runs a restaurant and “went a little overboard with the patriotic stuff after 9/11.”  Business isn’t really happening for Andy, until a mysterious Russian woman strolls in, hands him $4,000, and asks him to find her husband.  See, Andy’s office was previously occupied by private investigator Lew Staziak (the great Harve Presnell, from Fargo), and with rent due and an interest in the truth, Andy decides to take the case.  Turns out, he’s surprisingly good at the whole private investigator thing, and decides to balance his accounting career with his burgeoning one in this very different field.  With Simon as his bumbling sidekick and assists from Wally, Lew, and his wife (who starts out opposing his new career, but to the show’s credit, it ditches that rather tiring aspect quickly and just gets her in on the fun), Andy solves a new case each week, and of course can’t get a moment’s peace.

The pilot takes Andy from in over his head to competent P.I. maybe a little too quickly, but such is the requirement of a pilot: to get us into the main action of the show, especially in a case-a-week kind of format like this.  Andy seems to take the job for a number of reasons.  One, he needs the money, since things at his office aren’t exactly going great; two, he seems to enjoy the excitement of it to an extent–not that his life is crappy, just kind of boring and predictable; three, he just really seems to have a hard time saying no.  Other characters push him into service more often than he pushes himself.  Whether it’s Simon’s enthusiasm, Lew’s hard-headedness, or even his wife’s gentle nudging, Andy’s just too nice of a guy to not help people out.  Richter plays him pretty perfectly, almost like a husband out of a 50s movie. but with a more nerdy feel.  He can’t seem to bring himself to swear, and is certainly nowhere near as grizzled as other P.I.s in pop culture.  In the pilot, he hadn’t even seen Chinatown!  It’s a strange thing to build a show around a sort of passive character, but it works in this case because everything around him is so wacky.  The show takes place in one of those sitcom universes where even though people have businesses to run, they never seem to actually have to go to work, and instead can hang out and leave at a moment’s notice.  Seriously, does Simon have any other employees?  I don’t think so.  And since he’s gone so much, how does he stay in business?  I know video stores weren’t totally obsolete by 2007, but they were on their way.  Even if it seems a little bit of a stretch, you have to just accept it as a part of this show’s weird universe and go with it.

The best episodes of the show are ones that crank up the silliness and play like well-crafted farcical nuggets.  A particular standout for me is “Three Days of the Chicken,”  in which Andy and company try to figure out why Wally’s chicken supplier keeps giving him sub-par chicken, and get in way deeper than they bargained for.  The idea of a chicken-company mafia is funny enough on its own, but the show throws in a handful of other fun bits.  For one, Lew is deathly afraid of chickens, though he’d never admit it.  Presnell is always very funny as the aging Sam Spade type whose attitude and outlook hasn’t seemed to have changed since the 1950s.  But here, he gets to show a slightly different side, as his hyper-macho act crumbles in the face of his feathered nemesis.  The show never reveals why he is so afraid of them, only hints at some past trauma when Lew points a gun at one and says “Remember me?  I’m Lew Staziak, and I’m all grown up now.” Luckily, Andy pulls him away, pushing the chicken into an open door, saying “You’ll be safe here.”  As the doors close, the words “Slaughter Room 2” can be read.  That’s a well-crafted bit.  And the show has quite a few of those.  While not all the episodes are quite as finely tuned, there are more hits than misses, which is good, since there’s only six anyway.  Other highlights include “Fairway, My Lovely,” where Andy investigates the death of a very obese client, and continues to be baffled by how many people, including his wife, find the man irresistibly sexy.  Also the final episode, “The Lady Varnishes,” which features an appearance by the great Ed Asner as Lew’s crooked ex-partner.  That episode explores a bit more of Lew’s backstory, and gives him a nice showcase.  Basically, I would watch a whole spinoff of Lew Staziak, geriatric P.I.  That would be quite humorous.  I  may giggle or even guffaw at such a premise.  Overall, while it’s not the most innovative or spectacular TV comedy, there are enough funny bits to make it a worthwhile way to spend a few hours.

So what happened?  Hard to tell, most likely just low ratings.  Apparently America has a hard time finding it in their hearts to accept Richter as a leading man, which is a shame, because the dude is funny in a low-key, quiet kinda way.  Maybe someday he’ll get the sort of headlining gig that he can hold onto.

So, should it be back on the air? I’m gonna say sure, with the caveat that I don’t think it had a lot of time in it from the get-go.  The formula may have gotten a little tiring after too long, but who knows whether they would’ve switched it up over time?  I’d say maybe a couple seasons is the perfect length for a show like this; enough to make it a cult hit, but short enough that it wouldn’t get old.  If you want to watch it, it’s all on Hulu right now, so it’s easy enough to find (though you need a Hulu Plus account).  Put it on next time you’re home sick or stuck in by the sub-arctic temperatures (if you’re here in the midwest) and laugh for a couple hours!

Hopefully I’ll be able to do these more often, but who’s to say?  I also hope if I have any readers left, they haven’t abandoned me forever.  Also, I started another blog recently, unrelated to this one, but if you like what I do here and want to read a similar thing but about books, then hop on over to!  Catch ya next time.


Canned TV Show #14: Invasion

August 4, 2010 Leave a comment

“People have been acting weird since the hurricane.”

That simple line just may be the most important phrase uttered in the ABC sci fi drama Invasion, cancelled after one season and today’s Canned subject.  It just about pares down the plot of the whole series to its essence.

But you probably want more detail, don’t you?  Very well, you’ll get it, but be warned; it’s hard to talk too in-depth about this show without getting too spoiler-y, but I will try my best.

Invasion tells the story of the residents of Homestead, Florida, a small town in the Everglades, which is hit by a hurricane in the very first episode.  Only something is strange about this hurricane: people have reported seeing strange orange lights in the water, and an Air Force helicopter is knocked out of the sky by a cascade of orange globs.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, more on that in a moment.

The story revolves mostly around a particular group of interconnected Homestead residents.  There’s hunky park ranger/Jon Hamm look-alike contestant Russell (Eddie Cibiran), who lives with his pregnant wife Larkin (Lisa Sheridan), who is also a local news anchor, and her brother Dave (Tyler Labine).  Russell also shares custody of his kids Jesse (Evan Peters) and Rose (Ariel Gade) with his ex-wife Mariel (Kari Matchett), a local doctor.  Mariel is married to sheriff Tom Underlay (the great character actor William Fitchner), who has a daughter of his own named Kira (Alexis Dziena), and enjoys playing the “you’re a worse parent than I am” game with her ex-husband.  Other various residents of the town factor into the plot over the course of the season, but they comprise the main group with whom we spend most of our time.

So anyway, there’s this hurricane, right?  And it ravages the town, knocking out phones, electricity, running water, and causing mass destruction.  One other curious after effect: some people who survived the hurricane are now not acting quite like themselves.  Certain folks who spent the night of the hurricane exposed to the elements seem somehow different–including Mariel (gasp!)–though at first nobody can put their finger on it.  That is, except Dave, the resident crazy of the town, who is convinced after finding the skeleton of a man with strange things surrounding it, that the strangeness can be attributed to the work of EBEs, or extraterrestrial biological entities.  Initially Russell doesn’t agree with Dave’s theories, which he documents in a blog (ah the blogoshpere, where all the crazies come to share their views), but even he can’t shake the feeling that what’s going on is outside the realm of logic.

So that’s the initial setup, and it only gets crazier from there.  For one, Tom seems to know more about what’s going on than he initially lets on, which is made all the more mysterious by the fact that he himself was the sole survivor of a plane crash from which he emerged without a scrape.  Could he be “changed” in a similar way to the hurricane surivors?  As Russell and Dave try to uncover the truth, they uncover more and more mystery.  Has this sort of phenomenon happened before?  Does the military know, and is trying to cover it up?  Just what is Tom’s role in all this, anyway?  All questions that you should watch the show to uncover (trust me, it’s well worth it).

For a show about an alien invasion, Invasion definitely takes its time parceling out information.  While the audience is pretty much certain that the “lights” in the water are actually weird orange fish-aliens that are the cause of all the changes, it isn’t until almost halfway through the season that we really know all that much about what’s really going on.  It’s kind of like a long-form mystery, getting twistier and more dense as it goes.  Some people might find it frustrating, but I think it’s an effective way to tell a story over the course of a season.  This is a difficult type of show for a studio to get behind, given that it requires that its viewers will tune in week after week to find out what’s going on, and will have to have seen all the previous episodes to know exactly what’s happening.  Sometimes, as in this case or the case of another ABC show that seemed to work pretty well, Lost, it can be worth it.  Other times, it can be too much of a pain to keep up.

Speaking of Lost, ABC has really tried their darndest to find a replacement series that shares that same sort of storytelling; namely one filled with dense mythology and twisty plots that often don’t resolve itself for a long time.  So far, they haven’t had much luck (see Flashforward for proof).  But Invasion feels as close to a worthy Lost successor as ABC has been able to greenlight.  This is somewhat ironic, given that Invasion premiered as Lost started its second season.  Hardly time to worry about a replacement already, right?  It makes me wonder if Invasion would have done better if it came out closer to Lost’s conclusion.  To me, it seems like a dead ringer to take up the Lost mantle.  Its plot requires careful, repeated viewing, and it expects that its audience hasn’t missed an episode.  However, I think Invasion’s plot is more linear; almost like a really long movie.

But don’t get me wrong, the show’s not without its problems.  Some of the acting is pretty hokey, and it’s clear that the writers don’t really know how to write dialogue for anyone under the age of 25 that sounds very natural.  Some of the young actors, particularly Peters, give it their all, but others are just distracting.  Also, some of the episode’s payoffs aren’t as exciting or revealing as they should be.  But for the most part, it’s a well-conceived, well-written show with some good performances, particularly from Fitchner, who rarely gets a lead role like this to flex his acting muscles.  There’s also some memorable guest spots, including a creepy turn from Mad Men‘s Elizabeth Moss as the psycho half-alien bitch from hell, and from Rocky Carroll as a mysterious man named Healy who has information about this alien epidemic, as he lived through one already.

Here’s some clips of Moss’ character being creepy:

So what stopped Invasion from becoming another hit for ABC?  Besides the usual culprit of poor ratings, Invasion had the misfortune to come out around the time that an acutal, non alien-containing hurricane called Katrina ravaged the New Orleans region.  This made some of the show’s marketing material very touchy, as it showed the aftermath of a hurricane.  To compensate, ABC shifted its advertising completely to the invasion aspect of the show, which may have been a little misleading, given how slowly the show gets into its main conflict.  ABC put the show on hiatus twice without airing repeats, which may have caused viewers to lose interest, and caused new viewers to be more confused than riveted.  I admit, it’s not a show you can jump into halfway through, but it’s definitely worth taking the time to watch.

A good chunk of this cast I had never seen before or since, but some have gone on to future success post-Invasion. Labine appeared in the possible future Canned subject Reaper, also killed after two seasons, and starred alongside fellow Canned alum Alan Tudyk (from Firefly) in the upcoming hillbilly slasher parody Tucker and Dale Versus Evil, which looks pretty hilarious.  Dziena has been in a bunch of stuff, including Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and the recent crappy rom-com When in Rome.  Fitchner continues working, as he should, because he’s awesome.  Peters played one of Dave Lizewski’s dumb buddies in Kick-Ass recently.  I haven’t seen much of Matchett, Sheridan, or some of the others, but then again I haven’t really been looking.  I hope they all get plenty of work though; they all deserve it.

So, should it be back on the air? definitely.  It’s the kind of show that isn’t on TV much these days, namely one that challenges the viewer and is intriguing enough to keep coming back.  Perhaps a TV movie could be made to tie up the loose ends, though it’s unlikely, given that she show’s been off the air for five years and everyone’s pretty much moved on.  But hey, stranger things have happened right?  Get on it, Shawn Cassidy.

Tune in next time when I’ll be reviewing the short-lived comedy Testees!  Oh boy, this is gonna be rough.