Thursday, November 26, 2009

DVD Review: Andy Barker PI

WHAT: Short-lived 6-episode sitcom created by Conan O’Brien, starring Andy Richter and Tony Hale
LABEL: Shout! Factory, 2009
GOOD IF YOU LIKE: Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Arrested Development
WHERE TO FIND IT: Amazon. Retail stores seem to be shunning it.
LENGTH: 132 minutes

Andy Barker PI aired for only a couple of episodes in 2007 before quickly being cancelled by NBC; the remaining 3 or 4 episodes aired online only, and now we’ve got the whole shebang on DVD thanks to Shout! Factory, who seem increasingly dedicated to putting every great piece of television comedy on DVD.

The show itself was created by Conan O’Brien and Jonathan Groff, and the premise is pretty simple: guileless, straight-laced accountant Andy Barker find himself unwittingly thrust into the gritty world of Private Dick-ism when a femme fatale shows up in his CPA office, mistaking Andy for crusty old PI Lew Staziak (who is probably the funniest character in the show, played by the late Harve Presnell). Since his accountant business is struggling, he finds himself taking more and more detective work to pay the bills. Along for the ride is video store clerk-slash-eccentric nerd Simon (Tony Hale, best known as Buster in Arrested Development) and kebab shop owner Wally (Marshall Manesh, reliable sitcom character actor).

The show is, for lack of a better phrase, really damn good. Every episode – probably due to the show’s short life – is incredibly solid from start to finish, and rare is the gag that falls short. The cast gels immediately, and every one of the supporting characters gets time to shine. The show’s sense of humor is clearly very informed by Conan O’Brien, which means there are a whole lot of jokes about old people and a lot of subdued absurdism. Tone-wise it’s very much like the comedy bits on Late Night and Conan’s version of the Tonight Show.

In typical Shout! Factory fashion, the DVD set is loaded with about as much extra material as you could possibly expect from a 6-episode cancelled sitcom. There are two documentaries – one focusing on the show’s writing staff, and the other a complete history of the series. There are commentaries on every episode – the pilot commentary features Conan himself – and a gag reel. It’s really all anyone could ask for.

Andy Barker PI, like so many solid, funny sitcoms for smart people with good senses of humor, was probably never meant to last in a TV landscape that nurtures the likes of Jenna Elfman, but it’s great to have it archived on DVD. Now it’s up to you to see if you have the Mike ‘n Ikes to pick it up.

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