ANDY BARKER, P.I. created by Conan O'Brien and Jonathan Groff, with Andy Richter, Tony Hale, Marshall Manesh and Harve Presnell. Thursdays at 9:30 pm on NBC, Sundays at 5:30 pm on CTV. Rating: NNN
Dressed in a white, short-sleeved shirt, Andy Richter resembles a living Dilbert cartoon.
Check out the amiable doughboy and former Conan sidekick in a sitcom that's got a laid-back 70s vibe.
Mixing bits of Barney Miller, The Rockford Files and Police Squad! with just a soupçon of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, this gentle satire casts the former late-night couch potato as Andy Barker, an amiable accountant and accidental detective.
The strait-laced CPA-cum-P.I.'s equally clueless partners in crime-solving include movie-referencing video store clerk Simon (Arrested Development's twitchy Tony Hale), Afghan kebab salesman Wally (Marshall Manesh) and Lew Staziak (Harve Presnell), the retired detective whose office Barker has mistakenly claimed as his own.
It's Presnell (hard-assed here and in Dawson's Creek) who turns in the show's sharpest performance. His Staziak puts the dick in private dick; his solution to almost any problem is to pistol-whip it, prefereably in the privates making him the ideal foil for Richter's by-the-book, never-exceeds-the-speed-limit gumshoe.
And the cases Barker tackles during this six-episode trial run are well-mined for laughs. They often start out simply enough, like a genre-standard missing person case, before devolving into something utterly ridiculous involving a murderous chicken cartel.
One episode has Barker hilariously defusing a standoff with the Russian Mafia by using a talking Sandra Bullock doll, the most genuine performance Bullock's given since Speed.
And, of course, Barker does demonstrate some talent for connecting the dots crime-wise. Al Capone was brought down by the taxman, after all, so there is a precedent.
Unfortunately, there's little precedent for a successful Richter sitcom. Quintuplets, his follow-up series to Andy Richter Controls The Universe, lasted just four episodes. Even with Conan O'Brien on board here as co-creator, you have to wonder how many chances networks will take on Richter, who's more Campbell's Soup Kid than George Clooney (who appeared in many a failed TV series before ER).
If Andy Barker isn't a hit, will Richter rejoin O'Brien when Conan takes over The Tonight Show in 09? Or will he end up like another late-night sidekick, Ed McMahon, as a pathetic pitchman?
JUVIES created by Karen Grau and Bill Hussung. Fridays at 10 pm on MTV Canada. Rating: NNN
It seems American Idol's loss is MTV's gain. The first episode of Juvies, the new reality series about life inside an Indiana juvenile detention centre, features a towheaded doughhead named Sarah who aspires to audition for Paula, Randy and Simon.
Sarah's pop-star pipe dream was back-burnered when she was picked up as a runaway by the cops in Texas. Abandoned to the juvenile justice system by a mother who seems incapable of combing her own hair, Sarah spends her days in lock-up whining about missing her sister's birthday and singing tearful dirges. She actually sounds not half-bad (the acoustics in her cell are about as good as the average Ho-Jo's shower), and I kind of expected her to belt out Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
Unlike most MTV fare focusing on Mommy and Daddy's little brats The Hills, My Super Sweet 16 Juvies focuses on... uh, Mommy and Daddy's little brats.
Of course, they're not all bad kids. Take Cordell, an honour student with a part-time job, aspirations of being a lawyer and a loving and supportive mother, who gets busted for stealing a car (it's likely he's being framed by a friend).
It's through his experience that we get the strongest sense of what goes on in juvie, from strip searches to unfriendly fellow inmates, whose offences range from underage drinking and drug possession to theft and assault. He even half-jokingly refers to the facility as being like Oz, the harsher-than-harsh series about life in maximum security.
Never mind that for the most part the inmates in juvie are treated with respect and there's little to fear from dropping the soap in the shower.
WHAT TO WATCH THIS WEEK
Sunday, March 18
TEST THE NATION: IQ (QUIZ SHOW) Are brunettes really brighter than blonds? Are left-handed people smarter than right-handed people? This quiz show provides the answers as it pits doctors, radio DJs, fitness instructors, tattoo artists, mayors and millionaires against each other in a battle of wits.
8 pm on CBC
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (SCI-FI) The trial of Gaius Baltar begins as the coolest show on TV winds down its third season with a two-parter. Enjoy - season four won't start till 08. Frak!
10 pm on Space