Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday, on a Tuesday! This week, I’m sharing thoughts on a short-lived single-camera sitcom from the early 2000s that’s known, like Scrubs, for its creativity. As you’ll note, I’m retaining the straightforward, casual structure of my commentary as it would have appeared in a Potpourri entry, because the brevity is clarifying…
ANDY RICHTER CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE (March 2002 – January 2003, FOX)
Premise: An imaginative writer works at a large Chicago company.
Cast: Andy Richter, Paget Brewster, Irene Molloy, Jonathan Slavin, James Patrick Stuart, John Bliss, Charlie Finn, Sean Gunn
Writers: Victor Fresco, Michael A. Ross, Michael Shipley & Jim Bernstein, Jennifer Celotta, Tim Doyle, Will Gluck, Jay Dyer, Steve Baldikoski & Bryan Behar, Tommy Blacha, Rob Ulin, Matthew Weiner, Eric Kaplan, Dave Jeser & Matt Silverstein, Sean Klitzner
Thoughts: Heralded at the time for its imagination, this single-camera ensemble workplace comedy from FOX is otherwise very traditional in design, even more so than Scrubs, which is more specific in its storytelling because its hospital location is not the generic corporate office culture spoofed here. Today, seen alongside shows like Scrubs, Malcolm, and the forthcoming Arrested Development, Andy Richter’s narration, fantasy sequences, and smash-cut gags don’t seem quite so inventive — they’re more part of a trend than a rebellious aberration. However, as shows in this vein go, specifically short-lived ones, it’s very funny, with a material-elevating cast (Jonathan Slavin and Paget Brewster, the latter also from Victor Fresco’s The Trouble With Normal, are standouts) and a sense of humor that does manage to enliven a bevy of familiar story ideas. Occasionally a gag or sequence is particularly clever (including a running bit where Andy speaks to his imagined version of the corporation’s cruel and bigoted founder), but rather, it’s the simple things that matter: the strength of well-defined leads and better-than-average joke writing. This allows Andy Richter to be a consistently amusing delight, with a handful of memorable excursions that are recommendable. I’m not sure the series is a genuine “lost gem” but it’s close, especially given how much mediocrity there was in the early 2000s. So, this one is worth checking out — it’s on DVD — especially if you’re a fan of the people involved.
Episode Count: 19 episodes produced over two seasons, 14 of which were broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All 19.
Key Episodes: #2: “Grief Counselor” (03/26/02)
#5: “Gimme A C” (04/16/02)
#13: “Crazy In Rio” (01/05/03)
#17: “Final Fantasy” (Syndication Only)
#19: “Saturday Early Evening Fever” (Syndication Only)
Why: #2 has a comic idea that makes the show seem different via its heightened irreverence; #5 guests Jon Cryer and has some big laughs; #13 features Richter’s pal Conan O’Brien and is particularly wild; #17 has funny fantasy scenes and a lot of really amusing notions; and #19 guest stars June Lockhart for a comedic A-story. These are the ones I’d highlight.
Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned tomorrow for Scrubs!