Just when Emily Nussbaum and Adam Sternbergh declared their love for 30 Rock, NBC yanks it off the air temporarily and tries out Andy Barker, P.I., the new sitcom from Andy Richter. It's been years since Richter left the Conan O'Brien show (no Ed McMahon is he), but his last sitcom venture, Andy Richter Controls the Universe aired fifteen episodes in 2002–2003 on Fox. Does his new show have a chance? Emily and Adam watched the premiere last night, then did their postmortem on IM.
Nussbaum: That was freakin' depressing.
Sternbergh: Hmmm. A "freakin' depressing" right out of the gate.
Sternbergh: I don't smell five stars a-comin'.
Nussbaum: Are you filled with foolish, young hope?
Nussbaum: The hope of a man who just saw a first episode...
Nussbaum: ...and sees a great season ahead, and then three excellent DVD sets with hilarious commentary and cool extras?
Sternbergh: I am, uh, er ... well ...
Sternbergh: Let's just start by saying that Andy Richter has accumulated a lot of critical goodwill.
Nussbaum: Hey, I love Andy Richter!
Sternbergh: I assume mostly because everyone was so astonished he pulled off the second-banana thing on Conan.
Sternbergh: I was never a huge fan of Andy Richter Controls the Universe.
Sternbergh: Despite the awesome title.
Nussbaum: There we differ: I liked that show, I did — I thought it was murdered before its time.
Sternbergh: I think that show had some of the same defects this one seems to have.
Sternbergh: Which is to say:
Sternbergh: Looks funny, sounds funny, smells funny
Sternbergh: Not actually funny.
Nussbaum: Wow, brutal.
Sternbergh: But before we get to that,
Sternbergh: let's also say a huzzah to the superlative Tony Hale.
Nussbaum: I was so happy to see him, I actually squealed slightly.
Sternbergh: Transplanted here from the dearly departed Arrested Development
Sternbergh: on which he had much more to do, funny wise.
Sternbergh: But this is only the first episode.
Nussbaum: He actually squeezed a few chuckles out of his character, who was in a small way the most promising person in the show.
Sternbergh: I'm trying not to repeat my 30 Rock, "pleasant comedic wallpaper" mistake.
Nussbaum: I'll be the misanthrope here.
Sternbergh: The only joke in the show that even elicited a slight smirk from me
Sternbergh: was the one about Meet the Fockers.
Sternbergh: And seriously, that's shooting Fockers in a barrel.
Nussbaum: Really? I liked the Sandra Bullock bit.
Sternbergh: No slight smirk there.
Nussbaum: "Sandy, why do you make some baffling career choices?"
Nussbaum: The thing is, I think the show has a really unpleasant irony disorder.
Sternbergh: My main complaint is the show is all sensibility.
Sternbergh: Not many jokes to speak of.
Sternbergh: Not that it has to be nonstop rimshots,
Sternbergh: but a few, I don't know, laugh lines would be good.
Nussbaum: It's condescending toward almost everything, but it doesn't earn it at all.
Nussbaum: Because, in fact, it's just as junky or bland as the stuff it is acting like it's above.
Nussbaum: Like, for instance, accountants.
Nussbaum: Who should rise up in protest.
Nussbaum: And nagging wives.
Nussbaum: And yelling Arabs.
Sternbergh: Yeah, the accountant thing is a little disappointing.
Nussbaum: And even sardonic video clerks, who do come off the best.
Sternbergh: But don't you see!
Sternbergh: It's a parody of clichés!
Nussbaum: It's gliding by on the goodwill of its adorable fluffy cast.
Nussbaum: The whole show just kept me reminiscing about other shows and movies that did this stuff well …
Sternbergh: True that.
Nussbaum: Like Scream, where they did the whole "we recognize the cliché!" thing before it became a cliché …
Nussbaum: or Brick, which flipped noir conventions over …
Nussbaum: or even Risky Business, which had a better car-chase scene between a nerd and a dork and a gangster.
Sternbergh: Never saw Risky Business.
Nussbaum: You never saw Risky Business??
Sternbergh: It's true.
Sternbergh: I never took those old records off the shelf.
Sternbergh: I don't approve of movies that portray moral turpitude in a positive light,
Sternbergh: But I digress.
Sternbergh: Sadly, I can't see this show lasting past its six-episode order.
Sternbergh: Because who's it for?
Sternbergh: Some of the advance reviews for Andy Barker
Sternbergh: actually praised it for being a traditional-style sitcom
Sternbergh: which goes to show how far out of favor
Sternbergh: the three-camera, studio-audience setup has fallen.
Nussbaum: Oh, interesting.
Sternbergh: I almost wish someone would do a show in that form really well now,
Sternbergh: NO, NOT YOU EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND!
Sternbergh: YOU CAN STAY DEAD!
Nussbaum: I agree, but this did not feel like a traditional sitcom at all, even a bad one.
Nussbaum: It felt like a really queasy mixture between a meta-show and an earnest action-comedy.
Sternbergh: I think people liked that it was sweet
Sternbergh: Not everyone sees it as meta or ironic.
Nussbaum: I honestly did not find it sweet.
Sternbergh: Me neither.
Nussbaum: I thought it just looked down on the characters that were supposed to be "sweet, dumb" people.
Sternbergh: So how would you fix it?
Sternbergh: It's not too late!
Nussbaum: Let me think! I do like the cast.
Sternbergh: It's a tough one.
Nussbaum: Well, for one thing, the characters actually do need to be characters.
Sternbergh: Every supporting character has only one joke.
Sternbergh: The patriotic falafel guy is sort of funny,
Sternbergh: but it's a stand-up observation,
Sternbergh: not a character on a show.
Sternbergh: And that poor long-suffering actor
Sternbergh: only ever gets to play cabbies and falafel guys.
Sternbergh: This show probably seemed funnier around a boardroom table
Sternbergh: than in practice.
Nussbaum: Really, the video guy is the only genuine (if somewhat familiar) guy — possibly because he most strongly resembles the writers.
Sternbergh: Weirdly, I'm both rooting for it
Sternbergh: And realizing I'll never watch it again of my own free will.
Sternbergh: Tony Hale needs his own show.
Nussbaum: Free Tony Hale.
Sternbergh: Actually, GOB needs a spinoff. Badly.
Sternbergh: I will say
Sternbergh: that several moments from the teaser commercials
Sternbergh: were funnier than anything in the pilot.
Nussbaum: Oh, don't torture me.
Sternbergh: For example, we get to see more of the receptionist.
Nussbaum: I'm enjoying being filled with bile.
Sternbergh: I'm looking for a ray of sunshine here.
Nussbaum: Don't ignite little sparks of hope.
Nussbaum: Just because I love Andy Richter himself in all his wonderful guises …
Nussbaum: … doesn't mean I can't wish his show would be canceled immediately.
Nussbaum: Being a critic is a nasty, nasty thing.
Sternbergh: You can mention that to him if you ever see him on the street.
Sternbergh: "Hey, Andy."
Sternbergh: "I love your work"
Sternbergh: "and wish it would disappear, pronto."
Nussbaum: Look, I wish it could be repaired!
Nussbaum: But the funniest line to me in the whole show was at the end when ….
Nussbaum: … the captioning read "Yelling at him in Sinhalese."
Nussbaum: That can't be good.
Sternbergh: I'll tell you what,
Sternbergh: I'm going to watch at least two more episodes.
Sternbergh: Maybe it will get better.
Nussbaum: Okay, I'm in.
Sternbergh: Though I fear it's not long for this world.
Sternbergh: The good news is, when it goes
Sternbergh: 30 Rock comes back.
Nussbaum: A poignant conundrum.
Nussbaum: Well, not that poignant.