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Josh Reviews Andy Richter Controls the Universe: The Complete Series!

November 8th, 2010
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One of the many, many great TV shows that aired briefly on FOX before being cancelled well-before-its-time was Andy Richter Controls the Universe.  This short-lived show, which aired in 2002-03, was Andy Richter’s first TV series effort after leaving The Late Show with Conan O’Brien.

I loved this show when it originally aired, and I’ve been hoping for years now that the show would someday get released on DVD.  That day has finally arrived!  Readers of this site might recall that I gave the complete series DVD set of Andy Richter Controls the Universe a brief mention in my list of the Best DVDs of 2009.  I purchased this set at the end of 2009 and hadn’t had a chance to watch it yet when I wrote my Best of 2009 list, so I didn’t feel like I could include it, but I did want to make mention of how extraordinarily pleased I was that this set had finally been released.

Once the summer ended, I had a chance to, at last, make my way through this DVD set.  All nineteen episodes of the series have been included — including, to my surprise and pleasure, five installments that FOX never aired.  (Four of which are really, really funny.)

While some of the series’ playful story-telling techniques — such as the quick-edits, the voice-overs, and the regular shifts into fantasy sequences — don’t quite have the innovative quality that they had back in 2002, I’m pleased to report that Andy Richter Controls the Universe has aged very well.  I found the show just as funny and enjoyable as I had remembered.

Andy Richter is a terrific comedic lead.  His fearlessness that was so often utilized to comedic effect on The Late Show (this is the man, after all, who once famously wandered naked onto the set of The Today Show) is well-suited to this show’s flights of fancy.  A lot of laughs are mined from the crazy things we see Andy doing in his mind’s eye, whether that be arriving to work dressed only in women’s lingerie or diving out his office window or prancing about in a suit made from shredded documents.  Andy is able to come across as a fairly normal “everyman,” while still maintaining his comedic edge.  He’s also lovable enough to make the audience want to watch his adventures every week.

Mr. Richter is surrounded by a strong ensemble.  James Patrick Stuart plays Andy’s best friend Kieth, a man so good looking that life has been incredibly easy for him.  In unskilled hands, this could have been a really annoying character, but Mr. Stuart brings a surprising amount of sweetness to the role — he makes Keith so good-natured that he’s impossible not to like.  He’s also, in his sly, dead-pan way, quite hilarious.  Irene Molloy plays the office receptionist, Wendy.  When she’s introduced in the pilot, Andy has an immediate crush on her — so, of course, she starts dating Keith.  That sounds like a typical sitcom plot for keeping apart the two characters who we KNOW should be together, but I was pleased that the show never went that route.  Andy quickly moves on, and Wendy and Keith are portrayed as a serious couple for the whole run of the show.  Ms. Molloy is beautiful and very funny — and she’s also a great singer!  Paget Brewster plays Andy’s boss Jessica.  Rather than being a standard sitcom stick-in-the-mud boss, she’s probably the looniest one of the bunch.  I loved the sweetness of her relationship with Andy.  Lastly there’s Jonathan Slavin as Andy’s bizarre office-mate Byron.  As with all of the other roles, this could easily have been a typical sitcom character, but I was pleased that rather than taking Byron into cartoon-lunacy-land, the writers kept him just on this side of reality.  Byron is weird, but more introverted and lonely than a total crazy.  Each member of the show’s ensemble was strong in his or her own right — there really are no weak links — but what I particularly enjoyed was how well the characters meshed with one another.  Andy and his friends really felt like a tight-knit group of co-workers, and I found that quite engaging as a viewer.  The show was at its best when it let the whole ensemble bounce off one-another.

There are a few weaker episodes in the bunch.  It took the show a few episodes to find its comedic footing, but over-all I found Andy Richter Controls the Universe to be very, very funny.  It’s not exactly ground-breaking comedy at a level with a show like Arrested Development (another brilliant show cancelled by FOX), but I thought it was pretty consistently amusing.  It’s also not a show with an acerbic edge such as Curb Your Enthusiasm.  No, Andy Richter Controls the Universe is an inherently sweet show.  Some might feel that makes it a little less interesting than it otherwise could have been, but I found the good-natured atmosphere of the show to be quite endearing.  And the writing and acting was sharp enough that I never felt that interfered with the show’s being consistently funny.

The DVDs come with some decent special features — there are two commentary tracks and a nice retrospective documentary on the show called How Andy Richter Controlled the Universe with interviews with all the major players.  My only major complaint about the DVD set is that the episodes are presented in the totally random order in which FOX aired them.  FOX — as that network has done for many other terribly mishandled shows (such as Firefly), chose to air the episodes completely out of order.  This results in weirdness like there being an episode featuring Andy’s frat-boy neighbors Teak and Phil, followed by the episode in which they are introduced.  Since this DVD set is the way the show is going to live on, why they chose to immortalize FOX’s crazy ordering of the episodes is a complete mystery to me.  Why not put the episodes on DVD in their original, correct production order??  Luckily, the disc packaging does note the episodes’ original production numbers, so you could choose, as I did, to watch the episodes in their correct order.  But this means you constantly have to jump around the three discs in the set.  Annoying.

Still, this annoyance is vastly outweighed by my great delight that this show has finally been released on DVD!!  Give it a try if you’ve never seen it, and marvel once again at the crazy programming decisions made by the FOX network executives who cancelled this show.

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