"Andy Barker, P.I.

Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.

WTHR (Channel 13)

Andy Richter’s new sitcom, Andy Barker, P.I., feels like an extended late-night comedy sketch. No shock there: Its star was Conan O’Brien’s sidekick, and O’Brien just happens to be one of the show’s executive producers and co-creators.

But as we know from all the expanded sketches that became movies, from Wayne’s World to A Night at the Roxbury, turning a three-minute idea into a full-length project is hit or miss at best. And Andy Barker, P.I. is hit or miss.

Richter plays the title character, an utterly normal accountant who unwittingly ends up working as a private investigator. In the first three episodes, he goes after a missing politician, looks into the not-so-suspicious death of a fat guy and breaks up a murderous chicken cartel.

He does this with support from his cute-but-uptight wife (Clea Lewis) and help from a surly assistant he never hired (Nicole Randall Johnson), the loony tough-guy detective who used to rent his strip-mall office (Harve Presnell), the owner of the neighboring video store (Tony Hale from Arrested Development) and the proprietor of the nearby Turkish restaurant (Marshall Manesh).

Richter plays it with deadpan seriousness and mostly lets everyone else get the laughs. That’s generous, but it also takes away from what he does best: take every bit to its most absurd limit. In his previous series, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, when he wanted to be seen as cute, Richter dressed in a coat covered with live puppies. Here, his character is so repressed — he uses his turn signal during a car chase — that it’s more silly than laugh-out-loud funny.

Still, the show has its pleasures: deliberately cheesy music, seriously offbeat characters and goofy mysteries. All that’s missing is an ominous voice saying, “Tonight’s story is …” like some old Quinn Martin production.

NBC has turned Thursday into quirky-comedy night with My Name is Earl, The Office and Scrubs. Andy Barker, P.I. fits right in.



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