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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Andy Richter Controls the Universe: The Complete Series review by Jessica Friedman

"All I know is, I hate racists. I hate everything about them: their music, their food, their so-called religion, the way their men are so skinny, and their wives are all so fat, but mostly, I hate the way they judge people based on tired stereotypes.”

If you find the above quotation absolutely hilarious, then Andy Richter Controls the Universe is your type of show. In the vein of the great comedies of our generation that mix frenetic surrealism with biting wit, this program was, unfortunately, canceled by (who else) Fox after only airing 14 of the 19 episodes made due to (of course) poor ratings. Yes, this is another beloved cult tv show that could not make it despite having some of the best writing ever (and I say this as a diehard Arrested Development fan). In fact, I would compare ARCtU to three of my favorite shows of all time. It captures the spirit of the after-school special reversals (like the quote from the neurotic Byron above) in Strangers with Candy (a show Richter and his wife actually appeared on), the fantastic interoffice camaraderie of Newsradio, and the beauty of dysfunction in the aforementioned AD (another show Richter appeared on briefly in a hilarious cameo). After spending a whole weekend with my husband watching all 19 episodes and the extra features (commentary by Andy and the creator, Victor Fresco, on two episodes; a featurette on the making of the show; and a cute montage entitled “What If Andy Richter Controlled the Universe?”), I can say that without a doubt this dvd set is a MUST HAVE for people who love cult comedies.

The show revolves around the life of the titular character of Andy Richter, played by Andy Richter, and his relationships with his four friends: his boss Jessica (Paget Brewster), coworker Keith (James Patrick Stuart), receptionist Wendy (Irene Molloy), and the guy he shares his office with, Byron (Jonathan Slavin). Throw into the mix Andy’s surreal flashbacks and cutaway thoughts, the recurring gag of the founder of the company Andy works for, Mr. Pickering, saying the most politically incorrect things possible (but getting away with it because he is only a figment of Andy’s imagination) and a slew of fantastic guest stars, and you have the makings of a true gem of a tv show.

As I previously noted, the DVD set comes with all of the episodes (not just the ones Fox aired), however, there is a major caveat when viewing the episodes. For unknown reasons, the set is listed out of order (which is incredibly obvious with “Second Episode” being listed fourth on Disc One). To enhance your viewing (and to not be totally confused by the hairstyle changes of the female characters season to season), do yourself a favor and watch “Second Episode” as the second episode (this seems obvious, but Ian and I didn’t watch it that way and were thoroughly confused with the plot shift). This also occurs with some of the second season episodes (the character of Wendy goes from curly hair to straight hair episode to episode), so be on the look out for this error. Aside from this minor problem, everything else about the set is great. The video quality is fine, the sound is crisp, and the extras include some insightful discussion of the show and how it came to be with interviews from all of the cast.

In regards to the episodes themselves, I would like to take a moment to describe my two favorites: “We’re All the Same, Only Different” and “Crazy in Rio.” Both of these episodes appear on the second disc and feature insightful comedy about society (racism and nepotism, respectively). The above quotation from Byron is one of the many brilliant discussions of diversity that to me is reminiscent of South Park’s take on people who hate smokers at the Museum of Tolerance, calling them “filthy smokers,” “dirty lungs,” and “tar-breath.” Better yet is that the object of Andy’s bigotry is not a typical ethnic minority group, but the Irish, which leads to many laughs as multiple levels of people don’t consider making fun of the Irish a problem, leading to the always humorous sensitivity training weekend that features one character saying what is without a doubt my favorite line of the show (it’s probably too racially insensitive to print here, but it is well worth seeking out if you enjoy political incorrectness at its extreme).

My other favorite episode that I would like to briefly mention features Andy’s late-night cohort, Conan O’Brien, as Pickering’s grandson who takes over the company as its CEO and is…shall we say, a bit eccentric. For example, at one point in the episode Conan’s character has cotton candy wrapped around his hand and tells the gang that he wasn’t offering it to them when he said “cotton candy,” he was introducing it to them. As always, Conan is hilarious with Andy by his side, and the episode takes shots at nepotism, the perks of the elite, and Italian-speaking dogs (boy, they needed to be taken down a peg or two).

In conclusion, this dvd set is a necessity for anyone who loves cult comedy shows. If you want to relive the insanity of Pickering’s diatribes against cleaning ladies and homosexuals or if you never saw the show during its initial run but have heard good things about it, I highly recommend giving Andy’s imagined universe that he controls a chance.

1 comment:

deadly thrips said...

I could have sworn that I saw a documentary on the making of an episode of this. I thought it was on TVLand, but can't find it anywhere. Any thoughts?