A truly great comedy sketch—say, Monty Python’s “Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days”—is as funny on the 432nd viewing as it was the first time. But if it’s repeatedly recycled with minor variations (“George A. Romero’s No, No Nanette,” “Wes Craven’s Show Boat”...), the premise gets stale pretty fast. Such is the problem with Andy Barker, P.I., a spoof of The Rockford Files--esque ’70s detective shows that begins with a brilliant pilot, then hits the point of diminishing returns immediately thereafter.
Andy Richter—who’s deserved a quality sitcom ever since Fox torpedoed Andy Richter Controls the Universe in 2003—plays the eponymous accidental sleuth, a mild-mannered CPA who receives little business after opening his own office. To kill some time, he takes a job from a femme fatale seeking the previous tenant, grizzled investigator Lew Staziak (Harve Presnell). It doesn’t take Philip Marlowe to deduce where things go from there.
Having to squeeze a full-blown mystery into 22 minutes makes Barker extremely plot-heavy, which doesn’t leave enough room for the character bits that are the series’s strong suit. Tony Hale escapes the long shadow of Arrested Development’s Buster Bluth as Simon, Andy’s video-clerk sidekick (think Quentin Tarantino on Oxycontin) who’s hung up on our hero’s equally zoned-out assistant (Nicole Randall Johnson), while Presnell and Clea Lewis (as the chirpy Mrs. Barker) have enough comic chops to keep their characters from coming off as mere devices. If Barker manages to gel as more of an ensemble piece, it could turn into a vital component of the NBC comedy lineup. For now, it’s a one-joke show, though the joke is fortunately one a lot of people will enjoy. (See also “The Hot Seat.”) — Andrew Johnston