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October 10, 2015

Gone Too Soon: Andy Richter Controls the Universe

by Jason Hughes, posted Sep 7th 2009 11:03AM
Andy Richter Controls the Universe
When Andy Richter left Late Night With Conan O'Brien to establish his own career in acting, nobody knew that he'd come full circle and rejoin O'Brien years later. At the same time, nobody knew that creator Victor Fresco would do much the same thing.

Andy Richter Controls the Universe was one of those quirky shows that most people, who enjoy a dash of nonsense in their comedy, really dug. It was a very playful show about a guy working in a massive company. It featured a small ensemble with great chemistry on-screen, and had a unique look at big corporations.

A few years later, Fresco tapped that well again, and we got Better Off Ted, another comedy with absurdist tendencies set in a massive corporation with a small cast. Like Andy, it eked out a second season based more on critical acclaim than ratings. As someone who enjoys both shows, I find myself worrying that Ted will share Andy's ultimate fate, cancellation after the second season.

What was it?
[Spoilers Ahead!] There are actually a lot of parallels between Victor Fresco's two shows here. Andy works at the fifth largest company in the world, Pickering Industries, while Ted works at Verdian Dynamics; an equally massive company. Both companies manufacture anything you can imagine. But, while Ted is the manager of a development team, Andy writes the manuals for the products once they're completed.

Both characters narrate the events of the series. Ted does so literally by breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the camera. Andy's is an internal voiceover, complete with elaborate fantasy sequences. Imagine a much more extensive use of J.D.'s imagination from Scrubs. Even the founder of the company, Mr. Pickering, who's been dead for decades is a main cast member, appearing to Andy to impart his bigoted wisdom.

Andy's best friend, Keith, was clearly the prototype for Ted. He's good-looking, and as a result nothing really bad ever happens to him. In fact, things generally go better for him largely in part to his handsomeness. Equally, it has been said that things generally go well for Ted, and he is more respected, because of his appearance.

Andy Richter Controls the Universe CastThe parallel's between their bosses is even more striking. Jessica (Andy) and Veronica (Ted) share many of the same stiff mannerisms. They both had a one-night tryst with the main character years before, though Ted actually got to have sex (probably because he's hotter). And there was a hair holding while vomiting incident for both that sealed their friendship.

There's even an unrequited love interest for the main characters. While Ted chooses not to date Linda because he's already used up his one office romance with Veronica, Andy simply doesn't have the nerve to ask Wendy out. So, of course, Keith beats him to it.

Then, there's Jonathan Slavin. In Andy he's Byron and shares an office with Andy, while in Ted he plays Phil who shares a lab with Lem. Both have an incredibly insecure and unstable personality.

Why did it have to go?
Because it was different and it was on FOX. To be fair, there was no conspiracy. The ratings just weren't there: a fate that all too often consumes the deliciously unique on television.

How do I find out what happens next?
Watch Better off Ted? Andy Richter Controls the Universe wasn't really that kind of show, with long drawn out plots that were left unresolved. I'm sure there would have been more of the same.

That said, I think Veridian Dynamics should have at some time in the past bought out Pickering Industries, and Ted should have an issue with a manual and have to drop in on Andy and the cast from this show. You could even have Slavin play both of his roles and try and out-neurotic one another.

Tie it all together and give us a reunion to remember, Fresco!

Where did the cast wind up?
  • Andy Richter (Andy Richter) starred in Quintuplets for a season, and then had an even shorter run in Andy Barker, P.I. before returning to Conan O'Brien's side when the host took over The Tonight Show earlier this year.
  • Paget Brewster (Jessica Green) has remained prominent on our small screens in guest roles, but also in starring turns as Beth Huffstodt on Huff, and currently as Emily Prentiss on Criminal Minds.
  • James Patrick Stuart (Keith) shifted over to the Gettysburg sequel to reprise his role as Col. Alexander. He's done a lot of guest work, including a 10-episode run as Charles Clark on 90210, and does voice work with Andy Richter on The Penguins of Madagascar.
  • Irene Molloy (Wendy McKay) appears to have left television after Andy. She has a folk/pop band nearing an album release and has done some stage work, as well.
  • Jonathan Slavin (Byron Togler) did the guest star circuit, including several multi-episode arcs in shows like Summerland and My Name Is Earl, until he was called back for creator Victor Fresco's Better Off Ted, where he currently plays Phil.
  • John Bliss (Mr. Pickering) did a few more guest roles and wound up his career as Principal Irving Pal on Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide. He passed away last year.

Andy Richter Controls the Universe; The Complete Series DVDWho cares?
The critical community still holds up Andy Richter Controls the Universe as a high-water mark in television comedy. That it wasn't appreciated on a large enough scale to survive cements its status in some minds. It had developed enough of a cult status to warrant the series release on DVD earlier this year, where it's seen solid sales. I think it'll be fondly remembered for years to come.

When can I see it?
The series recently aired on HDNet, but that appears to have finished its run, so it looks like it's off to the video store for you to pick up the Andy Richter Controls the Universe complete series on DVD.

[via IMdB, Wikipedia, The Futon Critic and more!]

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This show didn't do enough to show its twisted darkside. Andy Richter is simply too efective at being a lovable harmless person that sometimes you lose the incredibly messed up jokes on this show.

"I once had this dream where me and you were polishing this big cannon."

Absolute gold. The show looked harmless on the surface, but with a hidden edge.

September 08 2009 at 2:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just because a show is "quirky" doesn't mean it's good. That has to be one of the most overused adjectives for a show that gets canceled after a few episodes. That, and the verb "connect." I can't tell you how many times I hear/read - "It was a quirky show. It just didn't connect with viewers."

September 08 2009 at 6:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I liked Andy Barker quite a bit too...it's sad that quirky shows like this can't get any attention.

September 07 2009 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Omg I just started watching this show a few days ago! What a coincidence...I like it a lot. That episode with Conan O Brien is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

September 07 2009 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Borat's comment

Have you ever eaten a six-pound lobster... off the chest of a seven-pound lobster?

September 08 2009 at 1:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"My mother died doing what she loved the most...committing suicide."

September 08 2009 at 1:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Yme Sandelmann

Oh god, how I loved this show.
I just saw it again three months ago, still funny as hell. It is exactly my kind of humor and the show fit Andy perfectly.

September 07 2009 at 1:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Andy Barker was far funnier than "...Controls the Universe". That deserves to be in the "Gone To Soon" category much more than this.

September 07 2009 at 12:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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