The TV midseason is a bit scattered this year. Not only were there a bunch of winter premieres (Heroes, Lost and Jericho returned from hiatus, while 24 once again began its no-repeat season in January), but there were a handful of new series that started and will start within the first 4 months of the year. In particular, there are two new shows in a long-standing tradition that goes back to the likes of Columbo and Murder She Wrote — the crime show with a gimmick. Andy Barker P.I. features the return of Conan O’Brien’s former side-kick Andy Richter as an accountant turned private eye, and Jeff Goldblum plays a police detective who “sees” dead people. Add to that the Canadian return of Psych which features a highly observant guy posing as a psychic to help the police solve crimes. See, we’ve got a theme going! With the numerous crime dramas out there, it definitely takes a hook to get viewers. However, these three shows not only employ an outlandish gimmick to sell their premises, they also inject humour into the otherwise heavy tone that these kinds of shows typically bring.
Andy Barker, P.I.
With Andy Richter (the human Ewok) in the lead, you can bet there are not going to be grisly crime scenes or depraved deviants on the loose in this show. Very mild-mannered Andy Barker, C.P.A., leases office space in a suburban plaza. Fate (and mistaken identity) intervenes when Andy is mistaken for the private investigator who used to lease the space before him. At first he’s reluctant to take the case, but times are tough and the femme fatale who arrives with a wad of cash convinces him. What follows is a tongue in cheek series of clue-hunting adventures, but I gotta hand it to the writers who (so far) have managed to write cases that cleverly hinge upon surprisingly commonplace clues that totally fit the character–the first case was even solved by accounting! Adventures aside, this show is enjoyable for its quirky cast. Andy’s mall-mates include a video store clerk (played by Arrested Development’s hilariously odd Tony Hale — who went to the same grad school as me) and a restaurant owner (Marshall Manesh, who played neighbour Mr. Zamir on Will & Grace, and recurring cabbie Ranjit from How I Met Your Mother — he’s very funny). Nicole Johnson plays Andy’s low-energy, smile-free assistant whose tone only rises when unleashing a sarcastic zinger (but Tony Hale’s shameless attempts to get with her are too too gut-busting). Finally, a less-annoying-than-usual Clea Lewis plays Andy’s wife, Ruth. They are the cutest, dorkiest couple — she emails him clues while they’re both working on their laptop computers side-by-side in bed. It’s a charmingly pleasant half-hour of crime solving. (4 out of 5) Thursdays on NBC.
When I first heard about this premise I had my doubts — another crime-solver who sees dead people? I totally love the it-should-be-so-much-more-popular show Medium, which not only has a similar premise, but is on the same network as Raines. Then I saw the first two episodes and now I understand that they’re actually pretty different. Unfortunately one of the differences is that I don’t like Raines. Firstly, Detective Raines does not really communicate with the dead. He only imagines them as people next to him, talking to him, as a way to bounce off ideas and figure out the crimes he’s investigating. It’s a weak idea that starts to feel old really fast. Having Raines talk and talk and talk to figments of his imagination who possess no new information really puts too much faith in Jeff Goldblum’s charm (unfortunately he’s not using any). While he’s been charming to the point of annoying smugness in other roles, as Raines, he’s mumblingly low-key and dull. He’s got a bit of that misanthropic House-esque crotchety personality, but he doesn’t make up for it in any way (like being a medical genius). Instead it only makes him seem more neurotic. When Medium first started out they quickly went off the “seeing dead people” bit and used the main character’s abilities as a tool to really play with the way a story is told. Hopefully Raines has got some fresh tricks up his jacket sleeve, otherwise he’ll just be babbling away to his imaginary friends with no one to listen. I know I’m tuning out. (2.5 out of 5) Fridays on NBC.
This show concluded its second season on USA network in the States, but continues to show in Canada. Starring James Roday as the fake psychic detective Shawn Spencer, Psych rides a lot on the likeability of its lead character who is a carefree, annoyingly extroverted guy who gets his partner and best friend Gus into all kinds of sticky situations. As a son of a cop, Shawn was intensely trained to be observant and when he shows up in a room he’s constantly picking up clues (which the producers helpfully show the viewers by lighting up the items with quick flashes and dings — it’s more effective than it sounds). When Shawn’s observations lead him to solve the crime, he pretends that it all comes to him in moments of psychic insight. This show’s silly tone is actually kind of fun. It’s not overly childish (though it’s on the edge), and Shawn’s obnoxiousness is bearable (again with the edge). I’m not sure that it’s actually possible to solve any of the crimes on the show before Shawn does, but with the clues highlighted it sure seems like we’re right there along with him. Forgettable psychic fun. (3.5 out of 5) Thursdays on CH.
April brings a few other bright lights: Heroes comes back (Yay!) for its last pod of episodes this season (Boo!) and a new series called Drive follows a cross-country road race for 13 episodes, featuring Nathan Fillion (Captain Mal of Firefly/Serenity fame).