It’s often the best shows that see the chopping block early on Fox and Andy Richter Controls the Universe was just one of the many causalities of the network. Although it did last two seasons, the entire series consisted of a scant nineteen episodes, not nearly enough to put it into syndication. So fans of the show were limited to the clips they could find online until Paramount Home Video finally pulled the series out of their catalog and released a three-disc set, complete with new extras (and a 16:9 aspect ratio) to compliment the set.
The rules of comedy are about to be broken in Andy Richter Controls the Universe, one of the funniest sitcoms in TV history. A bored writer of instruction manuals, Andy spends his office hours daydreaming about what his life could, should and ought to be. Starring in his outlandish fantasies are his unlucky-in-love boss Jessica (Paget Brewster), best buddy Keith (James Patrick Stewart), quirky pal Byron (Jonathan Slavin) and Andy’s secret object of desire, Wendy the receptionist (Irene Molloy). Featuring the Emmy-nominated series 14-episdoe run – plus 5 that were never shown on network TV – this is cutting-edge lunacy at its irreverent best, a mirth-quaking 10 on the Richter scale!
I never did check out this show when it was originally on the air (probably because Fox had just cancelled The Tick a year before and I didn’t want to get invested), but now thanks to the wonders of the DVD format, I was finally able to check out this incredibly…unique comedy. It’s easy to see why this series didn’t succeed—it is so unbelievably quirky and fast-paced in its dialogue that there’s nothing else quite like it. In live action, at least. By the time I’d finished the first episode I’d realized this show was a whole hell of a lot like Family Guy, what with its diverse characters, strange situations and frequent cut-a-ways to completely unrelated thoughts inside Andy’s head.
But throughout the nineteen episodes included here I couldn’t help but really enjoy the uniqueness that this show represented. There was nothing that I’d seen quite like this before in live-action; even the way it was shot, with a sometimes fishbowl lens look some of the time (just not quite as distorted) helped this series feel more like something out of Pee Wee’s Playhouse than it did any standard sitcom. It also had the feeling of a slightly more off-beat Drew Carey Show, just with a collection of incredibly strange characters (check out the shots of Keith on the back of the package—they both have his eyes bugging out of his head, making him look like Christian Bale from American Psycho).
Still, it’s the quirks that make this series such a treat. It helps to be a fan of Richter himself, as that immediately allows a portal into the world, as there isn’t a single other individual I recognized on this series (well, Byron looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him at the time). It’s a shame the series didn’t take off, as it really was a blast to watch.
What was also unique about the show was that there were no real “stinkers” in the bunch. All of the nineteen episodes were a riot to watch and there wasn’t a single one of them that I didn’t enjoy watching from start to finish. Rare for a series, but when it’s as fresh and smartly written as this show was (and, well, still is), it’s hard to get many stinkers in, especially when they only had nineteen episodes to work with.
Overall Andy Richter Controls the Universe is a fantastic show that deserves a much larger audience than it originally received. If you see it on the shelf, be sure and pick it up as it’s Highly Recommended.
Unfortunately there is an error with the DVD set from the start. For one thing the episode order is still borked from how Fox played around with the scheduling, so there’s that to contend with. Other than that though, the set itself arrives in a slipcase with two thin-paks (two discs in one, one in the other) and simple and easy to navigate menus are included. Video for the series is surprisingly strong, with a great 16:9 that is fantastic from start to finish. The series uniquely cheery color palette (which only further adds to its quirkiness) looks great, although the image can get a bit soft at times. But I’m not going to fault a five to six year old show too much. The audio unfortunately arrives in a standard 2.0 track, which is a little too muddled at times to be truly great. Nothing horrible, mind you, but still a little disappointing to have it crammed all into the front channels.
Extras include two audio commentaries by Andy Richter and Victor Fresco on “Pilot” and “Little Andy in Charge,” which really isn’t enough as they’re so entertaining to listen to that it makes you wish that Paramount had sprung to have them record commentary on all of the episodes (especially “Crazy in Rio”…how they didn’t record something for that one, I don’t know). It’s also in this commentary that we learn that the exterior building shot that is used way too often in the series is really from Trading Places, so they’re as entertaining as they are informative.
The featurettes are limited to How Randy Richter Controlled the Universe (25:06), which is a reunion of sorts that is almost overloaded with clips from the show. Still, it’s a nice little regrouping of the cast to talk about their characters and the show. Next is What If Andy Richter Controlled The Universe? (4:25), which is a very short piece where the actors involved answer the question the extra poses. This is quite a disappointing extra to close the set out on, considering it’s the last one on the list.
Overall the set isn’t the most impressive thing when it comes to the extras, but it’s more than Paramount gives a lot of their aborted television show releases, so it did get a little extra love. A solid effort nonetheless and one that’s still Recommended.
Andy Richter Controls the Universe is now available on DVD.