TV Time: The Riches, Andy Barker and more

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Two new primetime shows have impressed me with their first few episodes: FX's brilliant family drama The Riches and NBC's absurdist comedy Andy Barker, P.I. Let's have a look at them both, followed by quick thoughts on my usual favorites.

Warning: If you aren't caught up on a show, it would probably be best to skip its blurb.

First, The Riches:

While the third episode offered significantly less intrigue than the first two, this show has so far proven to be one of the more appealing dramas on TV. It stars Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver as Wayne and Dahlia Malloy, Irish travellers who, after stealing the family bank from their gypsy compound, stumble into a new life posing as recently deceased rich folks. I've only seen the first episode of Big Love, but this pilot had a lot of similarities to that one, as others have noted.

Where the show has gone since then has made for some, ahem, richly entertaining television. The Malloys and their three children are each well-developed already, and their quirks have played into plotlines that include Wayne conning his way into a job as private counsel for his millionaire neighbor, Dahlia conning her kids into private school and their son Cael putting the family in peril by going back for his girlfriend. The setting of suburban New Orleans makes for a sufficiently hoity-toity backdrop to put the Malloys' rough edges in focus. It also allows these con artists the chance to prey on some pudgy, deserving targets.

Perhaps the show's greatest strength is the acting, which has been so good that it doesn't matter how often Izzard and Driver shift their accents. Shannon Marie Woodward, who plays daughter Delilah, is also a highlight. With her knack for conveying the whole spectrum of teenage emotions, she's a natural.

I'll be intrigued to see where this goes for the rest of the spring.

Well, it is vanilla, but intentionally so. Richter's character and his wife Jenny (Clea Lewis) are two of the most mundane personalities on television—mundane to the point of hilarity. Their exceedingly bland flirtations are one of the highlights of this absurd, entertaining comedy. That same blandness makes Andy Barker a compelling, unusual action hero.

The Barkers live encased in a suburban bubble, soft-spoken, wimpy and devoid of passions save for accounting, gardening and each other. But when CPA Andy starts his new private practice in a local strip mall, his first client is a seductress who seems to have mistaken Andy for a private eye. Short on work and strapped for cash, he agrees to help her find her missing husband, and suddenly he's an accountant/detective. Ridiculous but hilarious antics ensue, and by the end of the half-hour, everything is wrapped up cleanly. From the looks of it, each episode will have its own such self-contained mystery, a good move for a show that wants to be funny and little else.

On that note, the series wisely eschews any sort of plausibility, instead going for laughs and mostly succeeding. For example, Jenny, who expresses reservations about Andy's P.I. work in the pilot, seems fine with the risky business by week 2, and this is never explained. In the same way, there's clearly no way Andy and the strip mall losers he enlists could solve crimes. It's all insane and unrealistic, and it contributes to the zany fun.

I should have known anything with Conan O'Brien's name on it would be worth a try. (He's listed as a co-creator.) But as fun as this show is, I would hate to see it take 30 Rock's slot. Hopefully NBC has room in its stable for one more quirky comedy.

Lost was frankly awesome last week, and I'm not sure how any of the haters can still think the show is off track. During the abysmal "Jack's tattoo" episode and the "Hurley's hippie van" episode (which I liked as a palette cleanser), I could understand being upset with the show. But those slower episodes were preceded and followed by some seriously compelling television. In those prior and later episodes, Juliet's backstory, Desmond's apparent time travel adventure and the exploits of the Jack search party accounted for gripping suspense and an enriched story.

My only worry is now that several castaways are in the Others' hands again, we'll return to the dreary mood of last fall, which—despite complaints to the contrary—was good at the time, but which would be legitimately bad the second time around. Luckily, considering last week's developments with Locke, when Ben offered to help him harness the island's power, the current stint in captivity seems destined for more excitement. And from the looks of the previews for this week, activity on the beach is going to really heat up.

24 has suffered through its most frustrating season, but the past two weeks were the first consecutive high-quality hours since the four-hour premiere. They seem to have weeded out the less engaging plotlines and cut straight to the meat. With the reintroduction of the Logans, a chilling new Vice President with an itchy trigger finger and the tangible threat of a bomb in the air, these last two weeks have been vintage 24. That is, they weren't necessarily believable, but they were exciting, and what more do you want from this show? It's a weekly dose of adrenaline-fueled suspense, and now that the plot isn't moving along at Edgar speed, I have high hopes for the rest of the season.

Perhaps the best belwether for the rest of Day 6: Kickass Jack is back. Now that he's learned Audrey is dead (yeah, right), he has shaken off the weak and weary torture victim persona and rekindled the pissed-off, passionate Bauer we know and love. This bodes exceedingly well for the rest of the spring.

(Note: I wrote that analysis before last night's episode, which seems to have moved back in the other direction. Let's hope this season is still salvagable.)

Finally, is there any drama better than Friday Night Lights? I truly don't understand this show's unfavorable ratings. Peter Berg's show succeeds without the caveats I allow other shows; it manages to be realistic, suspenseful, funny and heartbreaking week in and week out. Only The Office matches it in terms of delivering the whole package, and that show requires some suspension of disbelief. FNL is essentially perfect, and if these next three weeks are its final bow, it will go down as one of the great TV outrages of all time. Want to see what I'm so high on? Tune in Wednesday at 8 p.m. and witness the perfection yourself.