For his sake, it’s really good news that Andy Richter will be reuniting with former Late Night cohort Conan O’Brien when Conan takes the Tonight Show chair in June. The poor guy never could catch a break in the sitcom world after leaving Late Night in 2000, with all three of his headlining shows canceled without ever getting past the second season.
By far the best of those three shows was Andy Richter Controls the Universe, a consistently sharp and uproarious single-camera sitcom that reveled in subverting the conventions of the genre. It aired as a mid-season replacement on FOX for two seasons in 2002-2003 before it was unceremoniously given the hatchet.
Like many an unfortunate FOX program before and since, the network didn’t really know what to do with Andy Richter Controls the Universe, switching its timeslot and air day around willy-nilly, thoroughly wrecking any chance of a strong enough audience base developing. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure if it would have caught on with anything more than a devoted cult audience anyway – the rapid barrage of silliness and non sequiturs might have been more than the average sitcom consumer could handle.
On the show, Richter plays a version of himself who works for a nondescript Fortune 500 company writing instruction manuals for everything from deep fryers to heat-seeking missiles. He would much rather write something like a novel, and is either too creative or too weird to be satisfied with his corporate existence, so Andy is constantly imagining alternate versions of events. Everything is presented to the viewer as fact until all of a sudden, the shot freezes, we hear a rewind sound and Andy sheepishly explains that’s not what really happened.
The gimmick works because Andy’s daydreams are a lot stranger than most of ours probably are. Sure, he occasionally thinks about what it would be like to get with the hot girl at reception or punch the guy who’s really annoying, but he mainly thinks about stuff like if he had wheels for feet or what it would be like to wear a coat made of puppies. Absurdity is in no short supply on Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and it’s the show’s undying commitment to being ridiculous, whether in Andy’s daydream sequences or not, that sets it apart from most sitcoms.