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TV Preview: "Andy Barker, P.I."

TV Preview: "Andy Barker, P.I."

Andy Barker is, well, a pretty boring guy. He's an accountant prone to wearing putty-colored suits, and the closest he gets to cursing is muttering "oh, cheese and crackers!" But then he moves into the office of a former private investigator and inherits some of the man's clients, thrusting himself into a life of murder, mystery, and mayhem.

That's the premise of "Andy Barker, P.I.," Andy Richter's cop-drama spoof, which premieres Thursday as part of NBC's new comedy lineup. After checking out a couple of episodes, I have both good news and bad news about the show. The bad: The premiere episode isn't wonderful. The good: Other episodes are much better, giving me hope that "Andy Barker" could become a great comedy if NBC gives it time to grow.

The show is simultaneously silly and sincere, and much of the credit for that tone goes to Richter, whose bumbling Andy approaches investigative work with the childlike enthusiasm of a guy who watches "Law & Order" reruns in bed at night. But the show's supporting characters really make the show work, so

Tony "Buster Bluth" Hale and Marshall Manesh are great as the friends who become Andy's detective team, and I couldn't get enough of Harve Presnell as Lew Staziak, the crusty old detective whose office Andy now occupies.

But for my money, the best supporting character is Andy's secretary, played by Nicole Randall Johnson. I loved her in "Significant Others," and in "Andy Barker," she embraces the sassy clerk stereotype and twists it so even the tired jokes feel fresh. In fact, that could be said of the show as a whole: It sticks close to TV conventions, but it knows how to play with them so they're funny again. The one exception might be Andy's wife, Jenny, whose earnestness is so over-the-top, it's grating.

"Andy Barker" is only getting five episodes as a try-out — six if you include the online exclusive — and that might not be enough time for the show to catch on. But "The Office" only got six episodes in its first season, failed to build much of an audience, and came back to become one of the best shows on TV. I'm not sure if that will happen to "Andy Barker," but the show certainly has potential. Can't wait till Thursday? You can watch all the episodes online right now.

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