Fox giveth and taketh.
Tonight the network grants viewers the premiere of "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," a sneaky funny workplace comedy starring the soft pillow of a comic who spent seven years as late-nighter Conan O'Brien's sidekick on NBC. Unfortunately, it replaces "Undeclared," a sneaky funny college-campus comedy that has ended its first season prematurely and is expected to be canceled because of thin ratings.
Too bad, for it deserves long life. Yet one sneaky funny is better than none.
Richter is a straight-faced clown who gives blobs a good name in this series created by Victor Fresco. As a writer of industrial manuals who narrates his life here, he's someone who controls his own universe only in Walter Mitty daydreams that have him getting the beautiful girl he probably will never get in real life. Heading that list is Wendy the office receptionist (Irene Molloy).
His other co-workers are Jessica the boss (Paget Brewster), Keith the hunk (James Patrick Stuart) and Byron the illustrator (Jonathan Slavin), a sad-sack, tied-in-knots neurotic who in a coming episode has a session with a grief counselor that turns out to be lethal ... for her.
"Do you know what it's like to kill someone with your pain?" he says with a groan. "It hurts."
That brand of unforced, sly humor typifies early episodes of this series, along with brotherly Andy's self-effacing comments about Keith and others with good looks getting all the breaks in life. "I'm a bigot," he acknowledges tonight. "I assume things about the attractive I shouldn't."
The writing is witty, Andy's fantasies creative and the good cast in tune with the urbane material. And as a bonus, no irritating laugh track, meaning viewers must decide for themselves when to guffaw. It's a crushing burden, but somehow you'll be up to it.
"Andy Richter Controls the Universe" premieres tonight at 8:30 on Fox. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).