Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Best Show Andy Richter Starred In That Also Had "Andy" In The Title.

It's another Showdown September nomination!

Are you a star? Or a second banana? Are you Ed, or Johnny? Mick, or Keith? Bert, or Ernie? Chocolate, or peanut butter?

I'm thinking about this because I'm thinking about Andy Richter's two TV shows, the two shows he was the star of, both of which I thought were great, and both of which failed miserably, as so many shows I thought were great end up doing.

I thought they failed miserably because I liked them, and I like mostly weird, offbeat, indie type of stuff; very rarely do my likes make it into the mainstream (and when they do, I kind of resent them.) That's not a pleasant thought -- not pleasant because it means that I'm still sitting on the sidelines of life, watching everyone else play the game and not quite understanding the rules-- so in the great game of Red Rover that is this existence, I'll never be told to come over come over. And also not pleasant because it means that I don't dare like anything that I really like -- because if I like it, it will be doomed to failure and I'll be killing off the world I love, like King Midas in reverse or that sad-but-terrifying guy whose every touch turns things into Skittles:

How is that supposed to make me like Skittles?

But, before I became too morose about the possibility that I'm the Doominator for things I like, Sweetie came to the rescue with an alternate theory; her theory was this: Some people just aren't stars.

I buy it. Sweetie knows her celebrities; she reads People magazine and some of the others; she keeps up to date on gossip; she watches all kinds of movies and has, I believe, seen every episode of every "Law & Order: My God How Many Of Them Are There?" series ever, and can identify not just the celebrities on it, but also the recurring actors, as she did recently when she pointed out to me that a secretary in the police station in one episode was also the battered wife of a suspect in a different episode. (My response? "Good for her; it's nice to see she's getting her life in order.") So when Sweetie talks celebrities, I listen, and when she talks about celebrities in way that makes it possible that someday things I like will stay on the air longer, I really listen.

(Even if sometimes I don't like to listen, like when she recently told me that she heard that Battlestar Galactica was going to wig out on who the 12th Cylon is and make it Lee Adama's long-lost brother -- which would make no sense at all, and would be possibly the worst ending for a TV show since ever.)

In Sweetie's theory, every celebrity is either a star or a second banana, and trying to make a second banana a star always fails miserably. Some of the people she's pegged as second bananas include Andy Richter, Jack Black, and other people that I can't remember right now but I'm sure she was right. This is why, Sweetie says, movies like "School of Rock" aren't as enjoyable as "Orange County:" because in "School of Rock" a second banana is being asked to be a lead man, which doesn't work. Sweetie liked better the movie "Be Kind, Rewind" because it moved Jack Black out of the main camera and into a supporting role, which is more suited for his persona.

I like Sweetie's theory; I like it not only because it means I'm not the reason Andy Richter's shows are dying off, but also because it seems right to me, and also because it can apply to life in general, and not just show business.

In Sweetie's theory, everyone in the world is either a leader or a second banana; everyone in the world is Kermit the Frog, or Fozzie the Bear -- either we're coming out to introduce the show, or we're standing off to the side wockaing; and if we try to take on a role we're not suited for, it won't work out. It's like The Peter Prinicple, only more fun and more accurate.

The Peter Principle, as about 3 people still know, is the idea that we all rise to the level of our own incompetence -- that we get promoted in a business, or life, until we reach a level that we're not competent to handle; the end result of the Peter Principle is that everybody who is your supervisor is incompetent.

Nice theory, right? It explains not only why everyone who bosses you around is dumber than you, but also why you don't get promoted -- because they're so dumb. But like so many theories and rules that weren't developed by me (or by Sweetie), it's only a nice theory, and it's only accurate, if you don't bother to examine it or think about it for very long.

Here's the problem with the Peter Principle. Well, the problems. First: If everyone at every level of every bureaucracy is incompetent to do their job, or even if most people at most levels of most bureaucracies are incompetent, then those businesses/governments/societies would fail, and fail rapidly. An organization simply cannot survive when it's run by incompetent personnel. But are most organizations failing? No. Which means that the Peter Principle is wrong or has at best limited applicability.

Here's the second flaw, the one most people who believe the Peter Principle have never realized or would prefer not to think: If the Peter Principle is right, then you are incompetent for your job. If you believe the Peter Principle is accurate, then you have been promoted to a level of incompetence and you're not capable of doing your job. (Or you believe that it's accurate for everybody but you, which is really saying something about the lengths you'll go to in order to keep believing things.)

So the Peter Principle is wrong, but Sweetie's Second Banana Theory seems right to me: Everyone in life is a star, or a second banana, and you won't be truly happy and things won't work unless you're in your proper role. It makes sense to me, and it answers important questions I've always had, questions like Why wouldn't everyone want to be the quarterback?

That's what I wondered a few years back when The Boy first was going out for the football team. I asked him what position he wanted to play, and he said maybe tight end, or defensive line, or even linebacker. "Not quarterback?" I asked him. "No," he said. When I asked him why he didn't want to be the quarterback, he shrugged and said he didn't like it.

That was mystifying to me. Just as mystifying as why anyone would want to be The Edge when they could be Bono. Who are these people, I always wondered, who are happy playing lead guitar instead of being the lead singer? Who is okay with being Vice President?

I've always wanted to be the front man. I've always wanted to be the lead singer (and did so, twice), the President, the quarterback, the guy doing the talking instead of the guy sitting to the left of the podium looking at the guy doing the talking. That's because in Sweetie's Second Banana Theory, and in my own mind, I'm a star. I want to be noticed.

But the world needs people who aren't out there reciting Romeo's soliloquy; it needs someone to build the sets and someone to direct the play and someone to sell the tickets and then it needs people to fill the seats, too. If everyone wanted to be the star, there'd be nobody left to see the show. So the world needs Second Bananas, too, and it's a good thing that there are some; it's a good thing that the world has people like The Boy, who are happy playing center on the offensive line -- happy handing the ball to the quarterback, instead of being the quarterback. It's a good thing that the world has caddies for pro golfers, and has key grips for movie sets.

The trouble, I guess, arises when a second banana wants to be a star; what if I only want to be a star, but I'm really a second banana? What if the world determines that I should be on the sidelines, holding a clipboard, instead of calling the signals?

Then, if that happens, I guess I'm going to spend a lot of time doing what Andy Richter does -- and maybe what I'm doing, too -- trying to convince the world that I'm not a second banana, that I don't have to keep moving down the couch, that I deserve to sit behind the desk, as Andy Richter has tried to do twice, in TV shows that I thought were great but which nobody else did, because only I, apparently, want to see Andy Richter be a star.

Andy's two shows found him front and center, starring, in the latter one, as "Andy Barker, P.I.--" a high concept sitcom in which an accountant rents an office that used to be rented by a private investigator, and finds himself increasingly and reluctantly drawn into solving leftover mysteries that the PI was involved in. I really liked the show and really liked Andy in it -- probably because, I realize, "Andy Barker" was a lot more like "Andy Richter," or at least the "Andy Richter" that I believe to be the real Andy Richter. Nobody else liked the show, though.

Nobody else ever liked "Andy Richter Controls The Universe," either. "Andy Richter Controls The Universe" is a hard show to describe, or so it would seem, based on the "Plot Keywords" supplied by the ever-less-helpful keyword suppliers on IMDB. Here's what IMDB users say "Andy Richter Controls The Universe" is about -- keywords that you're warned might be a spoiler:

Sitcom Character Name In Title.

How is "Character name in Title" a spoiler? I can picture some IMDB users tuning in to Andy Richter Controls The Universe and saying "Andy Richter plays Andy Richter? That wrecks everything for me! There's no suspense!"

The main thing about Andy Richter Controls The Universe was that periodically, we'd see Andy's imagination take over, and get treated to weird scenes that were hypothetical or unusual or just bizarre -- like when Andy imagines all the ways that he could say hello to the receptionist at work that he likes -- which weird scenes then collapse down into the real world, in which we see Andy, having just imagined the many romantic and cool ways he could say hello to the receptionist, walks in and actually says "What's that horrible smell?"

In episode after episode -- for all of 19 episodes, a too-short run, Andy has to deal with little and big disappointments-- having to share an office, seeing the receptionist he likes sleep with the good-looking guy, accidentally killing off a friend's dreams of a singing career-- all the while trying to become a writer and hit the bigtime and get the receptionist and imagining how life would be if only it were the way he imagines it to be, and occasionally getting a taste of that imaginary life -- like when the receptionist gives him a kiss in one episode.

Andy Richter Controls The Universe showed, in a nutshell, how the universe actually does work -- it showed a second banana imagining himself to be the star, imagining what life was like as the quarterback, the lead singer, the chocolate -- and then having to still live life as the second banana, as Al Gore, as the pretzels in Chex Mix, as the remora during Shark Week.

But it showed more than that -- in its mix of real life and show-business, in its using Andy's real name as the name of the character on the show and making Andy the center of the show as he is the center of his own universe, Andy Richter Controls The Universe showed that Second Bananas can not only imagine that they are the stars, but they can be the stars, as Andy Richter in fact was in not one, but two shows.

Sweetie's Second Banana Theory says that stars are stars and second bananas are second bananas. I'm a guy who wants to be a star but fears that he's just a second banana. So while I respect Sweetie's Second Banana Theory, I'm going to fight it. And that's why I've picked Andy Richter Controls The Universe as The Best Show Andy Richter Starred In That Also Had "Andy" In The Title-- because it wasn't just good; it also showed that second bananas can be stars, if only the world will let them take a shot at it.

Click here to see all the other topics I’ve ever discussed!

Showdown September is an entire month of categories in which there are only TWO possible nominees! Categories like

The Best Man To Claim a World Record Score on Donkey Kong

The Best Song That Talks About Whether The Singer Of The Song Feels Like Dancing Or Not

TheBest of Two Freaky Cults Trying to Sell You Something

The Best Celebrity Who Remains Unspeakably Cool No Matter What He Does.

Related Posts: Feeling sidelined? Maybe listening to the Violent Femmes' first album could help you, the way it helped me when I was a teenager who thought things were really bad when they weren't. are non mainstream band that I liked being nonmainstream.

And a while back, I let Hollywood know in no uncertain terms who is The Best Character to be the 12th Cylon on Battlestar Galactica.

Coolness continuum:

Did you know a short horror story of mine, Don't Eat My Face, will appear in the upcoming anthology "Harvest Hill," available this fall from Graveside Tales? Go to their site to find out more and order your copy! And don't forget to read my other horror stories on AfterDark.

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