'Andy' comes into his own

In the words of the old Frank Sinatra song, "Imagination is funny." Conan O'Brien's former sidekick puts his fantasies into overdrive in the deliriously silly new sitcom "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" (7:30 p.m., Fox).

A modern-day Walter Mitty, Richter's character, Andy, lives largely in his own mind. There, he muses about various ways of approaching the lovely receptionist, Wendy (Irene Molloy), or ways to drive the new guy, Byron (Jonathan Slavin), out of his office. He muses on the unfairness of life and the fact that handsome people like his pal Keith (James Patrick Stuart) get all the breaks.

Lost in a web of memory, fantasy and continually revised might-have-beens, it's a wonder that Andy gets anything done at all. Don't go looking for much action on "Andy." Most of three episodes provided for review revolve around his office life, where Andy, a would-be novelist, toils writing manuals for a torpedo prototype. Andy works for a huge conglomerate in Chicago. He frequently conducts fantasy conversations with the company's deceased founder, a racist, homophobic rascal who insults him for having accomplished so little at his age.

The hefty, genial Richter scores a comedic bull's-eye as the Everyman Andy. He's the kind of guy whom girls consider a friend. His self-consciousness and decency make him a doormat for the more ambitious, but beneath that genial exterior lurks a rich fantasy life fueled by double helpings of repression and desire.

I like "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" so much that I almost don't want to jinx it with a good review. The silly shows that I enjoy tend to tank in the ratings. If I controlled the universe, "The Tick" would never have been canceled, people would finally shut up about "Sex and the City," and "The Daily Show" would have more viewers than Jay Leno.

� Can science improve your putting game? It does for Alan Alda, host of "Scientific American Frontiers." Tonight's installment, "On the Ball" (8 p.m., PBS), examines vision and the role of eye movement in such sports as hockey, baseball, tennis and golf.

Tonight's other highlights

� The documentary "Con Man" (6 p.m., Cinemax) explores the life of a 31-year-old drifter with a criminal record who bluffed his way into Princeton University as an 18-year-old track star.

� On back-to-back repeat episodes of "Frasier" (NBC), wine wars (7 p.m.), Roz can't accept her boyfriend's job (8 p.m.).

� Lorelai sponsors a charity fashion event on a repeat "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m., WB).

� An earthquake strands the gang in Ellie's building on "Watching Ellie" (7:30 p.m., NBC).

� An agent in New Orleans may have a clue about the plot on Palmer on "24" (8 p.m., Fox).

� Clark helps an abused teen on "NYPD Blue" (8 p.m., ABC).

� Scheduled on "Dateline" (9 p.m., NBC): Did a young wife die because of faulty air bags, or was it foul play?


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