The Odds of March


"Raines" drops into the midseason TV schedule like a warm welcome spring storm — with a wallop.

An offbeat, possibly off-his-rocker rollicking detective with a built-in audience of one, Michael Raines speaks to actor Jeff Goldblum in a meaningful way.

That is, when he's not talking to himself.

Because, you see, Raines is his own sounding board, even if it sounds like he's echoing his inner thoughts. He has taken the millennium's mantra of "Can you hear me now?" and applied for his own ring tone.

A cop captured by voices only he can hear, this lanky LAPD detective is a Raines of terror for those trying to hear what he hears — voices from beyond the grave and inside his head — all, luckily, giving him clues to unsolved murder cases.

Imaginary friends or imaginary fiends? He doesn't only see dead people, he talks to them, argues with them — hell, he'd probably date them, too.

Necrophilia networking? No, that would not be NBC; that would be another network.

Despite his one-man band of conversational skills, Raines is not alone, with a network of friends and support that would make Verizon seem vertically challenged.

Who better than Goldblum — the gold standard of oddball eccentrics, who could make Goldfinger's Odd Job seem a straight shooter — to take on this role?

Goldblum has always been the fly in the ointment of normalcy; be afraid, be very afraid when he's announced for a part, audiences know, because that announcement augers the gargoyles taking over the garden party.

Tea, anyone? He stirs the pot again in "Raines," which, with "Andy Barker, P.I.," makes for the odds of March this March 15 on NBC.

He talks a good game, but is Goldblum game to play a character who talks to himself?

"Ya know," he says in that soft seditious way he has of making a conversation a cross between confessional and con, "my mind is as crazy as anybody's and carries on its own little play."

Carrying a play is as natural as carrying on a conversation for the Pennsylvanian who learned his art and earned his accolades while studying early on with the sensational Sanford Meisner at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse.

It is there where he learned to improv and improve on a talent that through the years has been greeted globally with praise and plaudits, ever since braving Broadway as one of the "Two Gentlemen of Verona" by way of Pittsburgh.

And while he debuted as a TV star 27 years ago as the quietly brazen "Brown Shoe" in "Tenspeed and Brown Shoe," his shoe business has been pointed mainly toward film in the intervening years.

Detecting a Trend?
Not that Raines is a mystery to a man who has played his share of men of mystery. Hmmm, muses Goldblum in that voice of a galaxy away, "I have done a number" of detective roles since introducing "Brown Shoe," a stockbroker taking stock of his life and following his soul's clues to happiness.

Detecting a trend? "I'm sort of interested in those characters."

Indeed, for very good reason was Goldblum the pillow talk of Broadway in 2005 with an incredibly etched echtian performance of another cop with a quirky style in the queasy masterpiece that was "The Pillowman."

Could Raines and his Broadway buddy Topolski bend elbows and minds together off the stage?

"He was a very complicated guy," says Goldblum of his stage character who "was having a breakdown of his own."

Break down Goldblum's bio and find a résumé that resumes the old tradition of actor as across-the-board bard who finds his poetry in plays, his movements in movies and the talent of telepathy in anticipating the television audience's expectations.

After all, this is an actor who could read "Between the Lines" — 30 years after the film premiered — and offer insight into the alternative newspaper business with a stare or glare that proved to be a moving op-ed piece of its own.

He has always wanted a piece of the action of this actor thing. Indeed, way before "Raines," was the … shower.

"I always wanted to be an actor since I was a kid," he recalls. "I would write in the steam on my shower door, 'Please, God, let me be an actor.' "

Gift granted — even if some of the characters he's played have been on the ungodly side. Not so the case with cop "Raines," however. "He's a very effective cop, if unconventional."

Unconventional? Not since a convention of Prozac-poppers has there been a cop so off the wall, if not out of his mind. And if Raines is troubled enough to track criminals with the help of unseen accomplices … "Losing his mind … that's not such a bad thing."

Certainly, Goldblum has been a find in a business where quirks can queer a deal. Not in his case, where quirk is quality job won. But then, family cleared the table for him early on, always offering their support, ever since his breakout hit of "Requiem of Sam and Joe."

"Requiem of Sam and Joe"? Playhouse 90? No, play house: "My sister Pam and I staged it in our dining room — before all our furniture was there."

Hometown critics called it electrifying. "I played an electric chair. In the last scene, Pam sat on me."

The buzz has been going ever since. Goldblum's next project, however, may be his most exacting, offering the big chill that comes from chasing the ghosts of a people's painful past. Proudly Jewish, he is journeying through the jungle of Jewish history, a safari of the soul that is his own Judaic park.

He is traveling among Israel, Romania and Germany in bringing to life and the big screen "Adam Resurrected," portraying an actor who has survived the concentration camps only to decamp into a postwar world of its own chilling scenarios.

As Raines reaches into his soul to solve mysteries, Goldblum's Adam is on the eve of his own self-revelations, discovering his own identity. That is something the actor and Jew can identify with.

"I was always exposed to it," says Goldblum of the topic of the Holocaust, having grown up in a Jewish household with Eastern European ancestry.

His research for the role revived accounts and stories he had first heard long ago as he "went to synagogue and visited concentration camps," also visiting "Israel for the first time."

"I learned an awful lot," he says, including how "horrible loss and suffering can be a potential opportunity for grace."

1,000 Laughs? Make It 1,099 With 'Andy Barker, P.I.'

On the Richter scale of funny, "Andy Barker, P.I." shakes and shimmies like a San Andreas fault with a guilt complex.

Give Andy Richter a 9 for his barking up the right tee-hee: "Andy Barker, P.I." is his latest comical effort, premiering March 15 on NBC, in which the roly-poly Pollyanna of a peripatetic punchline plays a CPA-cum-P.I.-cum-LOL. Bottom line: Every day is post-April 15 for Andy Barker — penalties assessed — an accountant-accidentally-turned-investigator without a clue.

The perennial Sancho Panza of comic sidekicks with quixotic quests of his own, Richter is de rigueur viewing for those who like their cartoons on the fleshed out side.

The one-time couch-potato stud/spud for "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" — O'Brien is co-producer of his current show — Richter's best success stems from his inability to take the world personally. Indeed, despite low numbers, his erstwhile "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" showed how wonderfully out of control his persona can be with his in-your-face ineptness.

And who better to wallow in the shallow end of the gene pool than such a protean actor whose sink-or-swim TV splashes have life boat preserver written all over them?

And now this loveable loser makes a calculated move to take on what may be his greatest asset of a role: Andy Barker, whose surname belies this polite professional who uses No. 2 pencils because No. 1 is never within his grasp.

Call it stereotypical Jewish pillow talk between husband and wife discussing their son's future. Note: No CPAs were harmed during this mythical badinage. "So, Saul, if all goes well, little Andy will be accepted to medical school. And if not medical school, then, oy, law school. But if he fails at that? Okay … we'll have to settle for accounting."

Richter settles in for a discussion of the Jewish accountant whose number is up — and NBC hopes, up and up — on Thursday nights.

Accountant of 1,000 laughs? Make it 1,099. Greatest challenge for this CPA-certified lunkhead is going into business for himself only to discover that his new office was the old digs for a private investigator, whose clients keep showing up seeking sheltered scoundrels if not tax shelters.

Nu, Andy, if a client came into Barker's office and was seeking a tax cheat, would Barker's CPA or P.I. side be the one to handle it? Or would he consider it a conflict of interest?

"Gosh," he says, considering the possibilities. "It wouldn't be a conflict of interest actually. It's sort of killing two birds [with] one stone — and you can bill him twice."

For what — withholding evidence? Of all jobs a CPA can fantasize about, P.I. would seem to be at the opposite end of Career Day. Richter rigorously disagrees. "Well, in reality, I would say no. They are pretty similar because both jobs are pretty boring."

IRS — Irascible Richter Syndrome? Is he about to antagonize two professions at once? Well, there are such things as forensic accountants, he reveals, and from what he hears, the job sounds as exciting as a desk chair squeaking.

Magnum, P.I., with a 401(k)? "I don't want [viewers] to expect to see a whole orgy of CPA activity when" the whole accounting gig accounts for "an excuse to just hang jokes on something," he says of the series.

An "orgy of CPA activity"? Accountants gone wild? Breathless discussions of pension plans by CPAs rendezvousing at Italian pensiones?

Actually, chimes in Jonathan Groff, the show's executive producer, and former head writer at "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," he's investigated the topic and there are a number of forensic accountants around. "A tiny, tiny, tiny subset" of the business, he says, then reconsiders: "It might just be this one person" he knows.

But then, maybe "Andy Barker, P.I.," can account for itself by shining the light on this profession?

"We may open up a whole career for people," says Groff. "There may be departments [at] universities of CPA/P.I."

And what degree would these CPA/P.I.'s be pursuing?

Why, Ph.D.s, of course, he retorts. 



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