Spoofing police procedurals is one thing. Eviscerating them — as the new TBS comedy “Angie Tribeca” does with addictive glee — is another. Shows like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Axe Cop” and even more vicious parodies like “Reno 911” utilize absurd humor to make light of jobs often depicted with the utmost seriousness in TV and movies, but we haven’t seen a live action cop comedy as delightfully cartoonish as Steve Carell and Nancy Walls Carell’s creation since “Police Squad” went one and done back in 1982. Since then, cop dramas have kept stacking up, making more and more scenarios, lines and characters into cliches — and thus ripe for parody.
Rashida Jones and her merry men tackle each and every one of those cliches with such casual acceptance that it would be easy to mistake “Angie Tribeca” as simple. After all, it’s only slightly serialized (by today’s standards) and extremely consistent in style, tone and presentation. TBS’s decision to marathon the entire first season for 25 hours upon its release was risky in this sense, considering it would have been easy for viewers to be dismissive (as is often the case with anything binge-viewed that’s not twist-dependent, fast-paced or overtly high-minded).
But with lots of traditional networks trying to capitalize on the binge-watching format — seasons released all at once via VOD or extra episodes streaming online — “Angie Tribeca” may have benefitted the most from its distribution strategy. Not only does its marathon cable debut and availability online make it tantalizingly easy to sample, but the show itself benefits from bingeing. The gamble has allowed for anyone to tune in at any time, understanding the set-up of the series and not only accept it as they keep watching, but appreciate the treasure trove of comedy within.
One of the keys to the series’ success is its total commitment to the type of world being depicted. Everyone is in on the many, many jokes. No one questions that a dog is driving a cop car or rolls their eyes when someone makes an obvious pun (sometimes repeatedly). Each character embraces the premise, and that allows the audience to do the same. We all feel connected to this strange world, and the jokes land because of it.
You won’t want to leave Angie’s version of Los Angeles once you step inside, which in turn helps you appreciate some of the more subtle bits of comedy. Pure parody, as popularized by everything from Abbot and Costello to “Airplane!”, relies on a shotgun blast of jokes, wide and erratic, relying on enough shots landing to make pulling the trigger worth it. This makes it easy for the unappreciative to remain as such, as they incorrectly judge the episodes as a whole on their batting average — to mix metaphors — rather than respecting the process by understanding that hitting .300 is outstanding. What’s key in watching “Angie Tribeca” is knowing that not all the gags have to make you bust a gut. They merely have to contribute to the overall sense of humor, lending a hand in support of each viewer’s subjective take on individual jokes.
And with that in mind, “Angie Tribeca” is still probably hitting close to .500. Even when you’ve familiarized yourself with the rhythms and punny nature of the dialogue, exchanges still catch you off guard. Little moments provide big payoffs and big moments usually justify the attention. For instance, a new case is born every episode — like most episodic cop shows — providing the opportunity to bring in a guest star every half-hour ranging in renown from Danny Trejo to Bill Freaking Murray (other familiar faces include Lisa Kudrow, Adam Scott, Keegan-Michael Key and Indiewire contributor James Franco). Trejo shows up for a one-joke gag, shouting “I’m an actor!” while other inmates make up reasons to be let go, and Murray gets two juicy scenes with Jones that are as memorable as the best bits on the show. The point is, “Angie Tribeca” clearly cares about each joke as much as the next. None are slighted or shoved in carelessly. Each has a pointed edge, often sharpened to a skewer and thrust into cliche after cliche.
Which leads us to another thought that comes to mind while plowing through the first 10 episodes: a question of longevity. How long can “Angie Tribeca” maintain its relentless pace? There are a lot of well-worn cop commonalities in entertainment, but five hours of episodes, with wall-to-wall jokes targeting cliches big and small, makes one wonder if the series will have to change course soon, either in Season 2 or later down the line (assuming it gets picked up by TBS). It’s certainly not an issue in Season 1, and the depth of knowledge on display actually leads to believing in the series’ endurance. And whether you watch “Angie Tribeca” as a loving homage to classic ’80s parodies or a genre revival built for millennial binge-viewing, the fact remains there’s nothing else like it on television. So keep it comin’.
“Angie Tribeca” Season 1 is available online and VOD. Season 2 is airing Mondays at 9pm.