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‘Angie Tribeca’ and ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,’ Two Tastes of TV’s Comfort Food

'Angie Tribeca' and 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia,' Two Tastes of TV's Comfort Food

The measure of “Angie Tribeca” (TBS), a cop-show
spoof in the tradition of “Police Squad!,” “Sledge
Hammer!,” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (FOX), may be my inexplicable
notes on its 10-episode first season, combining — I kid you not — tallies of
“smiles,” “chuckles,” and “LOLs” with choice
morsels of the series’ manic humor:

cross-dresser’s attacking that baby!”

The vomiting man
reappears, this time upon seeing a pet ferret.

Nice “The Price
is Right” joke from the forensic specialist

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After all, there’s no such thing as an “Angie
Tribeca” spoiler. Out of context (and, nearly as often, in context), it’s
nonsense — a gleeful attempt to twist the familiar conventions of the police
procedural into comic chaos. Created by Steve Carell and Nancy Walls Carell,
“Angie Tribeca” reheats TV’s syndicated comfort foods
(“CSI,” “Law & Order”) as one might leftover Chinese,
with much the same result: It’s satisfyingly salty in the moment, but an overindulgence
when you binge.

In this sense, the series’ unorthodox debut — a 25-hour,
“commercial free” marathon of the first season, featuring “pieces of content” (ugh) sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts, Redd’s Apple
Ale and Intuit TurboTax — emphasizes the central challenge posed by its premise.
With no real narrative to speak of, “Angie Tribeca” relies on a
near-constant string of puns, one-liners, and sight gags to sustain the
viewer’s interest, and the consequences of this punishing rhythm become evident
as one episode becomes two and two become four. In concert with the network’s
tongue-in-cheek marketing campaign, promising to “shove [the series] down
America’s throat in a really big way,” the humor of faux product placement
for Ford and Snickers seems more self-conscious than self-aware, as if to offer
a preemptive defense against being called a gimmick.

That the series works at all is a testament to the ample
talents of Rashida Jones, channeling Leslie Nielsen’s exacting deadpan as the
writers throw all manner of comic darts at the titular detective and her
partner, Jay Geils (Hayes Alexander). Though too few of these land to recommend
“Angie Tribeca” as much more than a pleasant diversion — versus, say, “30
Rock” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix), which embed
their antics in ongoing arcs and fleshy characters, and so recover more easily
from the occasional bombed joke — Jones buoys the series through any rough
patches. “Angie Tribeca,” to my mind, isn’t the perfect showcase for
the winsome subtleties of the woman behind Ann Perkins (“Parks and Recreation”)
and Karen Filippelli (“The Office”), but in it Jones retains the
trait that defines our most skillful comic performers: fearlessness.

Clever and colorful, “Angie Tribeca” hits the
bullseye often enough — with that rookie cop vomiting at every not-so-gruesome
crime scene and lines like, “‘Thumb,’ painted by Carpaccio MacGuffin, the
Scottish-Italian master” — to keep me coming back, and the series will likely
benefit from the traditional, weekly distribution of its second
“season,” which began Monday night. Amid the many half-hour dramedies
on the winter schedule, its silliness, while wearisome in large doses, counts as
a refreshing change of pace.

Cutting and wickedly funny, my comfort food of choice, FXX’s
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” is the misanthropic man’s (or
woman’s) sitcom: “‘Seinfeld’ on crack,” as the Philadelphia
Inquirer’s Jonathan Storm once wrote, or perhaps “Cheers” slicked
with the vomit of last weekend’s bender. More than a decade into the series’
run, I can still drop into Paddy’s Pub whenever I need a stiff shot of black
humor, and it’s like I never left.

Following its quintet of shameless fuck-ups — twins Dennis
(Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson), their father, Frank (Danny
DeVito), and friends Charlie (the peerless Charlie Day) and Mac (Rob
McElhenney) — as one harebrained scheme begets the next, “It’s Always
Sunny” is, on one level, as straightforward as TV series come. Open on the
gang in medias res, introduce (or
create) an absurd situation, and let the resulting garbage fire burn. If you’ve
ever seen “It’s Always Sunny,” however, you’ll know how misleading
this impression is: From the controversial subject matter of the pilot
(“The Gang Gets Racist”) and the gonzo musical stylings of “The
Nightman Cometh” to last season’s “one take” wonder,
“Charlie Work,” “It’s Always Sunny” is one of the most
intricate and ingenious comedies on television.

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This, I’d suggest, is what differentiates the comforting
from the monotonous in nearly any genre, for the balance between fulfilling and
thwarting expectations is always a delicate one. Where “Angie
Tribeca” is a TV series twice removed, for instance, referring to both cop
dramas and their parodies to the point that it sometimes feels too familiar, “It’s Always Sunny”
has reserves of invention to spare. The characters haven’t changed, and the
cast’s rancorous chemistry is as engaging as ever, but in the end I remain
loyal to the series because its premise has never hardened into a blueprint.
“It’s Always Sunny” is the Goldberg Variations of tasteless
white-trash comedies. 

And so the upcoming “Mac & Dennis Move to the Suburbs,” despite being the series’ 119th episode, is also, almost inconceivably, one of its best — a rotten remix of “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Shining” replete with torrents of foul language, “side action,” and quiet desperation, of a piece with all 118 prior entries without relinquishing the element of surprise. Although it’s set far beyond the comfortably dank confines of Paddy’s Pub, watching it felt like a homecoming: After all, home is where the heart is, even when that heart’s pitch black.

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