“Surely you can’t be serious?”
“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”
Whether you’ll take to the new TBS comedy “Angie Tribeca” depends, I expect, on how funny you find this classic line from the old Zucker brothers/Jim Abrahams movie “Airplane!” or any of their other fare, particularly the films — and the 1982 show “Police Squad!” — featuring the rubber-faced Leslie Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin.
Rashida Jones stars in this terrifically goofy series, created by married team Steve and Nancy Carell, as the title character, an LAPD detective who might as well be a direct descendant of Drebin’s. Out on January 17th, it’s a slapstick, prop-heavy, pun-lovin’ homage to the Zuckers and the ’60s-’70s series “Get Smart” (I’m guessing Steve Carell got the bug when he starred in the big-screen reboot of that show in 2008). And if there’s one thing the show makes abundantly clear, it’s that this brand of spoof humor, in spite of being retro, is totally gender-neutral. Sure, there are gendered jokes (“Can I see your badge?” “No, because I’m wearing biker shorts under this dress!” “Uh, I think she said badge”), but the overall effect is the same as when Nielsen was the one doing the straight-faced pratfalls. (Though, given the paucity of parts like this for women — and the frequency with which they still play romantic interests for male leads in satire — it’s still vindicating to see Jones owning the part.)
I can’t get enough of it — and it’s made me realize how tonally homogenous most of our satire is these days. Not that it’s not high times for comedy, but there’s a certain archness running through so many of our current shows that can be exhausting. (For example, I’ve found it nearly impossible to embrace any of the alternative cartoons, from “Archer” to “Bojack Horseman” to “Bob’s Burgers,” despite hearing repeatedly how great they are, simply because I just don’t have the bandwidth for all the deadpan hilarity. I know, I know, I’m missing out.)
The gleeful ridiculousness of “Angie Tribeca” is an entirely different animal, and I’m really curious as to whether audiences will respond to it. Have our humor receptors fundamentally changed from the heyday of the Zuckers? Are we too sophisticated to enjoy a good sight gag?
The show hinges on Jones’ performance, and she aces it, looking and sounding the part of any tough female detective you might find on one of our pantheon of crime-victims shows these days — except the part where every other line is a send-up of the genre. I always liked her on “Parks and Recreation,” though, in retrospect, I imagine her comedy chops were a little hamstrung by being so much the straight woman to Amy Poehler.
Jones is surrounded by an equally talented cast: Hayes MacArthur as Angie’s new partner (“Jay Geils”), Andree Vermeulen as the forensic expert, Deon Cole as the cop who’s always got his dog partner with him and Jere Burns as Angie’s cranky boss (“I’m tough but fair!”). There’s also comedian Andreas Wigand as “Screaming Cop Dave,” one of the show’s recurring bits that’s most reminiscent of “Police Squad!”
The Carells have wrangled a delightful lineup of guest stars, too. Nancy Carell appears in the first episode as a suspect who proffers an impressive lineup of food during her sit-down with Angie; Lisa Kudrow plays an ex-girlfriend of a blackmail victim who just may know less than she lets on. James Franco is the partner and love interest whose disappearance scarred Angie forever. Alfred Molina shows up periodically as a Dr. Strangelove-esque lab specialist and Adam Scott has a bit as an E.R. doctor with a knack for mixing up whom he’s delivering bad news to. Future guests will include Bill Murray and Keegan-Michael Key, as well as Peggy Lipton and Quincy Jones – a.k.a. the star’s parents.
I absolutely anticipate that some viewers will find this spoof too silly to stick with — but I hope they give it a chance. At a recent panel, Steve Carell got out in front of that criticism, saying, “I hadn’t seen anything like this, and it’s really, really stupid. Any heart that comes out is sort of inadvertent. We just wanted something that was irreverent and silly and made us laugh.”
Apparently the higher-ups at TBS are down with it — the show has already been renewed for a second season. They’re also kicking off the first season with what the Hollywood Reporter has called an unprecedented rollout format: The channel will show all 10 episodes, back to back and with no ads, for 25 hours. That duration, actor Hayes helpfully pointed out, is “the average length of a very strong pot brownie.” As far as I’m concerned, the Carells’ and Jones’ deftly executed resurrection of “stupid” comedy is intoxicating all by itself.