Network: Comedy Central; Genera: Comedy/Sketch; Content Rating: TV-14 (for strong language and sexual content; Classification: Contemporary (Star range: 1 - 4)
Season Reviewed: 5 seasons
From the outset, a full-length parody of 'Cops' wouldn't sound like any groundbreaking comedy. With it's well known traditions and often copied style, 'Cops' has long been the subject of parody for years before arguably becoming a parody of itself. However, 'Reno 911!' does you one better. From Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kennedy and Ben Garant - the creators of 'The State' and the now forgiven and forgotten 'Viva Variety' - 'Reno' takes that 'Cops' mold (and 'Rescue 911!' title sequence) and populates it with a world of realized original characters.
In 'Reno' this comedy troupe has found a perfect cross between the improvisational sketch comedy series and the episodic televisions series. The show, as you might expect, is largely improved which can be good or bad (as seen in last year's disastrous 'Life with Bonnie'). The show's hit-and-miss laugh ratio is lower than it probably would be if it was scripted, but what we gain in the trade-off is this wonderful naturalistic dialog. The crew have an ear for recreating that often witty but just as often dull, monotonous and uncomfortable naturalistic conversation. If 'Reno' were any funnier it would be in the stratosphere. I love the opening title sequences.
The entire cast is note-perfect. We have straight-laced Jonsey (Cedric Yarbrough), Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui), a racist, lonely, complex shell of a man, Clementine (Wendi McLendon-Covey) is the truck stop waitress turned cop "with a full dance card", Junior (Garant) is the incompetent, fully of stories, young cadet and Rainessha Williams (Niecy Nash) is the sassy, booty-licious femme-fetal cop. The show bounces all these characters off each other, matching them up in odd pairs and letting the nuances in them create the sparks. Thomas Lennon and Kerri Kennedy have given themselves the juiciest roles and approach brilliance in them. Kenney's Trudy Weigel is superbly dysfunctional beyond any simple description and Lennon's Jim Dangle is poised to be the breakout character of the show. Like Mr. Garrison in 'South Park' and Stewie Griffen on 'Family Guy', Dangle is a character than can get a laugh from me almost anytime he opens his mouth. It has a knack for creating scenarios where, in an odd way, the set-ups can be funnier than the punch line. Just the idea that Jim Dangle is going to show up to Trudy Weigel's house and "give her the thrill of her life" is funnier than ultimately seeing the Asian man she's hiding in her kitchen.
'Reno' knows its way around the 'Cops' traditions, making ample use of streakers with strategically placed edit blurs (also brilliantly hiding the faces of the cast doubling up), belligerent roadside pull-overs, hookers with bad wigs and crazy domestic disturbance calls that reveal fetishes best kept behind closed doors. But it also knows it needs to be more than that. The episode plots are as hilariously strange as it comes and veiled thinly enough to support any number of tangential gags. In one episode the group is put on suicide watch for Trudy Weigel and she flips out because they look disappointed she didn't go through with it. In another, they venture to the Burning Man festival and get lost along the way in full rave gear. In a particularly inspired episode they compete for 2 tickets to an execution with a suspect scavenger hunt.The bumbling officers get visits from the FBI, Homeland Security, British officers and in 2 classic episodes a religious tele-evangelist and Reading Ron (Brian Unger) featuring a show-stoppping bit with a cat on a roof. Watch continuously and you'll see running gags and continuity coming out in what otherwise seems like randomized chaos. These cops view enforcing the law as a happy side effect to the real joy of holding their power over the citizens of the burned-out Nevada suburb, abusing it gleefully and not above pulling guns on themselves.
'Reno 911!' was originally produced as a pilot for Fox and sat on the shelf for 2 years before Comedy Central came calling (and it became an almost instant hit). Sounds like something Fox would do. It's all for the best as 'Reno' on Comedy Central is given free range to do things every week that would have gotten them throw off the air at Fox. Jokes around rape, accidental shootings, cops planting evidence and screwing with the citizens (in a time when the media loves to put a wedge between cops and the people), red-necks & every racial demographic known to man, discussions on when it's appropriate to use the N-word, terrorists in the post-9/11 world (with the greatest of ease I might add, a subject most shows trip over themselves to run from) and everything else you might imagine would give a network suit a conniption fit are peppered well into the show. It enthusiastically leapfrogs from one set piece to the next in an attempt to offend anyone and everyone it can and getting big laughs with it.
I largely consider Comedy Central a dumping ground, but admire their drive to take chances - which is more than you can say for the networks. 'Reno' is a show that isn't crude for the sake of it or the edgy in appearance only. It is a gutsy, frequently hysterical series in which the gags are expertly delivered (and edited together) by a well developed cast of comic talents. A real screwball farce that roams freely around without politically correct borders or boundaries, the likes of which you just don't see much of on TV today. And you want, silly slapstick? 'Reno' proves that even the age-old kick-in-the-groin gag, if done well, can still be funny. An acquired taste, but well worth it.
* * * / 4
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