As the cop show is one of television’s most prolific subsets of dramas, so the cop show parody is one of its most prolific subsets of comedies. Consequently, there are several distinct categories within the seemingly narrow designation of “knockoff procedural.” There’s the workplace comedy that just so happens to take place in a police precinct, most recently typified by Brooklyn Nine-Nine — a sitcom whose essential, nonviolent niceness, the calling card of co-creator Mike Schur, sometimes seems like a quietly radical corrective to the everyday realities of community policing. There’s the loving, beat-for-beat homage to the procedural’s comfortable, well-worn conventions, never done better than Community‘s “Basic Lupine Urology.”
And then there’s the most polarizing form of parody: the absurdist kind. Absurdist parodies, typified by David Wain’s spoofs of everything from ’80s summer camp culture (Wet Hot American Summer) to romantic comedies (They Came Together), operate mostly by replacing a genre’s self-serious core with free-associative silliness. To some, as Wain’s fervent cult fanbase can tell you, it’s comedy gold. To others, including me, it’s the least effective form of mockery there is. Absurdism is fine on its own, but it’s antithetical to parody, which thrives on specificity — knowing a subject well enough to echo, invert, and riff on it — whereas absurdism thrives on randomness.
All of the above is essentially a giant disclaimer, because TBS’s Angie Tribeca falls squarely into the absurdist school of cop humor. This means it’s both emphatically not for me (or anyone who shares my set of comic preferences) and virtually guaranteed to attract the sort of rabid fandom that tends to follow these projects, albeit typically after they bomb at the box office or get canceled, only to be celebrated in retrospect as ahead of their time.
It’ll be interesting to see, then, how Angie Tribeca plays out in real time, particularly since TBS is adapting a release strategy tailor-made for cult audiences. I’m not talking about the much-vaunted “25 hours” gimmick, in which TBS will marathon the entire ten-episode first season consecutively and commercial free before the second season, already guaranteed, debuts later this year. I’m referring instead to TBS making Angie Tribeca immediately available to binge-watchers, precisely the demographic that powered sleeper hits like Twin Peaks and Arrested Development, through its website and VOD. Either Angie Tribeca will skip the premature cancellation phase and find its following right off the bat, or it’ll be stuck in an awkward limbo between weekly series and streaming.
Whatever happens, the series won’t have much trouble getting viewers to at least try it out. As TBS’s all-in promotional strategy indicates, this is the channel’s highest-profile launch in some time: co-created by Steve and Nancy Carell, starring Rashida Jones in her post-Parks and Rec return to scripted television, and boasting an arsenal of comic-actor guest stars including, but not limited to, Adam Scott, James Franco, Alfred Molina, and Nancy Carell herself, the show is absolutely a must-try for comedy fans. It’s just not a must-love.
At least Angie Tribeca lays its cards on the table in the very first scene, making it relatively easy to determine whether its brand of chaotic, often deliberately immature humor is in one’s wheelhouse. The titular LAPD detective (Jones) gets out of bed and starts a typical training montage, complete with nunchucks and shower pull-ups. Gradually, the sequence comes unmoored, devolving (though maybe evolving, to the series’ fans) into Angie simply destroying her apartment. Those who find this brand of loopy comedy entertaining can continue; those who don’t can safely change the channel.
Angie Tribeca is full of these gags, which start as specific cracks at cop-drama clichés and quickly turn into slapstick or even simple puns. A chase scene filled with unnecessary maneuvers goes on long enough to qualify as anti-comedy. A lieutenant’s directive to “grab a seat” is taken literally, as is a suspect’s promise to “set the record straight” (she has OCD and just wants to do some tidying). An offer for coffee or tea escalates into a plate of ribs. Some jokes don’t even begin as parody, such as when Molina’s Dr. Edelweiss pretends to be blind, feels up Angie’s face, and tosses his glasses aside, no justification necessary.
Angie Tribeca lives or dies on the success of these jokes, because it’s not serialized — it’s barely even a procedural. Instead, it’s a collection of unrepentantly silly moments only tangentially connected to each other, or even to the cop drama. For me, that made it harder to engage; for others, it’ll only add to the fun.
Angie Tribeca premieres this Sunday at 9 pm on TBS.