With The Daily Show, South Park and now Reno 911, Comedy Central has gradually become, if not the funniest, then at least the most socially subversive channel on television, reminiscent of the days when network offerings like Saturday Night Live still had a spine. But unlike its Comedy Central companions, the transcendent Reno 911 doesn’t fall on references to the week’s banner headlines to incite laughter, preferring the removed, deadpan style of Christopher Guest mockumentaries to lay bare the many absurdities of reality TV and local criminal enforcement. The marketing pitch is so simple: a Cops-style parody about eight incompetent police officers patrolling one of the country’s most seemingly pathetic corners. But it’s flabbergasting what the show gets away with by sheer force of ridiculousness. Among the colorful characters played by brilliant no-names is the flamboyantly gay Lieutenant Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon), who fought state policy to add short shorts to his uniform; the suicidal Deputy Trudy Wiegel (Kerri Kenney); and Deputy Travis Junior (an unpredictable, hilarious Ben Garant), a mustached hick who mail-orders an Asian wife and covets a contested pair of tickets to an execution (it’s “like getting two tickets to NASCAR, except you know Jeff Gordon’s gonna die”). The show’s sketches and impressive improvisation are riotous and outrageous but nevertheless cleverly informed by the retardation of American culture. The deputies and the perps they pick up are constantly aware of being filmed and their fascination with camera interaction and grabbing impressive footage is the crux of the creators’ subtle commentary. (Ironically, season three finds a recently decommissioned and broke Dangle at regional auditions for American Idol, maniacally practicing his send-off to fame and fortune: “I’m going to Hollywood!”) Like an overweight, media-obsessed American populace weaned on scandal and empty calories, the well-meaning but unsuccessful Reno cops seek out instant gratification while neglecting more complicated affairs. In arguably the most effective sequence, Junior becomes frantic when a cameraman might not have caught his stunning Lethal Weapon-like stunt on tape and lets the perpetrator go in an attempt to reenact the moment. Nothing is too preposterous or offensive for the creators of Reno 911, and as a result watching the series quickly becomes akin to being glued to the latest manipulative FOX reality fare—except, you know, funnier.
- Comedy Central, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.
- Cedric Yarbrough, Niecy Nash, Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon, Carlos Alazraqui, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kerri Kenney, Mary Birdsong
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