‘Angie Tribeca’ Dives in Head First to Very Silly Old-School Slapstick

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As a society, we seem to have generally moved away from the school of crisp slapstick that depends upon a web of brilliantly stupid puns, the sort seen in Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker projects Airplane! and The Naked Gun and not much since. And so Angie Tribeca, TBS’s new police procedural parody, lovingly created and produced by Steve and Nancy Carell, feels at once vintage, alien, and strangely refreshing, because while its aesthetic is hardly unprecedented — Angie is basically Naked Gun for the SVU age — it seems so pleasantly off-trend. It is the ultimate anti-sadcom: there is no messiness in the world of Angie Tribeca. On Angie Tribeca, everyone — heroes and villains alike — is basically great.

Rashida Jones is LAPD lone-wolf detective Angie Tribeca; after 236 doomed partners, she prefers to work alone. Like Olivia Benson or that lady from The Killing, she has a tragic and unspeakably convoluted past; like all television female detectives, she eschews a personal life for the passion that is work. Early in the pilot, Angie’s “tough-but-fair” boss, Lt. Chet Atkins (a weathered Jere Burns), assigns her a new partner, the bright-eyed, open-faced doofus, Jay Geils (Hayes MacArthur). Deon Cole plays fellow detective Danny Tanner with near-blinding electricity; Jagger the Belgian Malinois gives an assured performance as his canine partner, Hoffman the Belgian Malinois. In each 22(ish)-minute episode, the team solves a different outlandish crime: a slain ventriloquist and his fallen dummy, a spate of murders targeting bakers who specialize in wedding cakes, and an illegal ferret-dealing ring. Does this all sound delightfully dumb? Because we haven’t even gotten to the really dumb part yet.

For a show billed as a send-up of police procedurals, Angie Tribeca is not especially concerned with commenting on its source material. What Angie Tribeca is interested in is jokes: jokes on jokes on jokes. Seeming to operate with a “more is always better” philosophy, the show is committed to leaving no possible joke unturned. As a result, it is less “a show with jokes” than “jokes with a show.” And the conventions of police shows, inherently serious and inherently serial, provide top-notch comedic fodder: in every episode, a rookie cop vomits at the scene of the crime (this particularly pays off when the crime is art theft); in every episode, no-nonsense deputy medical examiner Dr. Monica Scholls (Andrée Vermeulen) makes inane pronouncements with grave sincerity.

The vast majority of Angie’s jokes, though, are unadulterated exercises in gleeful, Airplane!-esque stupidity. The show is particularly fond of bits premised on misinterpreting idioms, of which it has seemingly inexhaustible supply. When Lt. Atkins asks Tribeca and Geils to “grab a seat,” they obediently pick up their chairs. An audience “full of scouts” turns out to be crowded with girl scouts. A “real bombshell” is, indeed, a real bombshell, circa WWII. An accused criminal says he’ll only talk if he gets immunity; the police agree, and promptly vaccinate him (“You allergic to eggs?”). These jokes set a familiar tenor that is simultaneously very sharp and very dumb, and if you made a list of them, I imagine you could successfully amuse a precocious seven-year-old for the next six months. But they are executed with such joyfully stupid commitment — and in such quantity — that it’s hard not to find yourself, at the very least, in awe of them, even if you are also groaning from behind half-covered eyes. There is something freeing about jokes that are so enthusiastically, unabashedly corny, delivered with such deep conviction. Where else on (contemporary) television will you see two slickly buffoonish detectives declaring, “Let’s bounce,” and then exiting the scene on a pair of pogo sticks?

As a stakes-free cotton candy universe built almost entirely on punchlines (well, and a crazily talented cast, throwing themselves into this bizarro world with infectious enthusiasm), Angie Tribeca doesn’t have a lot to propel it forward except… more jokes. But it’s helped along by an impressive roster of one-off appearances from old comedy friends who lend the show a sense of both importance (look, it’s Bill Murray!) and suspense (who’s on next?). Among first season highlights: Keegan-Michael Key as a sinister ferret dealer; Laura Bell Bundy as Tribeca’s nemesis and inexplicably southern sister; Lisa Kudrow, surrounded by stuffed cats; and Murray, as an unlikely potential love interest. It is profoundly not for everyone, but it is a show that has the sparkle that comes from knowing exactly what it is.

A note about viewing: as we live in the era of binge-watching, TBS aired the whole first season on loop for one 25-hour mega-marathon over the long weekend. Having made its blitz of a debut, Angie will now launch immediately into season two, airing as single episodes over the course of the next ten weeks, like the television of old. Unlike most things offered up for binging, Angie Tribeca has (almost) no cliffhangers and (definitely) no emotional stakes, which made attempting a ten-episode marathon something of a strange experience — it’s a lot of pogo stick jokes. But while soldiering through the entire series in one sitting is perhaps ill-advised (I tried and could not), watching a handful of episodes at once — now available online — is almost certainly the best approach: even if you are predisposed to appreciate relentlessly sunny absurdity (or a strong working-dog joke), it can take some time to fall under Angie Tribeca’s intensely silly spell. The second season starts January 25, which gives you a week to catch up in multi-episode doses at your leisure. Or, you know, not: the great thing about an all-joke show is that it requires no catching up.

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