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Review: Surely you’ll enjoy the ‘Airplane’-esque silliness of ‘Angie Tribeca’

Senior Television Writer
01.14.16 32 Comments

TBS

Every time I sing the praises of TBS' “Angie Tribeca” on Twitter, I get one of two responses:

“That's a comedy? I thought it was another boring police procedural.”

and

“That's a real show? I thought it was a viral video parody promoting a product I couldn't quite identify.”

On the one hand, this speaks to what a poor job TBS has done of marketing the show, which will debut with a 25-hour, commercial-free marathon of its first season(*) on Sunday night at 9. On the other, put those two misconceptions together, and you more or less have “Angie Tribeca.” It's a real show, but one so committed to parodying police procedurals like “NCIS” and “Law & Order: SVU” that it's hard to put any one moment in a promo and not have it look like the genuine article.

(*) There are only 10 episodes of that season, so each episode will air several times over the course of a day.

Created by Steve and Nancy Carell, “Angie Tribeca” is a relentless, ridiculous joke machine in the vein of “Airplane!” and “Police Squad,” the short-lived ABC comedy that was later spun off into “The Naked Gun” films. Everything is a set-up for some kind of absurd punchline, and if one doesn't hit, there will be five more coming your way before there's a chance to complain. The show features strange sight gags (including Angie and her partner chasing a criminal dressed like a giant baby), surreal humor (the detective squad includes a Belgian Malinois dog whom everyone treats like a person), constant riffs on the cliches of cop shows (the theme song seems to feature a Roger Daltrey-esque scream, but it's always revealed to be one of the cops howling in anguish for one reason or another), and unexpected wordplay. Take this exchange:

“I read about you in the hospital.”
“I wasn't in the hospital.”
“I was in the hospital. It was in a magazine.”
“The hospital was in a magazine?”
“Yeah, Ryan Seacrest had his 40th birthday there.”

If a high percentage of the jokes would qualify as dad humor, the relentless force of them forgives much of the corniness. In one episode, the cops investigate a crime taking place in the art world, and come upon a painting of a kangaroo with a light switch in the center; it's called, of course, “The Switcharoo.”

With “Airplane!” and “Police Squad,” the Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams used Leslie Nielsen, a performer known for playing deadly serious characters in the kinds of movies and TV shows they were spoofing. The Carells go in a similar direction by using Rashida Jones in the title role. Jones has a lengthy comedy resume, but almost always as the straight woman in shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” or movies like “I Love You, Man.” She's game for everything here, from crazy outfits to a running gag suggesting most of Angie's colleagues don't realize she's a woman, but the very calmness that made her such a good foil for Amy Poehler and Chris Pratt in the past serves her well here, too, because material this intentionally stupid demands to be taken seriously to work(*).

(*) In the later “Naked Gun” films, and its many imitators like “Repossessed,” Nielsen started acting like he was in on the joke; unsurprisingly, there were diminishing returns from this approach.

Jones is well supported by Hayes MacArthur as Angie's lovestruck partner Jay Geils, Jere Burns as her volatile captain, Deon Cole as the cop with the canine partner, and Alfred Molina and Andree Vermeulen as the two CSI experts. And because the Carells and Jones have so many friends in the business, there's a constant stream of impressive, amusing guest stars, including Lisa Kudrow, James Franco, Adam Scott, Keegan-Michael Key, and even Bill Murray.

When you swing at every single pitch the way a show like this does, you're going to strike out a lot. But when “Angie Tribeca” connects – say, in a scene in the pilot where Nancy Carell eats ribs while being interviewed by Angie (who in turn has to eat a gyro) – it's hysterical. (If you're looking for the cream of the marathon, I'd suggest the first two episodes, followed “Tribeca's Day Off,” first airing at 11:36 p.m., which not only features Murray, but spends the most time on the dog, who steals every scene he's in.)

TBS has been sitting on this show for a while (Cole filmed the pilot before he made his first appearance as Charlie on “Black-ish,” which aired back in October of 2014.) A second season has already been ordered, but given the initial delay, the marketing, this weird marathon plan, and the fact that new Turner boss Kevin Reilly has dumped a lot of shows ordered by the previous administration, I worry that he may not see in “Angie Tribeca” what I do.

It's not perfect, but it made me laugh a lot and smile even more. In the run-up to TCA, I was given screeners for approximately 8,000 hours of television (give or take), and had to be very judicious about how much time I devoted to any one show. But I would watch a couple of “Angie”s, feel happy, then shift to a more highbrow show that wasn't coming close to hitting its target, and then quickly jump back to another “Angie.” Other series seemingly needed my attention more, but “Angie” was entertaining me so much that I wound up watching all 10, even though I could have written this exact review after the pilot.

Surely there's more room on television for something this silly and fun.

And, yes, I'll stop calling you Shirley.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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