In honor of its brisk running time, let me briefly lay out what you need to know about Tour de Pharmacy, which debuts Saturday night at 10 on HBO:
1. It’s a reunion of the gang who gave you 7 Days in Hell.
Two years ago, writer Murray Miller, director Jake Szymanski, and star Andy Samberg came together for 7 Days in Hell, a filthy, hilarious, and blessedly short mockumentary about a Wimbledon match that wouldn’t end. The trio have reunited for Tour, which is another sports mockumentary — this time about an ’80s Tour de France where all the racers were on drugs — riddled with ridiculous wigs, dick jokes, and other humor, and that also clocks in around 40 minutes, thus getting off stage before any of the jokes wear out.
2. Many more of their famous friends join them this time, in clever ways.
7 Days in Hell clearly had a lot of fans in Hollywood, as Tour fills nearly every role with a recognizable face: Orlando Bloom, John Cena, Freddie Highmore, and Daveed Diggs as cyclists competing against Samberg; James Marsden as a TV reporter biking alongside all the doping racers; Kevin Bacon as a racing official who encourages the cheating; Nathan Fielder, Phylicia Rashad, and Maya Rudolph as experts on cycling and/or drugs; and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as a Nigerian man who resents the Samberg character (a rich white kid whose father owned a Nigerian diamond mine) for presenting himself as an African cyclist, among others. Everyone throws themselves into the idiotic spirit of the thing — including J.J. Abrams as himself.
What’s especially fun is the way Tour uses the mockumentary format to double-cast all the lead roles, so that you get Jeff Goldblum as the present-day Andy Samberg, or Dolph Lundgren as an older version of John Cena. (The Highmore double-casting is part of a joke so stupid and yet perpetually amusing that I won’t dare spoil it.)
3. There is one famous friend too many.
The one bummer of the piece is a running gag where Lance Armstrong records a talking head interview that he thinks will be anonymous, even as the crew keeps conspiring to make his identity plain. On the one hand, it’s something of a coup to get cycling’s most infamous doper to appear in a project like this. On the other, Armstrong didn’t just dope, but was an insufferable bully for years to anyone who so much as suggested he was doping, and for him to now be all, “Ha ha, the jig is up and I’m in on the joke now, guys!” is really unpleasant.
4. It’s still the silliest, funniest 40 minutes of TV you’ll see this week.
It’s probably not quite as funny as 7 Days in Hell, if only because the shock factor (particularly when it comes to penile-related humor) isn’t as high the second time around, but it’s full of laughs big and small, and is a mixture of relentlessly juvenile humor (there’s an amazing bit involving Fielder and some paintings, and another with Will Forte as a French cop reacting badly to accidental drug intake) with some smarter Documentary Now!-ish jabs at the format they’re spoofing, like a long aside about how the whole doping scandal was actually the fault of Finland introducing credit cards. (It makes sense in context!)
7 Days in Hell was an out-of-nowhere delight. If Tour de Pharmacy isn’t quite as great, it’s still reassuring to know this band can come back together every few years for more hilarity that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org