On Sunday night, TBS will unleash its newest original series in a most unusual way. Beginning at 9 PM ET, the first season of Angie Tribeca will air commercial-free for 25 hours, allowing curious viewers to either fulfill their animal urges to binge in one sitting, or to fill up the DVR with yet another show that they’ll totally get to next weekend. Either way, the network is being ballsy with Angie Tribeca just as the show is being ballsy by bringing back a genre that has long been beaten to death by the likes of Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, the Wayans brothers, and the Shamwow guy, Vince Offer. The spoof comedy is back, and Rashida Jones is its newest star.
The good news is that Angie Tribeca is more likely to remind viewers of the spoof comedy’s golden age, as its subtle one-liners and visual gimmicks will have people imagining Leslie Nielsen walking through the door of Police Squad! once more. Not every joke is a grand slam, but coming from the minds of Steve and Nancy Carell, Angie Tribeca has clearly been made by people who care about the genre, and the cast is up to the task of breathing fresh life into a genre that desperately needs an exorcism from the [Insert generic word] Movie era. TBS certainly has faith in the concept, already renewing Tribeca for a second season (which will begin airing on January 25).
According to Nancy, the idea came to her and Steve in the kitchen after a laugh over something unrelated led to the creation of the character’s name. The idea snowballed into something that didn’t necessarily make fun of the television cop procedural as much as it paid tribute. “It’s an homage to TV detectives, I think, more than trying to mock them,” Nancy explains. “Taking what they do and flipping it. Making it sort of absurd. It’s a mix of Airplane! meets SVU.” Specifically, she says, Law & Order: SVU is “an obsession,” one that she doesn’t always have time for, but it has always been one of her favorites.
That’s why, when it comes to Jones’s portrayal of the titular detective, this isn’t just Frank Drebin in a pantsuit. Nor is Angie Tribeca a lovable goofball sitcom character like Jake Peralta on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Jones is also a fan of today’s popular dramatic procedurals, and so Tribeca is an amalgam of every style of TV cop, from the absurd Drebin to the more by-the-book blue collar detective Joe Friday. But mostly Jones’s character is inspired by SVU’s heroine.
“I play Angie Tribeca, the titular character, and I’m a hard-nosed L.A. cop,” Jones says. “I take no prisoners. I’m a little bit of a sensitive, mushy mess on the inside, but I’m very good at keeping up my tough exterior for my job. It is in the spirit of procedurals that I love – CSI, Law & Order – and we treat each case and every moment of the case with the same level of intensity as those actors do, we just have a dog as a detective who drives. And we have all types of silliness and gags, but for my character it’s her life’s work.”
Yes, there is a police dog named Detective Huffman that drives cars, brings his puppy to work, trains his human partner in a sparring session, and handles his paperwork at the end of the day. It’s as wonderful as it sounds. Joining Jones and Jagger the German Shepherd in the show’s core cast are Hayes MacArthur as Tribeca’s new partner Jay Geils, Jere Burns as the always pissed off (and hilarious) Lt. Chet Atkins, Deon Cole as Detective Huffman’s human partner, and Andrée Vermeulen as the medical examiner, Dr. Monica Scholls. While she had to go through several rounds of auditioning, Vermeulen relied on her sketch comedy and improv background and actually reinvented her character in the process.
“I love describing her as a human robot, she’s just so cold and dry and takes everything literally,” Vermeulen tells us. “She’s not a very warm, sunny, animated person, which is pretty fun to play with. It’s pretty far from my natural personality, so it’s really cool to slip into that. It’s like putting on a snowsuit [laughs]. You step into a new body, it feels like a new toy.”
When it comes to Jones, though, she’s not exactly the first actress that comes to mind when people want hilarity. For the role of Angie Tribeca, Nancy doesn’t say which actress she and Steve were thinking of when they developed the idea in their kitchen (if they had one in mind at all), but once they knew that Jones was available, they knew that she was the perfect fit. And once Jones was on board, she definitely did her homework.
“What I love so much about Airplane! is that before that movie, those actors – Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, and Robert Stack – they were just serious actors,” Jones explains. “They were Chief of Police, head of the hospital, the guys you’d go to to deliver the most serious news. Hopefully I have a little bit of that. But probably, in terms of things that we’re satirizing, it’s more in line with Mariska Hartigay because she does manage to bring some humanity to her character, even though she’s pushing the whole story forward. That’s such an important part of procedurals is that the person who’s guiding you through that process has a little bit of heart and you relate to them. Hopefully I’m doing a little bit of both.”
Vermeulen realizes that there is nothing like this show on television right now. Comedy, she says, has become “very real and very conversational,” and even “Apatowian.” At the same time, sketch comedy has had a huge resurgence with shows like Key and Peele and The Birthday Boys, among others, but Angie Tribeca stands alone in terms of its tone, comedic approach, and the callback to the classic spoof shows and movies.
“We play it like a drama, we treat every situation completely seriously and very dryly, but the words we are given to say are just so stupid,” she laughs. “It’s just such a different tone. We’re not winking at the joke in any way. So it’s really a different monster. We haven’t seen it recently. It’s pretty exciting.”
Nancy admits that while she and Steve don’t have the time to partake in today’s culture of binge-watching, she understands that it’s how people, like her daughter, prefer to watch a lot of their shows. For Angie Tribeca, the first season marathon has several purposes, starting with attracting the binge-watching crowd. It also has people buzzing about the marathon rollout, because networks simply don’t give away the first season like this, free of annoying commercial breaks (however, there are most certainly sponsors). Perhaps the best reason for a debut marathon, though, is that there are so many jokes in each episode that viewers will have no choice but to watch again.
“I think that’s kind of fun,” Nancy says. “We learned a lot shooting the pilot. You’re putting something in the far-back hoping people will notice it, but then we noticed that it was so far back that there was no way. People don’t have the technology to find that. So you have to bring it further to the front. But I think it’s always fun to see a show that you discover something different the second time you see it.”
“I hope that there are so many jokes per episode that you can’t watch it one time, you have to go back and see what you missed,” Jones adds. “There have been times when I’ve – and maybe this just speaks to my level of intellect – read a script, I’ve gotten on stage and I still, we’re about to shoot the scene and I’m like, ‘Oh! That’s the joke! Okay, cool.’ Because there are so many jokes and some of them are a bit subtler than others. So it takes some time. I hope that people watch over and over again to get every little morsel in there.”
Of course, if Jones was getting some of the jokes right as they were filming, that means there were plenty of ruined takes. If there weren’t, we’d be incredibly skeptical of the show’s comedic value, but Jones assures us that keeping it together when jokes are flying in every line of every scene was downright impossible.
“It’s definitely hard,” she admits. “The thing is this show is so choreographed, there are so many things that have to happen in the right place and so many gags and there are animal trainers and I’m grabbing something out of the back of my jacket and thing are rigged, so I try to be professional but I’m not always successful. Sometimes I’m very, very unprofessional and laughing when it’s totally not appropriate to laugh. And that’s okay, that’s part of the job, too. We all want to laugh, that’s why we’re doing it, so it’s okay every once in a while.”
Beyond the core cast’s ability to deliver laughs, what might please viewers the most is the impressive number of surprise cameos that Angie Tribeca pulls off. Sadly, the best cameo was spoiled early on by Entertainment Weekly, but there are still so many, starting with a former Friends star in the pilot episode.
“For the first season, we have Lisa Kudrow in the pilot, Bill Murray, and Keegan-Michael Key,” Nancy reveals. “Alfred Molina’s not a cameo but I’m so excited he’s on our show. He’s so funny in everything he does. I mean, I’m excited about all our actors. James Franco, we were really lucky with the people we got on. Rashida, she just knows everybody. She’s been invaluable in getting these people to come in.”
Molina is arguably the first season’s biggest scene thief as the ridiculous Dr. Edelweiss, but each cameo has its own reward. Jeff Dunham shows up in a ventriloquist murder scandal, while Gary Cole is expectedly funny as an art class teacher caught up in controversy. Nancy won’t reveal or even hint at the cameos we’ll see when the second season kicks off in a week, but if they’re as good as the first season the show will likely be bound for a third season.
“Our guest stars have been pretty impressive,” Vermeulen says. “I don’t get to work with all of them because most of the people I work with are dead or I think they’re dead. Maybe they’re not but I’ve declared that they are, so I only get to work with our guest stars every now and again, but they’ve all been lovely. Everybody’s just so excited to be part of this and it’s overall a really wonderful vibe on set. It’s kind of outside of the things that they do normally so it’s really cool. Everyone’s always in such a great mood and so lovely to work with.”