The road never gets boring for the Parker family on TBS’ The Detour (with season four debuting Tuesday, June 18 at 10:30 pm EST) and, after speaking with series stars Jason Jones (who is also the co-creator and executive producer) and Natalie Zea, it’s pretty clear that the plan is for that road to go on for a long while. A challenge when you consider the unique premise of the show? Not to Jones, who seems confident in his ability to find new ways to keep the Parker family scrambling.
And why shouldn’t he be? Jones and The Detour have consistently found ways to gently pivot while keeping the show’s driving ethos intact and its aptitude for broad comedy sharp. This season, that means a globe-trotting quest for Nate and Robin Parker to find their daughter, Delilah, after she pulled off a smartly constructed plan to ditch her family and go it alone at the end of season three. Along the way, the Parkers fall… and fall, but are they learning something in the process? How about this, do they deserve to pay some consequences after giving their kids a life on the lam? We asked Jones and Zea that, about the impossibility of a happy ending for the show, and why they need to come back next season.
What was behind the decision to have Delilah break off from the family at the end of last season?
Jason Jones: You know, I think it was always a plan that I had. I wanted to do a season about that. I wasn’t sure when it was going to come, but that was on the table. It was originally going to be for both kids, and then sort of transformed into one kid.
Is part of that about making Nate and Robin face the consequences for some of their parental choices. There’s definitely some reflection of that in part of season four.
Jones: Yeah, if you put your child through enough stress they’re potentially, when they’re old enough, going to go, “Yeah I’m good, I don’t need this anymore, I’m out. You’re my parent, really, in name only, I don’t need you to do this, I can fuck up my own life on my own”
Natalie, what do you think about Robin reconciling her failings as a parent?
Natalie Zea: Robin’s failings as a parent? I don’t know about reconciling, but obviously, she’s realistic about her parenting and about the fuck-ups she’s made. But I think at the end of the day, she has to justify it by saying that she’s not all that bad. Realistically, she knows that there have been fuck-ups along the way, but I don’t know that there’s any kind of real reconciliation about the big one. She’s got a healthy dose of denial like we all do, when we fuck up as parents.
Jones: There’s the big point that no bad parent thinks they’re a bad parent.
Zea: Except for the really, really, bad ones. The really bad one’s kind of know it.
Jones: Sometimes they’re like “Yeah, yeah I’m in jail, but I’m still pretty good.”
Zea: “Other than that, I’ve done well”
Jones: Every parent searches desperately for the good that they do, they don’t really focus on the bad.
What can you say about the difference in how Robin and Nate approach the search for Delilah?
Zea: There is a moment, I think it’s in episode two and it’s something to the effect of Nate saying, “I’m just going to rush the stage and grab her and that’ll be that” and Robin says, “or we could just tell her how much we love her, we miss her, and talk to her like a human being.” I think that one of them, at all times, has to be the voice of reason and the other one doesn’t. Which is sort of how they work as a couple anyway. They kind of switch off, where one gets to be irrational.
Jones: The show was always designed to be, not good cop/bad cop, but good parent/bad parent. They’re constantly jockeying for who’s good cop or who’s good parent and who’s bad parent.
How has the show changed from when you first started?
Zea: I couldn’t conceptualize where we could possibly go after season two. Physically. How we’d keep up this sort of quote road trip comedy story. The fact is it’s evolved into something that I certainly have never seen. There are 500 shows on TV right now and I still will attest to the fact that I think this show is one of the most original ones out there.
Jones: When the show started, the public, and certainly, I know the network wanted, “Vacation: The TV Series” and I had no interest in making that at all. Which is why, even in the first season of being interrogated by the police (which turned out to be the mail inspector), I wanted to do something broader. There was a reason we called the show The Detour and not Vacation: The Series. And I loved the idea of keeping a family on their heels. It’s the most fun place to be: pushing them into rowdy situations while they’re traveling. I didn’t want it to continuously be, “Oh it’s a vacation, we’re trying to have fun,” because that would tire itself out really, really, really quickly. The idea was how do we put this family back on its heels, move them around because I do love that idea of travel. Where it started and where it is now and how that’s grown is probably the biggest change.
What’s a happy ending for the family on the show? Not necessarily saying “what is the ending of the show,” but what defines a happy ending?
Jones: To me, there is no happy ending because happy endings aren’t funny. [Laughs] I have an ending for the show but it is far from happy. It is really funny, but it is far from happy. My idea of a happy ending is a funny ending which, in itself, is not happy.
Do you worry about running out of places to go?
Jones: To me, the world is so big that it’s impossible to run out of places to go. It’s just impossible. We go so many places this season, whether it be Tibet… I’m in New Zealand for a second with the Maori people at the end of the first episode and we only scratched the surface of it. What we could potentially do if we actually went to New Zealand… what we could do if we were allowed to travel all over the world and do this.
But then, I mean, a reason to travel, reasons to be on the road, and be on the lamb. Do you worry you’re going to run out of those?
Jones: No, I don’t think so.
Zea: Reasons have always found us.
Jones: That’s my job, to come up with good ideas. That’s what I get paid for.
And to get hit by a bunch of stuff.
Yes! What can I get hit by next week? What would really, really hurt? But not kill the stunt-double?
‘The Detour’ returns to TBS on Tuesday at 10:30 pm