Steve Carell-produced series sends up everything from “CSI: Miami” to “The Shawshank Redemption”
The cop-show parody “Angie Tribeca” has so many terrible jokes and awful puns and outright idiotic bits of random humor. That’s meant as high praise: Not since the halcyon days of “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun” (which itself was adapted from the cop-show parody “Police Squad!”) has there been a piece of entertainment this richly, knowingly moronic. Anchored by an inspired deadpan performance from Rashida Jones, this TBS comedy is launching with a 25-hour nonstop marathon of the first season starting Sunday night, advisable for a program in which repeat viewings may be necessary to soak in every wonderfully stupid throwaway gag.
Taking affectionate shots at everything from “CSI: Miami” to “The Shawshank Redemption” to “Casino Royale,” “Angie Tribeca” was created by Steve Carell and his wife Nancy, and indeed the 10-episode first season has some of the same sunny silliness that was apparent in the Oscar-nominated actor’s big-screen “Get Smart,” albeit with a much higher laugh-to-dud ratio than that so-so film.
Jones plays Angie Tribeca, a veteran LAPD detective who’s unhappy to be assigned a new partner, J Geils (Hayes MacArthur), since she prefers to work alone. (It may also be because she’s had 236 partners, fallen in love with each one, and they’ve all died.) Nonetheless, Angie and Geils team up to solve mysteries that range from a rash of murders that keep occurring on the same cross-country flight to a prostitution ring that may implicate some of L.A.’s top officials.
As you might imagine, deft plotting isn’t a crucial component to “Angie Tribeca,” but showrunner Ira Ungerleider does make sure that each episode has just enough twists to provide a reliable engine for nonstop jokes. On one level, “Angie Tribeca” is a rat-a-tat-tat spoof of cop procedurals, mocking their clichés and amplifying their absurdities. But it’s not just that Ungerleider and his writers make fun of the typically surly police captain (a terrifically intense Jere Burns) or the brilliant coroner (she’s played by Andree Vermeulen, and her character’s name is the exquisitely groan-worthy Dr. Scholls). It’s that “Angie Tribeca” keeps finding clever variations on the jokes that make them surprisingly pliable. Soon, some of them prove addictive: The show’s title sequence is ridiculous in the pilot, but it features a new wrinkle in each subsequent episode so that you keep watching its daffy, over-the-top lunacy each time.
With “Airplane!” and “Police Squad!,” creative partners Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker created a perfectly straight-faced brand of comedy that aped its targets by replicating them almost exactly, only with slight variations that called attention to the source material’s self-seriousness. That’s roughly the model “Angie Tribeca” follows, but what’s quietly remarkable here is how much joyfulness emerges from the humor.
The secret may very well be that, with a few exceptions, the cast isn’t encouraged to play their ramrod-dopey characters as complete idiots. Instead, Jones, MacArthur and the rest of the ensemble share the same slightly-dazed tone in which stray bits of inexplicability are left uncommented-on — like, for instance, why Deon Cole’s cop is partnered with a dog whom everyone at the precinct treats like it’s human. Jokes are rarely cruel or crude — characters are never jerks simply to get a laugh or advance the story — and some of the comedic bits are so blissfully sophomoric they possess an almost saintly glow. (In “Angie Tribeca,” you best fear killer pillows and painfully slow bomb-detonating robots.)
Jones, probably best known for her work on “Parks and Recreation,” exudes some of the same did-that-just-happen? confusion that made her Ann Perkins such a loyal, sympathetic best friend to Amy Poehler‘s hyperactive Leslie Knope. Jones doesn’t treat “Angie Tribeca” like a star vehicle, the entire cast getting their share of laughs and delightful moments. And although Angie is certainly a more assertive character than Ann was, they’re linked by the actress’s charming modesty and radiant likability. Despite her striking beauty, Jones has a winning, low-key normalness that allows her to work well alongside her cast mates — not to mention guest stars such as Bill Murray and Cecily Strong, who’s involved in a joke about plastic surgery so superb that there needn’t be another ever attempted.
This sitcom’s battering ram of madcap inanity can run aground when a particular episode doesn’t have an especially memorable storyline, and perhaps “Angie Tribeca” caters too much to an audience in thrall to the old “Airplane!” style of so-broad-it-hurts humor. From the 1980s’ “Sledge Hammer!” to the more recent “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” smart-aleck cop comedies are nothing new. But in its minute-to-minute pleasures, “Angie Tribeca” is one big goofy grin of a sitcom. Season 2 can’t come quickly enough.
“Angie Tribeca” premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17 on TBS.