It’s always a relief when a show isn’t set in New York or L.A. (or lately, Chicago), especially if that show actually films the city for itself. Even comedy series as specific as Portlandia, Atlanta, and now Comedy Central’s Detroiters, have the appeal of highlighting not just city-specific quirks but regional ones, and benefit from revealing an otherwise overlooked point of view. The intro for Detroiters says “we’re from Detroit City, but we’re getting back on our feet.” The series takes what could be a maudlin statement and makes it funny instead, with throwaway lines like a news story that declares, “Red Wings fans have something to celebrate, as two bodies have been recovered from the ice.”
Detroiters follows two best friends, Tim Cramblin (Tim Robinson) and Sam Duvet (Veep’s Sam Richardson), who are partners in a local advertising agency with the worst possible name: Cramblin-Duvet. Tim inherited the agency from his father, a Don Draper-type who made national ads for Delta and Budweiser before going insane, but Tim and Sam produce ads for locals like “Big Stan the Carpet Man.” The pilot sees the two attempting to pitch an executive from Chrysler (David Sudeikis), but though they fail spectacularly, Detroiters is not cringe comedy. It’s silly and often very funny, but it aspires (a la Broad City) to just follow two friends who get into hilariously oddball situations, but end up ok (if not exactly living their dream).
Detroiters also is one of a handful of comedies leaning in to physical comedy along with its quirky jokes, something that augments its humor overall. There’s a visual joke in the second episode about shimmying around with one hand in your pocket — it’s impossible to describe, it’s ridiculous to watch, and yet it’s also infectiously funny. Tim and Sam can’t understand the appeal, “are people laughing with it, or at it?” “It doesn’t matter, they’re laughing with pure joy.” That sums up a lot of the good-hearted comedy of Detroiters, which is primarily interested in Sam and Tim’s unique friendship, but the local ad business provides plenty of quirky clients and ads on an episodic basis.
Still, perhaps the best thing about the show is its sincere desire to incorporate Detroit not just as a background, but as the framework for everything within the show — and in a loving way. There are regular appearances by local TV newsman Mort Crim, as well as Sam’s sister calling him out for trying to flip a house on their empty block (“I bought this house for $20,000 and it’s a lot harder than I thought, ok? Shut up!”), followed by genuine moments about the manufacturing industry and appreciating the city for exactly what it is. And, the show also isn’t afraid to broach racial topics in a way that feels organic.
Not every joke or comedic attempt of Detroiters works, but when it does it’s pretty great. In these first three episodes, it feels like the show is still working out exactly what it wants to be — there’s physical comedy, high-brow humor, gross-out gags, and some uniquely weird sequences. But for now that’s ok; there’s a little something for everybody in this anti-Mad Men show, where friendship trumps business, the clients couldn’t be smaller, and the setting is proudly unglamorous.
Rating: ★★★ Good — Proceed with jolly optimism
Detroiters premiere Tuesday, February 7th on Comedy Central.