Ever since National Lampoon’s Vacation movies first came about, there have been rumors of a potential TV series. Now it’s finally happened, more or less, though not under the National Lampoon banner. Instead it’s called The Detour, and was created by former Daily Show correspondents and married couple Jason Jones and Samantha Bee (Bee of course also has her own weekly news show on TBS, but more on that later). The half-hour comedy series follows the Parker family (played by Jones, Natalie Zea, Ashley Geramsimovich and Liam Carroll) as they road trip from New York to Florida for a vacation where just about everything goes wrong.
To start on a positive note, The Detour has cobbled together a great cast that work together exceptionally well. They feel like a real family, particularly when it comes to the sibling squabbles. But that also means, in the is case, that the show is full of a lot of yelling, misunderstandings, and above all, a penchant for vulgarity and base humor at every turn. There are easy jokes that play on regional stereotypes, and a steady flow of booze, drugs, nudity, and excessive amounts of projectile vomit. The physical humor is then combined with cringe comedy, in which the core jerks of the story are surrounded by even bigger jerks.
And that’s the issue with The Detour, and one that even far more inventive and interesting comedies like FX’s Baskets and Fox’s The Last Man on Earth have fallen prey to: no one is very likable. It’s not a requirement, but even a show like FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia makes its characters oddly lovable, even when they’re being lowlifes.
The Parkers are definitely not lowlifes, but The Detour does relish in its own muck. Still, regardless of whether it’s your style of comedy or not, the show ultimately is not something that feels particularly fresh or essential. Families are complicated and road trips can be full of massive headaches, and those are themes that are ripe for comedy. But The Detour doesn’t seem to trust its story with just that. Moments about family interactions that are truthful and perceptive are covered it up by continuous gross-out gags, a glorification of bad parenting, and a kind of increasingly repugnant “us versus them” mentality when traveling through the country’s rural areas.
Further, since the setup feels more like a movie than a full-blown series, The Detour tries to create a more layered story by introducing an overarching plot about Nate (Jones) losing his job, stealing prototype material, and being part of a federal investigation. It’s as wackadoodle as the rest of the story, and lands just about as unevenly.
TBS has been experimenting with different kinds of oddball comedy, including the recent Angie Tribeca (which premiered as a marathon instead of weekly) as well as the promising, upcoming indie-esque Search Party. But it has yet to find its voice when it comes to original scripted content (instead, it’s more known for the comedy it runs in syndication), and The Detour doesn’t seem like the banner series to change that. Instead, I recommend tuning in to Bee’s other project on the network, her excellent news show Full Frontal. As Adam Chitwood described it, “Bee has been knocking it out of the park week after week with belly laugh-inducing comedy [and] razor sharp satire.” That may be The Detour‘s desired destination, but so far it’s not gaining much ground.
Rating: ★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated
The Detour premieres April 11th on TBS.