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‘Detroiters’ is a Much Needed Dose of Dumb, Sweet Optimism

‘Detroiters’ is a Much Needed Dose of Dumb, Sweet Optimism: Comedy Central

Comedy Central

My fellow Americans: It’s only the second week of February, and this has already been a long, difficult year. What you need—what your psyche needs, whether you consciously want it or not—is a half-hour a week of unironic, uncynical, unrestrained joy.

What’s left on TV when you strip all the negativity? Not a lot.

If negativity is a distilled form of conflict, than scripted TV is impossible without conflict. What’s Sneaky Pete without the long con? The Affair without infidelity? The Young Pope without humiliation? Taboo without darkness and death? Homeland without terrorism? None of those shows have conflict without those things, and none of those shows—or any shows—work without conflict.

That thin strip of sunshine without negativity is a tough spot to hit, and it’s the reason why two of Comedy Central’s best scripted comedies have been so successful. In Workaholics and Broad City, the stakes are low, the weed is mellow and characters you like work their way through low-stakes situations that you’re pretty sure will turn out OK. You like those shows because you like those characters. When things finally do turn out OK, you’re happy for them.

With Workaholics winding down its final season and a new season of Broad City not due until later this year, Comedy Central needs a new series that can turn that frown upside down, and Detroiters is 100 percent it. Created by and starring Sam Richardson (Veep) and Tim Robinson (Saturday Night Live), Detroiters is essentially a stoner comedy whose stars are high on life.

Check your grizzed, TV-smart cynicism at the door. This is low stakes and loads of stupid, but there’s nothing else on TV right now that lets the cynicism and irony out of the balloon quite like Detroiters does. If you don’t think breakfast hot dogs are funny, then you should probably check out now and go back to drowning kittens.

I’ll wait.

For everyone else, Detroiters is about about BFFs Sam and Tim, who run a small advertising agency in Detroit. They make low-budget cable ads for hot tub stores and billboard lawyers. Their secretary is approximately a hundred years old and usually thinks Tim is his dad, who founded the agency before going coo-coo. They would kind of like to have a motorcycle. (Just one, though; they can share.) They live in side-by-side houses in an area of Detroit that has seen better days and, fingers crossed, is back on the rise.

When Sam is mistaken for a male prostitute, his biggest disappointment is that the Jane didn’t fall for him.

Sam and Tim are propelled from within by a madcap energy and instinctive optimism that would remind me of Leslie Knope on Parks & Recreation if Leslie had been 50 percent as ambitious and 10 percent as smart. They’re getting by, barely, on charm, charisma and the warm glow you absorb from being around people like that. They’re Laverne & Shirley for millennials.

When Sam is mistaken for and publicly shamed as a male prostitute in one of the early episodes, his biggest disappointment is that the Jane didn’t fall for him (and that she says on TV his package is small, which he corrects in a very public way). And Tim’s disappointment is that Sam didn’t ask him to design Sam’s “call me” ad in the local free weekly.

There are surreal undertones, like the aforementioned breakfast hot dogs and when the agency’s ad for an optometrist’s “Honky Specs” sets off a local dance craze, but those scenes are more grounded in reality and connected to the show than on 30 Rock or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which would use them as quick asides. Detroiters builds its weirdness into an Atlanta-like world that’s just a few degrees off from reality.

Detroiters is made in Detroit and is very much of Detroit. There are a lot of skyline shots and location shoots at local landmarks, and there are hints around the edges of the crime and decay that the city has not put completely behind. The series doesn’t whitewash or edit out those realities, but it’s too optimistic to dwell on them. Their Detroit is unmistakably on the rise.

And Tim and Sam are on the rise. There’s nothing they won’t try. They’ve never heard the word “impossible.” They’re gonna make their dreams come true—one cheaply produced, kinda-just-OK local TV ad at a time.


Detroiters premieres Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central.

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