At last year’s Turner upfront presentation, TNT and TBS President Kevin Reilly spoke about the intense re-branding that the two networks would be going through in 2016. “The new TBS will have a huge slate of awesomely in-your-face and effortlessly diverse programming,” explained Reilly. Now, as far as “awesome” and “effortlessly diverse” go, that particular description kind of screams the exact opposite—like how a person saying they’re cool is the ultimate way to prove how uncool they are—but it does track for his desire to have TBS skew younger. Plus, despite the try-hard description of what Reilly expects from the new TBS, there are signs that this re-branding is in fact a step in the right direction for TBS and a good thing for comedy fans.

With both Angie Tribeca and The Detour, if TBS’ plan is for their line-up to be vaguely derivative enough to be familiar while still also maintaining very bold, specific senses of humor, then it really should be a treat to see how this re-branding continues. TBS is moving away from the broad, typical network shows (and I say this as someone who enjoyed Cougar Town, Wedding Band, and Ground Floor each on their own merits) in favor of going for the niche, auteur driven-comedy that Comedy Central and IFC have run away with in the past few years, and The Detour is probably the biggest example of that right now.

In fact, considering the Comedy Central comparison, while the Vacation-isms are obviously there, The Detour is arguably a lot more similar in tone and humor to Big Time In Hollywood, FL and Idiotsitter (with a hint of Catastrophe in the marital relationship) than anything else. Obviously the whole “family road trip” set-up lends itself to discussion to the family road trip film, but even with a a tip of the hat, that’s not all there is to it. The road trip premise of the series, however, does lend itself to a greater option of creative choices for the series to go with, especially when it factors into the federal investigation framing device (which also effectively work as a “previously on…” segment).

While “The Hotel” gave audiences an early glimpse of The Detour when things get even more chaotic, “The Tank” slows things down a bit; in fact, Robin’s hangover also works as a metaphor for the transition from these two episodes themselves. As the whiteboard in the interrogation room displays in the opening of this episode, this is still only day two of the trip. A lot has happened already, and there’s still the issue of everything outside of the road trip itself. At this point in the game, “unconventional storytelling” in a sitcom—flashbacks and in media res—isn’t so unconventional, but for The Detour, it’s integral in making something more than just a family road trip comedy. The scenes at Nate’s old job help build the world outside of just the “America is weird” narrative of a road trip story and even help give way to the focus of the episode, like how Nate is terrible at lying, despite lying being integral to the plot at large and his character. At the same time, the work scenes are arguably the weakest part of the series so far, so thankfully they don’t have too much weight outside of set-up. Case in point: Nate’s former boss (Phil Reeves), who’s essentially a cartoon villain, can only stay onscreen for so long before it’s just an unpleasant experience for all.

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“The Tank” continues the Parkers’ unfortunate road trip, this time with their lies—all on Robin—throwing them into the drunk tank. The moment Judge Reinhold’s Davey the mechanic brings up the DUI on Blue Thunder, it’s pretty obvious that Robin either is the one or knows who’s responsible for that, but the key is in making it so Nate doesn’t come across like a completely oblivious goof for not thinking of it as a possibility in the first place. Instead, his lack of realization reads more a positive for a relationship that could easily become one where the audience questions why the characters are even together. The Detour is telling an interesting story so far about the dysfunctional nature of a seemingly picturesque family, and it’s doing so without making the married couple one to root against.

The show is also telling the story of what happens when “terrible people” from a hangout sitcom become parents, instead of just going with the idea that having children completely changes them. That’s obviously apparent from all of the awkward, candid sex, drug, and alcohol talk, but there are also small lines that just nail it. In this episode, it’s something as innocuous as Nate asking Robin, “Since when do you what you’re told?” In the pilot, the earliest indicator of that (and the show as a whole) happens in just a typical exchange:

Jared: “I’m trying my best!”
Robin: “That’s the disappointing part, honey!”

As Allison Shoemaker noted in her pre-air review of the series, “Jones and Zea have a terrific rapport, both as allies and adversaries,” and that’s a large part of what makes it work. The Detour doesn’t expect or need either of them to be the straight men here, and this works especially well for Natalie Zea. Zea really is the MVP of this series and gets to let loose with a character in a way she probably hasn’t gotten to since Dirty Sexy Money. But it’s a good sign when just the interplay of their relationship is enough to heavily sustain a plot, to the point where an over-the-top character like the wino Peter Donaire (Michael Ensign) is just a distraction to something far more compelling.

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It’s certainly not a pleasant story, as its one that leads to false imprisonment, needles, and plenty of near death experiences, but it’s pretty interesting. And while a lot of The Detour is fodder for calling the Parker “terrible parents,” it’s all pretty relative, especially considering the people they encounter and whoever had to be responsible for raising them. “The Tank” veers slightly close to the children “raising” the parents trope, but even then, the show makes it clear that the children really aren’t better off without Nate and Robin. Especially Jared.

Ultimately, “The Tank” is a solid third showing for The Detour, but as a I said before, it’s also the comedown from “The Hotel.” The show is already starting off on a pretty high note, and there are plenty of places for it to go—all of which apparently lead to a federal investigation. Basically, it’s probably safe to say the Parkers won’t make it to Fort Lauderdale in anything resembling the 17 hour time-frame.

Stray observations

  • Welcome to regular coverage for The Detour. Had quite a bit to unpack this week, since two episodes already aired, but next week should be a little more chill. Want a weed gummy?
  • I know IMDB’s forums are only a step above YouTube comments, but they were my first indication of how TBS has a lot of work on its hands if it’s no longer going to skew older. Of the few posts there were about the show, a good deal of them were all about how the show is “completely inappropriate” and that the actors need to “enunciate,” because they were all talking way to fast. One positive I found came in the form of a person being shocked a show on TV “glorified drug use” in a post-Cheech & Chong world, which made me wonder if they’d heard of Broad City or even That ‘70s Show. Then again, my mother’s main takeaway from this show (while enjoying it) is that Robin’s a “drug addict,” so all of this makes a lot of sense.
  • The millennial journalist scene is kind of just another “millennials are the worst” comedy scene, but The Detour appears to be all about calling everyone the worst, so it mostly works, as frustrating as it is. If only someone were around to tell him this, though.
  • The correct pronunciation of Reuters is very important, and I’m glad someone finally brought it up on TV.
  • That shitty female music festival song is kind of a jam. It’s structurally Josie And The Pussycats, vocally (I want to say) Natalie Merchant, and lyrically Alanis Morisette, so it’s actually perfect.
  • There’s a great moment in the episode where Robin is about to tell the DUI story again, to the point where the song even cues back up, and Nate just shuts that down.
  • The first time I watched this episode, I missed the twist that Davey the mechanic was the one who killed Gary the mechanic. Davey’s been through some stuff.
  • Jason Jones also deserves some recognition for Nate’s silent fury when realizes his work product is gone and then his very vocal fury as he tries to confront Davey through the soundproof glass. I feel like that’s probably a three on Nate’s rage-o-meter, so I’m curious to see how much further things can go.
  • How about that episode of American Dad, huh?

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