There’s an old improv comedy rule: If you want your scenes to work, stop fighting your partner, and decide to just like them instead. Detroiters stars Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson are both improv vets, and real-life best friends; that might be why their new Comedy Central series leverages their characters’ affection for each other to such excellent effect.
The series’ premise offers up plenty of excuses for the pair to pal around: They play low-rent ad men, delivering inept commercials to the hot tub salesmen and sporting goods stores of the title city. The show’s pilot briefly flirts with adding some unnecessary stakes to this simple formula, injecting a plotline about securing an account with Chrysler exec (and executive producer) Jason Sudeikis, and suggesting that Robinson is desperate to live up to his late father’s advertising rep. But Detroiters shows its true colors with refreshing quickness, taking the stereotypical scene where our heroes (who share first names with their performers) attempt to slam out the big idea that’ll save their careers, and quickly shunting it into something much sillier and simple instead.
Roughhousing in their abandoned offices, Sam bumps his elbow on an inconvenient window. Realizing that the glass is “unbreakable,” the two share the sort of slow, dawning look that would herald Don Draper making a life-changing pitch about cameras or Coke. But rather than jumping to a scene of Sam and Tim saving the day by selling Chrysler on the sexiness of safety features, we instead cut to a full minute of the duo chucking office supplies at the glass, shouting happily as it refuses to break under their immature barrage. It sounds (and is) dumb, but the pair’s chemistry nails the “Mom’s asleep!” energy of a couple of kids in the middle of a late-night sleepover, one that pervades the entire show. The episode doubles down on that vibe at its conclusion, with the slow reveal that the two guys live next door to each other, their bedroom windows mere feet apart. (A pair of tin cans connected by a string wouldn’t feel out of place with the cheerful treehouse vibe.) Detroiters operates at a certain level of anything-goes absurdism, but it never treats its two leads’ brotherly love for each other as a possible butt of the joke.
That sweetness helps the series overcome an initially wobbly tone, as it spends a few episodes trying to work out how mean it wants its heroes to be to the non-Sam-and-Tim portions of the world. (The pilot sees the duo casually scalding one client, and hitting another with their car.) Meanwhile, storylines like Sam being mistaken for a prostitute by a rich, powerful woman wouldn’t feel out of place on any number of series about enthusiastic man-children—an established subgenre, thanks to shows like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Workaholics—trying to make their sociopathic ways through life. But the genuine warmth between Sam and Tim—and the almost cartoonish lack of consequences for their actions—always pull things back into a gentler, weirder place, one where Richardson and Robinson’s peas-in-a-pod comedy seems to thrive.
Speaking of the show’s stars, Richardson drops the tiny hint of self-serving edge his character wears on Veep, throwing Sam into awkward situations or new adventures with equally childish glee. Robinson, meanwhile, makes the most of his sunken eyes and distinctive mien, meeting comments about his “goblin face” with a deadpan, wounded stare that’s quick to reset to a wide, welcoming smile. And they’re both incredibly quick to jump on the other’s energy, rattling off jokes at clients and colleagues like a two-headed comedy beast. The end result is a package that’s resolutely pleasant, from the running gags about the ’70s decor of the pair’s inherited office, to the suitably awful commercials the team produces, to the appearance of actual Detroit newscaster Mort Crim, pulling a John Beard and delivering bizarre one-liners from the safety of the TV. (“And that’s one murder that had a happy ending,” is a chipper weird newsman line for the ages.) Detroiters isn’t looking to shock viewers, or deliver any big social satire about life in the Motor City. It just wants to invite them into its tree fort, pull up the ladder, and tell a bunch of weird, delightful jokes.