To people of a certain age (read: those who were in college when Super Troopers came out), the Broken Lizard troupe is a go-to reference point for stoner-friendly comedy cinema, a group of amiable, scatalogical-happy humorists who excelled at stretching sketch comedy ideas into film form without requiring too much from its audience in the way of attention span. There’s a fervent cult for Super Troopers—less so for its 17-years-later sequel, which ossified the original’s charms into lazy callbacks and clunky nostalgia. But for those who remain drawn to the lowbrow appeal of the troupe’s sensibilities, there’s now Tacoma FD.
Created by founding Lizards Kevin Heffernan and Steve Lemme, the truTV sitcom basically transmutes the easygoing cops of their biggest hit into easygoing firefighters, albeit with Heffernan substituting his live-action Eric Cartman shtick for a more genteel persona. The premise is lunkhead simple: Tacoma, Washington is the rainiest city in America, leaving lots of time for its resident firefighting team to goof around, pull pranks, and ramble on about nothing in particular for extended stretches. Sometimes they make jokes; other times they honestly just shoot the shit the way any group of bored middle-aged men might. If this sounds a bit like damning with faint praise, that’s pretty accurate—this is a series that passes the time with its likable cast, but rarely does anything memorable enough to merit closer attention.
The show has a fitting home on truTV, where it bridges the gap between the dunder-headed time-wasting of Impractical Jokers (somehow starting its eighth season!) and the incisive and insightful wit of I’m Sorry (one of the best comedies currently on TV), though it leans far into the direction of the former, humor-wise, while borrowing from the pleasantly homey vibes of the latter to sell its material. There’s the fun-loving and good-natured Chief (Heffernan); the fun-loving and good-natured captain (Lemme); the fun-loving and good-natured dimwit (Gabriel Hogan); the fun-loving and good-natured cynic (Marcus Henderson); and the fun-loving and good-natured guy who’s a bit of a shrinking violet (Eugene Cordero). Oh, and then three episodes in, we get the fun-loving and good-natured daughter of the Chief (Hassie Harrison), to show that these mostly interchangeable dudes can have a distaff version, too.
The comedy is delivered in a contemporary vernacular, but it’s often creaky to the point of calcified, due as much to the aesthetics of the show itself as to the dialogue. Comedic beats are often emphasized by a score full of skronks and bass-drop sounds straight out of an ’80s comedy, just to let you know when you should be laughing. It’s shot in single-camera format but plays like a traditional multi-cam, right down to most of its scenes taking place in a few locations, usually within the firehouse. (The second episode has a few scenes in the nearby police station, which looks like a hastily repurposed version of the firehouse.) The show is overlit and badly staged; Heffernan helmed the first two episodes himself, and it probably wasn’t the wisest choice—his direction is pedestrian, to put it mildly, which doesn’t set a great tone for subsequent installments.
The scripts themselves feel padded in a way that draws out some already fairly thin plotting. The first episode finds the Chief trying to crack down on “goofing around,” and you will not be surprised to hear it does not go well! The second episode is a series of pranks between the firefighters and cops—and you will almost certainly not be shocked to hear the Chief’s initial effort to quell the hijinks doesn’t quite work out! The third episode finds the Chief’s daughter joining the team as the new probationary firefighter, and by this point there is something very wrong with you if you think the Chief’s efforts to eliminate the usual hazing go smoothly! It’s all as predictable as the tides, which is probably not the tone for which a show that includes a scene where a firefighter gives mouth-to-mouth to a cat, only to have it barf a hairball into his mouth, is going. The characters make a running gag out of laughing at their own dad jokes and corny puns, but the line that separates these bits from the actual ones is more thinly drawn than the characters, which is really saying something.
And yet, despite these failings, there’s a lackadaisical appeal to the whole thing. Its ramshackle pacing and generic riffs on dude-bro mentality manage to emit a shaggy-dog charm, largely on the basis of its likable cast and their easy chemistry. At its best, the show feels like a lazy Sunday afternoon hangout session with some stoned friends, giggling at stupid shit and passing the time with a modicum of focus. Tacoma FD looks fondly at the aura generated by former dorky frat-dude types who suddenly find themselves middle-aged and wanting to tone down their raucous behavior to a more acceptable level—which feels like an appropriately meta commentary on its Broken Lizard creators, as well.