Paramount // 2003 // 337 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // July 19th, 2004
They have what it takes to be cops: badges.
Basic-cable staple Comedy Central unveils new shows on what seems like a weekly basis. Most of them last for a few episodes (if they're lucky) before disappearing into the annals of forgotten series for eternity. A few, however, escape this fate and manage to squeak out a respectable run (mainstays like The Daily Show and South Park) -- or at least develop enough of a cult following to warrant a DVD release (Strangers With Candy, Upright Citizens Brigade), thus insuring some kind of immortality. Time has yet to tell on one of the network's newer series, Reno 911! -- it's one of the few Comedy Central shows to have garnered a DVD release while new episodes are still being run. Will it wind up a mainstream success story, or be relegated to the status of cult phenomenon? Get yourself an early indication with the new release of Reno 911!: The Complete First Season, courtesy of Comedy Central.
Faux-reality show / Cops-spoof Reno 911! chronicles the exploits of seven inept members of the police department in Reno, Nevada. The misfit deputies, under the command of their short-shorted leader, Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon, The State, Out Cold), are as follows: the perpetually angry Deputy Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui, A Bug's Life, Osmosis Jones); the bootylicious Deputy Williams (Niecy Nash, Malibu's Most Wanted); Deputy Junior (Ben Garant, The State), who's less than a little smart and more than a little redneck; spaced-out Deputy Wiegel (Kerri Kenney, The State, Terror Firmer); ladies' man Deputy Jones (Cedric Yarbrough, Andy Richter Controls the Universe), and every man's lady Deputy Clementine Johnson (Wendi McLendon-Covey, Henry and Marvin).
If, like me, you've been following good comedy for some time, you're already aware of MTV's '90s-era sketch show, The State. Its cancellation after only one airing on CBS was a sad, sad day in my life -- one I had to relive over and over as I was forced to watch the talented cast squander their talents on commercials and bit parts on sitcoms.
Along came Comedy Central to deliver us from this endless evil. They picked up a show both created by and starring several members of the now-defunct State troupe, and I knew that this new show would be comparable to the Second Coming -- the rebirth of TV comedy.
That show was Viva Variety. Man, was I wrong.
Don't get me wrong -- I was one of the few that loved Viva Variety (there were six of us), but there was no possible way for the show to succeed. The show -- a spoof of variety-hour specials as put on by immigrants with a loose grip on American culture (my favorite was Michael Ian Black's Johnny Blue Jeans) -- was so high-concept it veered off into the stratosphere. It played almost like a giant in-joke, leaving even the humor-savvy viewers of Comedy Central (you know, the ones who watched Jiminy Glick) out in the cold.
While the remaining members of The State went off to make a feature film (2001's Wet Hot American Summer, easily the funniest film I've seen in the past 10 years), Thomas Lennon, Kerri Kenney, and Ben Garant created Reno 911! for Comedy Central. This time around, they've scored big. The DVD release of Reno 911!: The Complete First Season is, show-for-show, one of the funniest collections I've seen this year.
Reno 911! is essentially a sketch comedy show, but does what hardly any other sketch show can do -- build its material using the same seven characters in every episode. It allows for the humor to gradually develop out of the characters as well as out of the gags, and that's rare for series TV (it's the kind of comedy The Simpsons has been turning out for years). What's more, it has an impressive ability to avoid repeating itself -- sure, there are recurring characters and situations, but each time the cast (I would credit the writers, but the show is ad-libbed by its gifted ensemble) finds a new spin to put on the scene. You're never laughing at the same thing twice.
Reno 911! doesn't mock political correctness as much as it locks it up in a small box and tortures it, so if you're the type that's easily offended, you may want to look the other way. Sexuality, race, class -- everything is gleefully skewered, often with a generous dose of vulgarity (unlike some recent "uncensored" TV show releases, Reno's blue language is still bleeped on the DVD release, and I would argue it's funnier with the bleeping still intact). Here's an example: discussing the departmental raffle for two tickets to an upcoming execution, Deputy Junior states, "Winning the tickets to this execution would be like going to see NASCAR and you know Jeff Gordon is gonna die." Is it in good taste? Hell, no. Is it funny? Hell, yes -- to me, at least. Your reaction will let you know where you stand.
Comedy Central collects the show's first fourteen episodes for Reno 911!: The Complete First Season. The episodes run about 22 minutes each, and are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The shows look exactly as they do in broadcast format; colors are maintained well and detail is sharp. The 2.0 Dolby audio track handles the dialogue nicely, but the guitar-driven interstitial music cues are a bit on the loud side -- be ready for them.
The extras included provide some nice dressing, but the episodes themselves are what should drive you to this box (of course, if there weren't any extras I'd probably be whining about it). There are a handful of (four, officially) commentaries by individual cast members and director Michael Patrick Jann (who's also responsible for the equally vulgar and underrated Drop Dead Gorgeous). There's also a bonus commentary -- available by selecting the blue thumbtack icon on the second episode -- which collects the entire cast as they attempt to recreate the dialogue and sound effects for that show. It's a funny idea, but wears its welcome out after just a few minutes.
The best extra on the set is the collection of deleted scenes and alternate takes. Here, you're able to see scenes from start to finish and without any cuts (several of them were later edited for inclusion on the show). Watching the scenes this way gives you a far greater appreciation for the level of improvisatory talent assembled in the cast -- they build the scene from the ground up, riffing funnier dialogue inside of five minutes than most sitcom writers will pen in their entire lifetimes. It also increases your appreciation for the show's clever editing; there's so much going on in one scene that you're thankful to have your attention focused in the finished product.
Reno 911!: The Complete First Season has made a fan out of me. I'd rank it with The Simpsons and Curb Your Enthusiasm as some of the funniest TV we've got going right now. In the future we'll hope they can keep it up, but for now let's cling tightly to this excellent set.
Not guilty, fools.
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 337 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Four Episode Audio Commentaries
* Deleted/Extended Scenes