Paramount // 2007 // 208 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 20th, 2007
On the heels of the DVD release of their first full-length movie, the Reno Sheriff's Department, that assemblage of ass-backwards incompetents, crash into the digital world again with the fourth season from Comedy Central. Four seasons...that's a lot of time to burn through police gags. Does this talented improv troupe still have enough juice or is pension time approaching?
Led by the flamboyant and slightly-more-capable-than-his-deputies-but-that's-not-saying-much Lieutenant Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon), Deputies Junior (Ben Garant, who also directed), Jones (Cedric Yarbrough), Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui), Wiegel (Kerri Kenney), Williams (Niecy Nash), Kimball (Mary Birdsong) and Johnson (Wendi McLendon-Covey) patrol the streets of the Biggest Little City in the World, encounter various weirdos and often find themselves on the business end of a @#$%-up.
I'm still digging this show, but the fourth season definitely struck me as less funny compared to the seasons before it. There are plenty of gut laughs to be had, but the ratio of hits to misses in the jokes department felt less lopsided in favor of hits as before. Many times, skits would either taper off with no punch line or end abruptly with a very weak payoff. Still, Reno 911! remains one of my favorite half-hours of comedy and continues to earn my whole-hearted endorsement.
One of the bigger letdowns this go-round is a weak season-long arc. The show breaks down like this: seasons cling to an all-episode spanning narrative, individual shows touch on this story here and there, but feature a running plot of their own, but when you truly boil down the 22 minute runtime, you're looking at a series of brief sketches. As such, criticizing the season-long arc is fairly shallow, since the show is really just a sketch show featuring cops, but the continuity does help, and versus other, stronger narratives like Jones and Garcia's homicide investigation and the gang's embroilment with a serial killer and even Trudy Wiegel's relationship with a psychopath, this season's driving plotline of Trudy's pregnancy was comparably weaker. Really, how many "Do you want to be Trudy's baby isn't human" jokes do you need? The silver lining, though, is Paul Rudd's recurring character of a salacious Lamaze teacher. Any show that features the hilarious Rudd in more than one episode earns a thumbs up from this Judge (sigh, yes, that goes for you too, Friends). And in what has become a Reno 911! tradition, the endgame of the storyline -- the identity of the baby's father -- is withheld in favor of a cliffhanger (and muddled by a major plot contrivance that I'm still unsold on).
The core of the show remains intact, however, as various permutations of deputies find themselves in ridiculous situations. Sketches are brief (the better ones at least) and frequently match the deputies with a bizarre assortment of comic foils. These set-ups are interesting as it essentially turns the main characters into the comedic straight men. Take the recurring bits featuring Patton Oswalt as a nerd in a Renaissance fair. Oswalt is inspired here, and no matter who he's paired with, brings outstanding comic timing to his scenes. Whichever deputies are assigned to the sketches are charged primarily with reacting to the circumstances and, truthfully, I think this is where the troupe mines the most gold. The show is powered by improvisation and the spirited back-and-forth between the seasoned Reno actors and their guest-starring counterparts, I think, is the strongest element of the presentation. Even the sight gags -- exploding cop cars, etc. -- -are inferior to the simple dialogue exchanges when they work.
Overall, this is probably my least favorite Reno season, but only by a breath. All of the seasons suffered from missed gags -- as all comedies do of course -- but these episodes struck me as especially wanting in the guffaw department. Anywho, I'd still give it a recommendation, as it remains one of the funnier 22-miute doses of comedy you can find, on air or on DVD.
The extras are leaner this time around, the stand-out bonus being the audio commentaries from the actors -- who tackle the tracks in pairs -- on five episodes. Batting clean-up is an extended Jim Dangle scene and "Profiles in Valor," which looks at each deputy and culls together some show highlights. On the technical end, it's business as usual: a clean full-frame transfer and an adequate 2.0 stereo track.
I'll repeat the same thing I said here in the previous season's review: these episodes are uncensored, relieved of the bleeping and be warned, these guys swear up a storm. No nudity, but keep this one out of earshot of the rugrats.
I still laughed, but maybe the concept is losing mileage? It's the weakest season, yet far better than the majority of other comedy half-hours demanding your attention.
The accused is awarded yet another commendation.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 208 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Cast Commentary on Select Episodes
* Extended Scene
* Profiles in Valor