Long ago, I used to be excited when someone would recommend a show or movie to me. Then, everything changed when ever-increasing online fandom spaces attacked! Only careful and thorough analyses could help me navigate, but when I would need them most, another damn issue about some other narrative would pop up. Years passed, and I now greet media recommendations with exhaustion.
Sorry, I’ll stop. But still, with so many options and so many fascinating ongoing discussions, it really does feel like a commitment to take on a new show. However, it is my promise that The Detour will love you back.
For those who haven’t heard of it, The Detour is a sitcom that recently began airing on TBS, and only something like six episodes are out now. It is created by former The Daily Show stars Jason Jones and Samantha Bee. Jones also serves as the lead actor, while Bee pens some episodes, makes a cameo in one flashback (so far), and then returns to being awesome and tearing up American politics in her other TBS show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
^Only Rebecca Sugar tops our love for Samantha Bee over here
Jason Jones is hardly a slouch though. The man can act. Yeah, he plays the “straight guy” to the absurd a lot, but his character is also far from immune to his own ridiculous moments. He’s joined by Natalie Zea, playing his wife. Full confession: I had never seen her in anything, but good gods does she nail comedic timing. She also seems to have full mastery of her facial expressions in a way that is evocative of Kristen Wiig.
Then there’s their two kids, which should be cringe-worthy, but no. The child actors do a fabulous job with the roles they’re given, and the writing does not make them seem too old, nor too young. They’re just like…kids. The son is maybe concerningly slow on the uptake at times, and the daughter has revealed a disturbing sense of humor once or twice but really…they’re kids. It’s refreshing:
On occasion you’ll see cameos by established actors who are clearly enjoying themselves in their bizarre one-offs. Nothing made me happier than seeing Mindy Sterling pop up in the pilot episode as hardened trucker threatening to fight Jason Jones.
I suppose I should talk about the plot. I think it’s rather impossible to not liken it to National Lampoon’s Vacation. It is a family on a road trip with a destination in mind, but they keep getting side-tracked and run into bizarre and/or horrifying situations. There’s an overarching plot-line about Jason Jones’s job, but the undeniable focus is the family’s roadside hijinks.
However, in tone, the style of humor is very…Broad City maybe? It’s unafraid to “go there,” yet the writers seem to understand about “punching up” rather than down. It also dips into what should be lowbrow humor (there’s comedic vomiting at one point), but for some reason, it always leaves you the impression that it is, at the core, a smart show. Even things that have no right to work are somehow pulled off in an inventive way.
For instance, in one episode, Natalie Zea’s character gets really high. I’ve seen my share of pot jokes before, and when I saw this plot unfolding, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. But then I saw how it played out, and how Zea just owned it:
It just works.
You can also tell that this show is written by people who have at least a vague understanding of intersectional feminism. I wouldn’t exactly call it driven by an agenda, but so far problematic content in the series is treated as problematic within the narrative. For instance, an entire episode revolves around visiting a truck-stop restaurant called “Conquistadors,” where we spend 20 minutes addressing cultural appropriation. In a humorous way. Much like The Daily Show was able to accomplish this.
^OMG were these like, written by the same people or something?
The Detour is also appropriately modern and realistic. This might seem like an odd compliment; it’s a show set in our present-day universe. However, it doesn’t just conveniently pretend that cell phones don’t exist, and people talk like…actual people. It has this sort of raw feel to it on par with The Mindy Project (once it found its feet).
Part of that is because of the way that they let the parents be quite imperfect. You can tell they love their kids, but they also don’t shy away from offering cringe-worthy comments and feedback. These parents can like, get frustrated. And that’s fine.
In the spirit of being as Fair™ as possible, I will say that I’m not 100% sold on the overarching plot-line/framing device. I do trust the writers to pull it together in an engaging way (because that’s how the benefit of the doubt works), but I’d be lying if I said I was finding it particularly compelling, or even necessary, now. Still, it’s also situated in what seems to be an exploration of how Jason Jones’s character exudes strength, which thus far can be read as a commentary on toxic masculinity, so I’m happy to wait and see.
Then there’s the fact that I have no idea what these characters are named. I mean, I could tell you because I looked it up on IMDB, but if you had asked me five minutes before I began writing this review, I wouldn’t have been able to even guess. I know their characterizations quite well and could write detailed profiles for the main cast, but it’s a problem that I can’t tell you what they’re called, right? It sounds like something that should be a problem.
Those two quibbles aside, I can safely say that it is well worth your time to give The Detour a shot. I’m pretty sure you can watch them all on TBS.com or with their app, and it’s just a little more than two hours to do so. It may or may not be the stuff of intense metas and continual conversation, but I believe The Detour can save the world. …From cynicism. Sure.
All images courtesy of TBS