“Detroiters” co-creators Tim Robinson (“SNL”) and Sam Richardson (“Veep”) were determined to shoot their new buddy sitcom on location in Detroit, and after watching the series pilot, it’s evident why. Shots of Detroit landmarks aside, the series seamlessly weaves the city’s narrative into its very own, calling on viewers to shift their perspective of the city. The series is the first in a long time to be set in the motor city; while it doesn’t address Detroit’s history or current socioeconomic landscape directly, the series subtly nods to its setting in theme and story, harking back to the past in order to set its focus on moving towards the future.
After inheriting his father’s ad agency, Tim Cramblin (Tim Robinson), along with his partner Sam Duvet (Sam Richardson), struggle to live up to the agency’s (and the city’s) former glory. With Tim’s legacy on the line, the standard premise is treated with higher stakes, balancing comedy with heart.
In the first scene, the two are shown producing a second-rate commercial for the robe- and crown-clad, jacuzzi king of Detroit, Eddie Champagne (Steve Higgins, “Saturday Night Live”). Before Eddie is doused in boiling water in a cheap practical effect, Tim and Sam dismiss the potential hazard. Their obliviousness establishes the expectation that neither are equipped to handle their jobs, making their blundering path towards success all the more entertaining.
The Second City Detroit alums are a well-matched comedic team with authentic rapport. Though the two characters are so interconnected — they’re childhood friends, coworkers and brothers-in-law — their characters verge on becoming one in the same. The cornerstone of a great sitcom friendship is the possession of a quality by one character that their counterpart lacks (i.e. Rachel and Monica, Jess and Nick and so forth). Perhaps this will become clearer as the series progresses, and for now, their natural chemistry makes up for the lack of inherent distinction between the two.
When it comes to wooing clients, Sam and Tim effectively act as a single, in-sync unit. Even their brash decision to pitch to Carter at his hospitable bed is met with wholehearted agreement between the two. They attempt to persuade Chrysler executive Carter Grant (Jason Sudeikis, “Saturday Night Live”) to hear their pitch is one comedic gaff after another. Their efforts range from Tim staining his tie with steak sauce to accidentally hitting Carter with their car. In one sequence, the two attempt to break a glass door pane with various office items before swallowing diet pills decades past their expiration date. Though loosely connected, the series of events remains amusing. While seemingly unmotivated, their asinine actions lead them to a revelatory moment in which they craft an unexpectedly smart, resonant tagline for Chrysler — one that plainly sings Detroit’s praise.
Much like the winding nature of the series itself, Sam and Tim appear to meander carelessly until they stumble upon some revelation or opportunity. The show’s sketch-like structure, similar to that of “Broad City,” lends itself to the plot’s discursive pattern and Sam and Tim’s absurdist physical comedy and harebrained one-liners. Moments of farce balanced by pathos that doesn’t feel forced or cheesy are meant to surprise the show’s audience.
The show’s tendency to surprise is very much in tune with the theme of confounding expectations throughout the pilot. Sam and Tim show us a side of Detroit that feels authentic, but put their spin on it, melding together the old with the new. Sam’s house, which sits next door to Tim and Sam’s sister Chrissy’s (Shawntay Dalon, “Daylight”) is a dilapidated relic of Detroit that Sam’s trying to flip (with difficulty). He lives there happily, withstanding the ruin with his infectious optimism.
Sheila (Pat Vern Harris, “Sirens”), Sam and Tim’s elderly secretary, is a caricature of the antiquated workplaces characteristic of ad agencies in the ’50s and ’60s. Her attempts to act seductively while confusing Tim for his father (referred to as “Big Hank”) are a comical reminder of a past at odds with modern times.
The theme of past and present set within Detroit’s cityscape, in addition to Sam and Tim’s endearing desire to succeed in spite of themselves and their circumstances, is what gives the show its legs and launches it past its conventional sitcom setup. Though not quite edgy — but nowhere near bland — the series has great potential to push its sketch-like comedy (the result, no doubt, of the heavy involvement of “SNL” alum) even further, allowing its characters and setting to really shine. The series is a testament to what a little bit of heart can add to quirky comedy and a simple set up.