Students respond to new comedy show "Detroiters" filmed in the city

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 8:01pm

Since the trailer of Comedy Central’s new show “Detroiters” debuted last Saturday, some University of Michigan students have been wrestling with how the city will be depicted and the effect the show will have on the city economically.

The show, green-lighted by Comedy Central in October 2015 and slated to premiere Feb. 7, was created by and stars Sam Richardson, a Detroit native, and Tim Robinson, also a Detroit native and a “Saturday Night Live” alum. The plot centers around two advertising agents in their pursuit of the automotive company Chrysler as a client for their firm. The 10-episode sitcom was filmed in Detroit last summer and features landmarks such as the General Motors building and Belle Isle.

After watching the trailer, LSA freshman Michael Riehs, who is from Farmington, said he thought the national spotlight the city will receive from this Portlandia-style of direct locational parody will ultimately be positive.

“It seems like it’s going to be good and it seems like it’ll probably be good for Detroit, bringing some attention to the city,” he said. "Hopefully it’ll show both sides, the coming up of Detroit and the terrible economic downfall.”

The trailer opens with the jazzy Sammy Davis Jr.’s song “Hello Detroit” and Richardson and Robinson strutting in downtown Detroit with huge grins on their faces, waving to other pedestrians and bicyclists. The music cuts out abruptly, as do the smiles when the duo walk slowly past a group of construction workers. The phrases “What up doe?” and “What’s poppin’?” are exchanged, the music strikes back up and the two advertising agents continue on with their cheerful demeanor.

LSA senior Khairah Green, who grew up on Detroit’s west side, said she had concerns about the show going too far in terms of displaying the city in a way that is humorous, but inappropriate.

“The issue is that, I understand that it’s supposed to be funny but my worry is that it’s going to make an even bigger joke out of Detroit than it already is, because Detroit already has such negative connotations associated with it as far as the economy, frankly, the Black people, that live there,” Green said.

Green said the show should neither glorify nor romanticize the city in its depictions.

“When most people see or when they hear Detroit, they think of all the bad — the gang violence, the violence in general, the economy just going down, the way that it looks right now or from what they show, because not all parts are bad,” Green said. “With that, I hope they would show more of the good parts while still including the bad so it’s not biased towards one way.” 

While LSA senior Yara Beydoun, who is from Dearborn and works in Detroit, also acknowledged that the city will receive national attention from the show, she said she was afraid the show will focus solely on select areas of Detroit, like the Downtown-Midtown-Corktown area. She said an overview of the city might gloss over the crucial problems facing the lower-income neighborhoods of Detroit, including blight and infrastructural damages.

“I’m a little bit confused,” Beydoun said. “It just seemed like (the trailer) was very focused on the downtown area of Detroit … but I don’t know how representative of actual Detroit the show is going to be.”

While a more clear sense of how the show will depict Detroit won't be revealed until its premiere, both Beydoun and Riehs said they were glad that the show chose to film in the city instead of in another city set to resemble Detroit.

Jenell Leonard, Michigan Film & Digital Media Office director, told the Detroit Free Press this past January that with no tax breaks or financial incentives, “Detroiters” being filmed in Detroit takes determination by the production company,

“We thank Comedy Central for taking a risk on us,” Leonard said. "People think because it's called ‘Detroiters,’ it has to be done in Detroit … To say that we landed a TV series in a post-incentives climate, that is huge.”

Legislation providing tax incentives for film and television is in place in many states across the country in hopes that the production companies bring with their projects additional revenue for the city and local businesses and commonly sought-after publicity. Michigan provided incentives for several years, but in July 2015, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed legislation that dissolved Michigan’s tax incentive programs for film and television production companies. Before the legislation, films such as “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Red Dawn” and multiple “Transformers” movies were filmed in the state. 

No matter what the show chooses to satirize, Reihs said if the city is making money from this promotion, then the show will have a positive effect on the city’s economy.

“If (the show) is going to bring people to Detroit and put money into the city, that’s a good thing,” he said.

Beydoun said she was glad the show decided to film in the city despite not knowing what elements of Detroit the show will explore. She added that simply filming in the city itself is a positive first step in reforming the nation’s view of real Detroiters.

“Detroit has a lot of negative stereotypes, but it's a beautiful city with a lot of great people,” she said. “I think everyone there wants the best for the city.”