Hayes MacArthur and Rashida Jones in ‘Angie Tribeca’ (TBS)
It all started with a name dropped in a random conversation in the Carell family kitchen more than two years ago.
“Steve and I were laughing about something, and we came up with Angie Tribeca,” says Nancy Carell, the life/producing partner of The Office funnyman Steve Carell. “We thought, ‘Hey, that would be a good name for a character on a TV show.’ Then we thought, ‘What kind of TV show would that be?’ and went from there.”
The husband-and-wife team, who met at Second City in Chicago, flushed out the flashy fictional moniker into a sitcom idea that married two genres they love — over-the-top wacky slapstick and crime procedurals (think Airplane! meets all the Law & Orders) — and eventually took Angie Tribeca to TBS. “It’s an absurd satire, an absurd sideways look at procedural dramas like CSI and the heaviness and seriousness of all these new cable dramas like True Detective and Fargo,” showrunner/executive producer Ira Ungerleider (Friends) explained during Yahoo TV’s December visit to the show’s LA set. “It’s like a hybrid of the Zucker Brothers, Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, and Mel Brooks.”
The series — which launches with a 25-hour marathon of Season 1 starting Sunday at 9 p.m. — is led, of course, by the titular character, who the Carells envisioned as a hardnosed, lone-wolf Los Angeles police detective who promises to protect and serve by any means necessary. She won’t rest until justice is served, whether that justice has to be served to the mayor’s blackmailer, a prostitution ring, a band of British bank robbers, or a ferret. Nancy admits they weren’t picturing Steve’s former Office co-star Rashida Jones in the role back in their kitchen. “Though the minute that became an option,” she says, “we thought she’d be perfect.”
The only problem was that Jones, hot off of her Parks and Recreation run, was contemplating taking a break from acting. “But you know, I read the script Steve and Nancy wrote and I was laughing so hard. It is my favorite type of broad humor and wall-to-wall jokes. I felt like I had no choice,” Jones says. “Steve is a better real boss than a fake boss, but that’s not hard with Michael Scott. They are our fearless leaders, and their comedy instincts are so on point. We have a similar taste in that the things that tickle them, tickle me. Just the dumber the better, almost. I always know when they’re on set because I keep getting all these hilarious [alternative] jokes.”
Jones, who’s also a fan of the franchises they’re mocking, describes the character as “a combination of Leslie Nielsen and Mariska Hargitay’s Olivia Benson.” She prefers to work alone since her former partner/lover in the RHCU (Really Heinous Crimes Unit) vanished years earlier, but has recently been assigned to ride with another good-looking cop who is attempting to break down her walls. “She’s very good at keeping up her tough exterior for her job and takes no prisoners, but she’s a bit of a sensitive, mushy mess on the inside,” Jones says. “She’s pushing the whole story forward and guiding you through the process; that’s such an important part of procedurals. [She] has a little bit of heart [so] you relate to [her]. It’s her life’s work. We treat each case with the same level of intensity as those actors do. It’s just that we also have a dog detective who drives.”
Joining her on the mean streets are new partner Jay Geils (Go On’s Hayes MacArthur), detective Danny Tanner (Black-ish’s Deon Cole), demanding but concerned lieutenant Chet Atkins (Justified’s Jere Burns), medical examiners Dr. Edelweiss (Alfred Molina) and Dr. Scholls (CollegeHumor’s Andrée Vermeulen), and the aforementioned K-9 officer, Hoffman (Jagger).
“Hoffman does everything that a real person does — drinks coffee, takes aspirin, has mouthwash [on his desk], and fixes printer jams. He does different tricks and smiles with all his teeth,” Cole says. Adds MacArthur, “We never acknowledge the craziness or the absurdity. We do everything totally straight.”
Which it turns out is not easy. “Being a stand up comic, my hardest job is not to be funny. What we read and do is so funny, to keep a straight face is hard! I can’t look in anyone’s eyes,” Cole concedes. MacArthur clenches his toes really tightly while Jones confesses she’s had more than one wicked case of “church giggles.”
“The more inappropriate it is, the harder it is. I have to take a breath, go outside, have a conversation, and then get back into it,” she says.
The producers and writers continually test their limits to remain nonplussed by hiring an insane roster of guest stars including James Franco, Lisa Kudrow, Keegan-Michael Key, David Koechner, Gary Cole, and Bill Murray — and by crafting one bizarre crime after another. In Season 1, the squad takes on a rash of baker suicides and a murder case involving a ventriloquist and his dummy, go undercover at a quinceanera and as chimney sweeps, and face a grown man in a diaper, jail time, and a high stakes poker game.
“The biggest writing challenge is staying in the realm of the absurd without going into the world of random. Absurd, satirical, and even ridiculous is good, but once it becomes a drug trip…” jokes Ungerleider, adding that they also have a boatload of sight gags and bits that rely on props, rigged costumes, live animals, and special effects. “It’s a visual show in a lot of ways, and getting the gags right is very time-consuming. Production-wise, it is one of the most complex I’ve worked on.”
As if to illustrate his point, a couple of pool noodles and a lawnmower were being unbelievably uncooperative on this December day, sending Molina on an off-camera verbal tangent that included a crack about how they’ll all need to attend a sexual harassment seminar given the number of times “Why don’t you hold my noodle?” and “Stick your noodle there” were uttered.
Jones is enjoying that they can get away with more thanks to their home on cable. “I think we get two ‘s–ts’ per episode. We debate every episode: ‘Do we use it here? Is this the right place?’ And because it’s satire, we have to push things as much as we can. That’s part of the fun.”
In fact, episodes are so packed with jokes, Jones warns that a few punchlines will likely go over your head and repeat viewing might be necessary. “This is a show about jokes designed for you to laugh. Some are in your face and some are subtle. Maybe this just speaks to my level of intellect, [but] there’s been times when I’ve read a script and gotten onstage, and we’re about to shoot the scene, and I’m like, ‘Ohhh, that’s the joke! Cool.’ Binge-watching is perfect for this show because there’s going to be things you missed,” she says. “I hope that people watch over and over again to get every little morsel in there.”
TBS, which has already greenlit and started shooting Season 2, is happy to help on this front with that unique roll-out for Angie. Starting Sunday night, the network will run a Binge-A-Thon with 25 hours of commercial-free episodes and comedy with the cast and their friends. Then, beginning Jan. 25, TBS will air an episode a week, and the show will be available via VOD and TBS’s app.
“I love the way TBS is rolling it out. It is getting a lot of attention for the show and is a great way to introduce it,“ says Nancy, who appears in the pilot as the mayor’s wife. “That’s how people watch TV now, and I think it is fun to discover something different the second time you see it.”
Angie Tribeca airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on TBS. The initial marathon begins Sunday, Jan. 17 at 9 p.m. on TBS.