The Reno 911! Christmas special, It's A Wonderful Heist, is a holiday miracle in hotpants

Kerri Kenney-Silver in Reno 911! It’s A Wonderful Heist
Kerri Kenney-Silver in Reno 911! It’s A Wonderful Heist

Has it really been 13 years since Reno 911! wrapped its run on Comedy Central? Despite taking a break nearly as long as James Cameron and Avatar, Reno 911! has lingered in the culture. The persistence of hotpants and aviators breaking up the Comedy Central’s daily Office and Always Sunny marathons kept the incomparable Lieutenant Jim Dangle (co-creator and co-writer Thomas Lennon) on television. Returning for a brand-new Christmas special seemingly unchanged by the oppressive Nevada sun, the Reno Sheriff’s Department shakes off the Quibi revival season with 80 minutes of holiday lunacy courtesy of some of America’s worst police officers.

Getting the necessities of its title out of the way early, It’s A Wonderful Heist opens with an extended riff on Frank Capra’s seasonal classic that Reno quickly makes its own. Atop the Sierra Nugget Mall, Lt. Dangle, who seemingly lost savings thanks to that excellent Matt Damon crypto commercial, contemplates ending his life. Dangle makes a wish on the Christmas star, and Terry (Reno stalwart Nick Swardson), fresh off of having sex with Dangle’s bicycle, appears as his rollerskating guardian angel to offer him a glimpse of the world had he never been born.

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As such, all the deputies are better off without him. Trudy (co-writer and co-creator Kerri Kenney-Silver) is a world-renowned suit wearer and glass harpist; Clementine (Wendi McLendon-Covey) disrupts the coffin industry by developing iPad-enabled caskets; and Jones (Cedric Yarbrough) is the owner and proprietor of Reno’s hottest fondue spot: The Melting Crock. But, of course, the warm feelings of a James Stewart spoof end as Terry reminds Dangle that every time a bell rings, an angel gets a tug job. John Waters would be proud.

It’s hard to stay mad at something that delivers on its premise this effectively. Wonderful Heist does the Reno thing so well that its only real fault is a lack of ambition. Ignoring any pretense of plot that loosely guided the show’s first feature-length film, Reno 911!: Miami, the special unloads the funniest, weirdest gags the Kenney-Silver and Lennon can devise without resorting to cheap gimmicks, like character development or narrative tension. Instead, director Christian Hoffman stuffs the fleet run-time with escalating belly laughs. This all-killer, no-filler approach only buckles toward the end, when those disparate elements need tying up.

But the nice thing about Reno is that individual scenes don’t last long enough to get tiresome. While several plot threads and runners appear every so often to give the proceedings a little momentum, neither the Sierra Nugget heist nor the Christmas pageant offers much more than an excuse to shove some frozen doves down Jones’ pants and make up some Kenny Rogers facts. That’s by design. Wonderful Heist doesn’t aspire to change how we think about Clementine or Williams’ character. In an age when every sequel, revival, or reboot has to reckon with its legacy, Reno 911! is defiantly itself, providing viewers the same respite from peak TV that they offered channel surfers in the 2000s.

“Reno 911!: It’s a Wonderful Heist” – Official Trailer

And you’d be hard-pressed to notice even a superficial difference between the sheriff’s department in a post-Trump world and the post-9/11 one that birthed it. Dangle, Trudy, and Williams haven’t aged a day, with Lennon slipping into his short shorts without struggle. Reno, the city, meanwhile, hasn’t changed either. The Reno streets still host the same parade of aggressive transients to keep the jail full and the jokes flying. Kenney’s Jackie the Hooker, Toby Huss’ Big Mike, and, in one inspired use of a bouncy castle, the perpetually pixelated T.T. (Niecy Nash) all make triumphant returns to America’s biggest little city. The cast’s handling of their characters pushes them right to the edge of breaking, honoring the type of skilled sketch work that seems to go unnoticed in the sea of front-camera characters on TikTok.

Wonderful Heist won’t change the way anyone sees Reno 911!, and if not for the absence of Ben Garant’s Deputy Junior and the dialing back of Deputy Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui) and Deputy Rizzo (Joe Le Truglio), any lingering channel surfers might mistake it for a Christmas special from the late 2000s. That isn’t a knock. Reno 911! has persevered by being itself, and no amount of holiday cheer is going to change that.

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