TBS' 'Angie Tribeca' takes the police spoof on an entertaining joy ride

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic

In the jumble of facts and figures and bus stop advertisements that rained down in advance of the maelstrom that is the 2016 television midseason, all I knew at first of "Angie Tribeca" was that Rashida Jones was in it playing a police detective. I assumed it was a more or less straight procedural, if probably a sparky, spiky one, which seemed perfectly reasonable, both from the standpoint of casting and as a likely left turn for Jones after "Parks and Recreation."

As it turns out, the series — which premieres Sunday on TBS with a 25-hour marathon in which the first 10 episodes will repeat five times — is a comedy, and a comedy of a very particular, even antique sort. Created by Steve Carell (Jones' old "The Office" mate) and his wife, Nancy Walls Carell, its ethos is borrowed nearly whole from the works of David Zucker and Jerry and Jim Abrahams, who made the 1980 disaster film parody "Airplane!" and the 1982 TV series "Police Squad!," which gave birth to the "Naked Gun" films — though it owes something as well to Steve Martin's "The Jerk" and Mel Brooks' anything-for-a-laugh genre sendups, like "Spaceballs" and "Robin Hood: Men With Tights."

Verbal and visual puns are its lingua franca: Someone says, "I got a real bombshell for you guys," and produces a bombshell; someone says, "Grab a seat," and people pick up chairs. "Why the long face?" a bartender asks Angie's partner, Jay Geils (Hayes MacArthur). "I was a forceps baby," he replies.

It runs on running gags: a patrolman who vomits at every crime scene, whether there is anything gruesome there or not; a chief medical examiner (Alfred Molina) who appears to be injured or disabled only to rise from a wheelchair or throw off a cast. Even if you're new to this game, you learn it fast, and in no time at all will be getting to the punchlines ahead of the actors.

That said, some jokes are funny just because you know where they're going; they deliver a charge of satisfaction rather than of surprise. And there are enough surprises here to keep things interesting: sidelong lines such as "I was 12 years old, but all I could think about was the time I was 7 years old," as one flashback quickly flashes back to another, or "That was 'Yankee Doodle' by unknown, here on Public Domain Radio." Or Molina's doctor saying of a blackmail note, "When I place it under the magnifying glass, the print becomes much larger, but when I take it away, it's immediately small again."

As the lieutenant in charge of them all, Jere Burns shouts a lot. (Another running gag.) Deon Cole, partnered with a German shepherd (who plays the organ, drives a car and worries about his partner's diet), and Andree Vermeulen as a medical examiner are appealingly dry and, like their fellow regulars, cast as if for a straight version of the show. Guest stars James Franco, Adam Scott, Bill Murray, Cecily Strong and Lisa Kudrow lend an air of occasion to the enterprise.

Like "Get Smart," it functions as a spoof and as the thing spoofed; it's plotted like a TV cop show, so that you get — invested is possibly too strong a word — but interested in what's happening, however ridiculous the trimmings. Is this sort of silliness what the world needs now? ("Police Squad!," notably, was a flop.) I don't know, but I watched 10 episodes in short order with no ill effects and some pleasure.

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