A time-honored, time-tested strain of humor runs through the sitcoms of Comedy Central.
Series such as “Workaholics,” “Broad City,” “Idiotsitter,” even the recently debuted cartoon “Jeff & Some Aliens” mine a legacy that runs back through “Flight of the Conchords” and “Wayne’s World” to Bill and Ted and Harold and Kumar and Cheech and Chong, and on to the Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy — teams of oddly childlike adults whose need for one another trumps whatever friction the comedy requires of them. These comedies tend to be goofy and amiable, and even when the humor turns genital or scatological, as it almost invariably will nowadays, it plays as oddly innocent.
The likable “Detroiters,” which has its premiere Tuesday, features real-life Motor City natives and best friends Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson as best friends — one might say, extreme best friends — next-door neighbors and in-laws also named Tim and Sam running a small-potatoes Detroit ad agency, continues fully in that vein. (Series co-creators Robinson and Richardson performed together at Second City, in Detroit and Chicago, before Robinson wound up on “Saturday Night Live” and Richardson was cast in “Veep.”) They are so close that when Tim’s stomach is upset, he needs Sam to rub his belly; his own wife, Chrissy (Shawntay Dalon), Sam’s sister, won’t do.
Tim inherited the agency from his father, an industry legend who “lives in a nuthouse now.” Where the firm once had high-profile accounts such as Delta Air Lines and Budweiser, Tim and Sam now make half-a-shoestring-budget ads for local businesses like Smith’s Baby and Teen Kid Furniture, Harry Dean the DUI Lawyer and Eddie Champagne the Hot Tub King (Steve Higgins), whom we meet in the series’ first scene, shooting a commercial and having just-boiled water poured over his head.
“I’m telling you that reaction’s going to sell a lot of hot tubs,” Tim says as Eddie doubles over in pain and the camera rolls.
Then he and Sam rush off to ambush a Chrysler marketing executive (Jason Sudeikis, an executive producer of the series alongside Lorne Michaels) at a steakhouse. Invited to pitch, they toss around slogans like, “If I don’t get a Chrysler, I’m going to cry, sir” and, “Be nicer, drive a Chrysler.” In its contrast of big dreams and little talent, “Detroiters” is the “Ishtar” of advertising-themed situation comedy.
The production is handsome — not least, the series is a love letter to Detroit, dotted with regional markers: Stroh’s Ice Cream (not in reality run by two women named Jean and Louise Stroh), Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals; the sandbox at Campus Martius Park; the Meijer’s grocery chain.
One of its happiest local inspirations is the inclusion of real-life (retired) Detroit newscaster Mort Crim as (still employed) newscaster Mort Crim. He occasionally appears on television at the bar where Tim and Sam drink, to deliver such gruesomely eccentric bulletins as, “Earlier today the ghost of a pedophile was spotted haunting the old Boblo Amusement Park; here’s the interesting thing — the ghost was, get this, a woman” and, “Red Wings fans have something to cheer about as they recover two frozen bodies from the ice.” Returning from one of Tim and Sam’s ads, he comments, “Wow, normally I don’t comment on the commercials, but that was very bad.”
The mood is whimsical; oddballs abound. A security guard in their building (Comedian CP), pitches them ideas for campaigns (“Hefty garbage bags — now for white people”); an aged receptionist (Pat Vern Harris) imagines that Tim is his father and flirts with him unnervingly; an employee named Tommy (Andre Belue) proudly shows off the less-than-flattering pictures he’s painted of Tim and Sam on the side of a new used production van.
“I like how you captured my little corncob mouth and my raccoon mask and my gray, gray skin,” says Tim. “A whole goblin face.”
“And I got your blue eyes,” Tommy says, happily.
“Yeah, you did! Thanks, Tommy.” Because incompetence, when mixed with sincere effort, is endearing. That is the equation upon which “Detroiters” is built.
Based on the three episodes available for review, there is no long arc. Sam and Tim have adventures that begin and end within the half-hour; none move them any closer to or farther from success. It doesn’t matter: They already believe they have the best jobs possible, and whatever else they don’t have, they have each other.
Where: Comedy Central
When: 10:30 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-14-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for coarse language)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd