Jason Jones and Samantha Bee, who are married to each other and were each a feature of Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," have created a sitcom called "The Detour," which premieres Monday on TBS. Jones stars, while Bee is busy elsewhere on the network with her "Daily Show"-ish satirical current events show, "Full Frontal." Was it a package deal? Don't know! Doesn't matter! I would give them shows if I owned a TV network. (I would also, in this scenario, be very rich. I might even give you a show.)
"The Detour," which has already been renewed for a second season, is tonally a strange affair, as if "National Lampoon's Vacation" had been made as an indie film – it contains some of the best-crafted vomit shots you are ever going to see. Set on a road trip, it has been "inspired by [the couple's] own experiences with family getaways," according to a TBS handout and the couple's own statements, though I would hope that "loosely inspired" is closer to the mark. Like most road pictures, from "North by Northwest" to "Easy Rider" to "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," it strings unrelated episodes along a serial line that grows more tangled with time, flashing back and forward as it does. Possibly there is a prize at the end. Or jail time.
Jones plays Nate, who is taking his family – Natalie Zea as wife Robin, Ashley Gerasimovich and Liam Carroll as 11-year-old twins Delilah and Jared – from Syracuse, N.Y., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Mother and kids think they are just on vacation, though they don't always think much of the vacation; to begin, for reasons that flashbacks will make clear, they've been bundled into a van with a bad starter rather than comfortably flying south according to the original plan. Nate would like to think they are on vacation, making memories, but he is also on a kind of desperate mission I won't detail except to say that it introduces into some scenes a millennial lifestyle blogger who calls the AP "the app."
Some viewers will have difficulties with the show, which does involve 11-year-old characters uncomprehendingly or uncomfortably in sex-themed jokes – which is not at all to say sexual situations, not at all, but still. ("I've got child protective services on speed dial – do I need to use it?" asks a bouncer at a strip joint they have mistaken for a breakfast place; you might have been asking the same thing.) There are also absolutely adult sexual situations, which have a way of never turning into sex.
In addition to puke, "The Detour" mines laughs from diarrhea and urine and from turning the word "Pennsylvania" into "Penis-lavania." There are drugs, of the legal and the legal-depending kind. There is a bed full of crickets, a lot of them. There is a roadside restaurant called Conquistadors ("Colonize your dinner") where "smallpox stickers" are on the menu and a revisionist dinner-theater musical production has Spanish explorers imposing their will on the Aztecs, who are showgirls in bikinis. ("These gentlemen of God offered friendship in exchange for gold.")
I can't say I have completely made up my mind myself, though on balance I'm more yea than nay, and the series' intelligent dopiness is something of a going style in comedy. Certain things do strike me odd. What 11-year-old girl would ever say to her mother, "You're so quick to give up on pushing; I guess that's why we weren't born vaginally" or "Don't shame sex trade workers"? It's funny, on an unlikely level, I suppose.
But I like everyone here, and the small, in-passing parts, including Judge Reinhold as a scruffy garage mechanic, are well-conceived and cast and carried off. The children are especially good, striking no false notes even when their lines do (see above). Jones disappears into his role; his suburban madman feels as authentic for all his farcical energy. And that it's easy to see a little bit of Samantha Bee in Robin -- not a bad thing -- doesn't make the part any less Zea's.
As a couple, Nate and Robin are frequently out of sync, while remaining very much a couple. They take turns panicking and not panicking quite as much as they should. She hates to be told to relax, and he cannot stop telling her to. They're parents who imagine that by giving partial, confusing information to their children they are somehow maintaining boundaries, though in the spirit of openness, they are also liable to tell them more than they are ready, or might ever be ready, to know.
"Are we bad parents?" Robin wonders to Nate, as they drive along.
"No," Nate replies. "The fact that you even ask that question makes you a great parent." That is not all it takes to make a great parent, of course. But they are not bad parents.