They crash the steakhouse luncheons of high-flying auto executives. They know the local garbage truck drivers by name. They’ve devised elaborate rituals around bathroom breaks.
Starring Sam Duvet (Sam Richardson – Richard Splett on Veep) and Tim Cramblin (Tim Robinson – Saturday Night Live), both alumni of the famed Second City comedy club (watch them here), and native Detroiters themselves, the comedy delivers plenty to satisfy critics, fans, and native Michiganders:
1) It’s hilarious
The duo inherited a Detroit advertising business when Tim’s father “went insane.” Their office, bedecked in the drab and lightless décor of some long-ago era, has been emptied of most employees and all major clients, which once included such blue chips as Budweiser and Delta Air Lines.
Despite occasional zealous pursuits of big-name clients, they remain hapless and amusingly frustrated. It often feels as though Sam and Tim are a couple of amped-up teenagers left unsupervised while dad is off for a brief business meeting – in the first episode, the duo is sidetracked from an urgent deadline by an extended experiment to shatter the “unbreakable” glass panel beside Tim’s office door.
Such mishaps are unending. They run over a Chrysler executive on a way to pitch him. Sam is mistaken for a male prostitute – and rolls with it. A shoot promoting a mirror store is botched – because Sam and Tim are reflected in all of the shots. Their film school editor transforms a kitschy hot tub commercial into an art-house meditation on life and middle age and makes their client – Eddie Champagne, the hot tub king of Detroit – look like a creep.
That Sam and Tim remain so rambunctiously unselfconscious throughout these shenanigans, and that they keep trying to win business and remain friends, balances the absurdity with an endearing dimension. “The new Comedy Central series … is also an opportunity for Richardson and Robinson to dive into absurd situations and physical comedy with an admirable lack of inhibition,” writes Vulture’s Jen Chaney. “There is no ridiculous moment whose boundaries can’t be pushed that much further, into even more ridiculous territory.”
2) Sam and Tim are a perfect team
Certainly much of the success is due to a familiarity that is difficult to fake. Sam and Tim have been real-life friends for a while, since both began taking classes at Second City Detroit as high school students.
“It’s less dancing like nobody’s watching and more living your life like only your best friend is watching,” writes The Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg. “And Richardson and Robinson, best known for stealing scenes on Veep and being conspicuously wasted on Saturday Night Live, are enjoying this spotlight moment.”
That they have written their real-life bonhomie into the structure of the show by moving the characters into side-by-side homes and setting Sam’s show sister Chrissy (Shawntay Dalon), as Tim’s wife only reinforces this relationship. Their onscreen life is a parade of buddy challenges, petty bickering, and inside jokes. It works.
“Tim and Sam are kind of like happy kids in the candy shop of the Detroit metro area — and their enthusiasm is made hilarious by brilliantly timed editing,” writes Variety’s Sonia Saraiya. “There were several scenes in Detroiters that are so helplessly idiotic, so incredibly naïve, that I could not stop laughing.”
3) It’s authentic
I grew up in Michigan, where you buy a Faygo at the party store and return the pop bottle for a ten-cent deposit when you’re finished, so I (and the other 10 million or so who grew up there), will notice if you get these things wrong. But on all things Michigan and Detroit, the show is perfect. It gets food and drink right: Vernors ginger ale, Better Made potato chips, ranch dressing as a dip for everything. It gets the backdrop, both seen and spoken of, right: the abandoned Boblo Island Amusement Park, the Michigan-based Meijer superstore (where I worked for five years in the 1990s).
And, perhaps most important, it gets Detroit right, from the T-shirts honoring the ubiquitous “what up Doe” greeting to the Slow Roll bike ride and the Woodward Dream Cruise for classic cars to the iconic backdrops of Comerica Park and Joe Louis’ clenched fist. Through other outlets, the city has been portrayed relentlessly as some kind of anarchic fallout zone, a violent and bankrupt exemplar of urban decay. The show is deliberate in combating this over-simplification of a vast and vibrant city.
As Richardson told the Chicao Tribune’s Nina Metz, “…it had to be about Detroit. We wanted to hire Detroit people and a Detroit crew. We’ve seen Detroit filmed with the idea of it being ruin porn. Just showing all the negative parts. I would never in my life say Detroit is 100 percent squeaky clean. But it’s also not RoboCop. Real people live there, they have real lives. Every depiction of the city is this wasteland where it’s full of heroin addicts and pickpockets and thieves and people who rip copper plumbing and wiring out of buildings. Those people do live and exist there, that’s a reality. Also, there are people who work at hospitals and car dealerships and work at local TV stations and drive buses. It’s a city. It’s a real place. And we wanted to show the positives of Detroit, which is never shown in any sort of media or entertainment.”
The local media, which wrote extensively about the series, seem to think the show accomplishes this fair depiction it strives for. “They also know that there’s more to the city than crime and blight, and instead happily focus on everyday life,” wrote Mekeisha Madden Toby in the Detroit News.
4) Detroit is a character
With its eponymous name, the show cannot ignore the setting, and it is clear in every episode that we are not peering into anywhere USA. There are panoramic views of the Ambassador Bridge and the downtown skyline. The accents and mannerisms are authentic (largely because Richardson and Robinson emphasized casting and hiring hundreds of local actors and crew). There are Coney Dogs everywhere. This is Detroit.
“Even comedy series as specific as Portlandia, Atlanta, and now Comedy Central’s Detroiters, have the appeal of highlighting not just city-specific quirks but regional ones, and benefit from revealing an otherwise overlooked point of view,” writes Collider’s Allison Keene.