‘The Detour’ Hits Home
Samantha Bee Offers Salty Twist-Up on the TV Family Genre
In the time-loopy universe of modern television, complicated and opened wide by format, DVR-ing and digital binge-watching options, the former rule of “regularly scheduled programming” does not necessarily apply. Technology has made TV consumption evermore fluid and adaptable, a blissful and, yes, sometimes dangerous thing. It also makes for easier catch-up and backstory research efforts.
Case in point: If you’re part of the growing legion of fans of Samantha Bee, whose brilliant, satirical yet truth-fortified TBS show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee has placed her squarely in the ranks of our great comedy-weaponized political pundits Stephen Colbert and John Oliver (all with a family-tree link to the high-powered writing team for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show), be advised to check out a project from before her dramatic rise to weekly importance, The Detour (Tuesdays on TBS, to cite the official broadcast time).
Created by Bee and her comedian husband, Jason Jones (also a Daily Show alum), the series, a shamelessly irreverent and salty-fun twist-up on the TV family genre, premiered a year ago, before Full Frontal was going frontal in the public forum. Season 2 kicked up again in February, with the Bee imprimatur nudging the show higher in profile. It’s worth a look-see and a backtracking through past episodes.
The Detour’s pilot was originally written, in fact, in 2014, based on the Bee/Jones couple’s wayward experiences with the beast known as family vacations. But the plot ploy — with things going loveably awry on the road, from Syracuse to Florida to N.Y.C. and elsewhere — is also just a loose structure upon which to hang a show that freely drifts into flashbacks and side trips, with as-yet-unexposed criminal doings lurking in the story-line wings. Sometimes, trippy is the operative word.
In Season 1, we’re introduced to a clearly unconventional family unit, and a narrative scheme all about taking detours — in life, art, and attitude. Mom Robin Parker (Natalie Zea) has a colorful past slowly being revealed and is legally married to a “fat guy named Carlos,” for green-card reasons, and now we are learning there may be a doubled-up paternity issue with her twins. Dad Nate (Jones, with a kind of Ed Helms-ish mix of solidity, zaniness, and moral elasticity) is several accidents waiting to happen.
In the new season’s opening episode, “The City,” co-written by Jones, Bee, and Chad Carter (and with a detectable uptick of toothy wit and timing), another “detour” takes the family to N.Y.C. in pursuit of dad’s new job with a questionable water company. Troubles and accidental racist babble bubble up quickly, to comic delight. “What’s that smell?” asks son, upon hitting the streets of Gotham. “That’s the smell of culture,” beams dad. Mom: “Rotting, smelly culture.”
Snafus rule — to a surreal degree — in the flashback episode two weeks ago, “The Birth,” from Halloween 2005. A very pregnant mom is having her twins while dad, dressed as a chainsaw murderer, is MIA, with a dead cell phone in a bowling alley, and three sheets to a wind that blows him on a dizzying path, finally, to the hospital.
One-upping latter-day family-saga shows are fair game in 2017, as witnessed by the diversity clauses propping up Modern Family. The tidier lineage preceding it, which shows like The Detour seek to upend, includes Chevy Chase’s Griswold family vacation romps, and the former innocence of Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons, Full House, and The Cosby Show (which has become thoroughly sullied in retrospect by the deposed American hero’s current stains of alleged criminality).
To some degree, The Detour abides by the rule of thumb regarding at least a modicum of sentimental warm ’n’ fuzzies, especially where family tales are concerned. But it also gleefully goes off the rails, in ways not always expected. And oddly, it smells like actual culture.