I was very excited to watch the first episode of “Detroiters,” the new show on Comedy Central about two of my favorite things, Detroit and advertising.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to view it on Feb. 7 when it debuted since I was getting ready to catch a very early train to Chicago the next morning to cover the Chicago Auto Show. But it was the first thing I watched upon my return home.
Maybe I was tired from travel, but it wasn’t as funny as I hoped and the humor was pretty low-brow. Could it be aimed at 8th-grade boys and I’m just the wrong demographic? In any case, I’m going to give it another shot tonight since it is produced by Lorne Michaels. You’d like to think the comedic genius wouldn’t allow his name to be associated with something that truly sucks, but we all have bills to pay.
The upside of the show, starring Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson, is that it is actually filmed in Detroit and shows many landmarks, including some that you’d have to be an actual Detroit-area resident to “get,” like the now-retired newscaster Mort Crim back in the anchor role on a TV in the Temple Bar, which actually does exist on Cass Avenue.
Also shown is the Renaissance Center where General Motors is headquartered; Comerica Park, home of the Tigers; and the Ambassador Bridge, lit up at night, near where the main characters salute a parade of actual city garbage trucks driving by. (The trucks say Rizzo, but the company was recently bought and rebranded Green For Life. Only an actual Detroiter would know that very precise detail.) The venerable Better Made potato chips also are featured.
The show is a bit of a homecoming for Richardson, best-known for playing the aide Richard Splett on “Veep,” who grew up in Boston Edison, a historic Detroit neighborhood full of former auto baron mansions, and Robinson, formerly a featured player on “Saturday Night Live,” who spent his childhood in Clarkston, a Detroit suburb.
The show's creators say they were inspired by the low-budget local commercials for Detroit businesses both men grew up watching in the 1990s — such as the spots that featured former Detroit Lions player and car dealership magnate Mel Farr soaring over Earth in a superhero cape.
However, to a viewer without the back story, it's initially a little confusing as to when the show is set, since the main characters — also named Sam and Tim like the actors who play them — drive an ’83 Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue, or something close to it. Their office, which was passed down to Tim from his Dad, an ad man who literally went insane, is still decorated in 1970s decor.
Besides the car, Chrysler figures prominently in the first episode. Although their small ad firm is clearly out of its league, the men cajole a Chrysler ad executive played by Jason Sudeikis into letting them pitch. Tim’s wife, who is also Sam’s sister, is a Chrysler blue-collar worker. And guess what product is featured during the first commercial break? If you didn’t say Chrysler (Pacifica), you aren’t paying attention.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles worked with Comedy Central on the show and will continue to be featured throughout the season, according to the automaker.
The men, who are best friends, get distracted from brainstorming ideas for the Chrysler pitch at one point and instead focus on trying to break a window in their office with various objects. Maybe this really happens at some small ad agencies or even large agencies during late-night brainstorming sessions. But I couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed watching it. Here I was bracing myself for digs against Detroit, but instead, it was digs against what is in real life a very respectable and increasingly complicated business. But it’s just TV and maybe I’m taking it all too seriously. It does appear on Comedy Central, after all.
You can watch full episodes of “Detroiters" on Comedy Central's site and tell me what you think. I’m not giving up on it yet, but it better get funnier real fast because all of the local references in the world aren’t going to make up for lame storylines.