The TV mockumentary has been well serviced in recent times. The Office naturally gains most of the attention, but People Like Us and, most notably in my memory, Operation Good Guys also made significant waves in the field. Improvised comedy shows have also been on the up, with Curb Your Enthusiasm perhaps the best example of the last decade.
Reno 911! uses both improvised materials and the mockumentary format to bring glimpses of the Reno Sheriff’s Department. Think of it like a mickey-take of COPS and you’re on solid ground. The 2007 movie received a poor critical reception, so I was interested to see how this first season of the show would fare.
The answer is something of a mixed bag. The series plays out like a sketch show, using the various characters of the show to relay rather broad, and often offensive gags that all essentially come back to the same thing – that these guys are universally useless at their jobs. I’ve seen this done before in Operation Good Guys and, in all honesty, it was done much, much better there too. This is down to the scattergun and brash approach of Reno 91!1 as opposed to the layered plots offered up in the British police series.
That said, when it hits its high marks it does raise belly laughs, providing that you allow yourself to be sucked in to this over-the-top world of freaks and larger-than-life characters. Stand-out incidents include a trip to the burning man festival, complete with chaps and nipple tassles, and the brilliant Halloween trespassing incident, ending in a genuinely creepy, and hilarious, egging incident for a couple of the officers on patrol. Then there is the superb two-parter, in which the force are sent on terrorist training by agents from Homeland Security. A little bit of sexual innuendo here, a lot of shouting there, and what you end up with is a particularly strong couple of episodes to end the series.
The characters themselves are all highly familiar stereotypes that anyone who has ever seen a Police Academy film will recognise. So, we have the horny female who’s happy to show her cleavage at any opportunity. We have the outrageously gay guy, complete with his camp-as-Christmas walk and handlebar moustache. And we also have the keen-to-shoot cop with a terrible aim, the redneck and the mentally unstable officer. Reno 911! doesn’t do subtle, so, if that’s how you like your comedy then you should stay well clear of this.
However, if you enjoy watching Comedy Central, then you’ll no doubt be familiar with either this series or at least this kind of American comedy show. If that’s the case, then Reno 911! is a worthy watch. Yes, it’s inconsistent, silly and in your face, but I can’t deny that it did make me laugh. Lots.
Why, oh, why are TV boxsets still being released with a modicum of extra features? You could argue that you get enough for your dollar with 14 episodes included, but why no documentary and why only commentary tracks on four episodes? The tracks that are there are OK, with insights into where the show’s shot (actually LA rather than Vegas) and how the improv nature of the show works. More would have been nice, though.
The alternate and deleted scenes are better, particularly a few which show the cast breaking into laughter, which is a given considering the improvised nature of much of the material that makes the final cut. As with the sketch set-up of the show, this basically plays out like a further episode, although the deleted scenes are better than the alternate ones, many of which are simply much longer cuts of the same scenes that made the show come airing.
It’s not a vanilla boxset, which is a start, but what’s on here won’t hold your interest
Reno 911! Season 1 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.