How Tacoma FD Quietly Became One of the Year’s Best Comedies

In the increasingly crowded field of television comedy, Tacoma FD offers some comfort food.

Higher quantity never guarantees better quality, but thanks to “Peak TV,” there are more good options on television to choose from than ever before. This is especially true of the comedy genre, which has witnessed an explosion of unique programming. From returning favorites like Fleabag and Brooklyn Nine-Nine to acclaimed newcomers like The Other Two and Russian Doll, viewers could watch one episode every night for a year and still not finish it all.

Unfortunately, this results in the premature demise of many, many shows, as people just aren’t able to keep up, resulting in poor ratings. Hopefully, this isn’t going to be the case for truTV’s Tacoma FD, which has managed to find and maintain a small, devoted niche audience. But even at a smaller network like truTV, a fiery series like this always in danger of being doused. The thing is, not only does Tacoma FD boast a faithful core audience, but it has managed to establish itself as one of the year’s best — and most consistent — comedies. It’s nowhere near as revolutionary or challenging as its contemporaries, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit.

Co-created by Broken Lizard members and Super Troopers stars Kevin Heffernan and Steve LemmeTacoma FD follows the daily lives and antics of Chief Terry McConky (Heffernan), Captain Eddie Penisi (Lemme) and the daytime crew at a firehouse in one of America’s wettest cities. As a result, they find themselves rushing to mostly fireless calls — like an entitled brat stuck in a storm drain and an asphyxiated fleshlight user — and trying to pass the time in between. And in true Super Troopers fashion, said time passing is rife with juvenile pranks, childish contests and increasingly outrageous hijinks of all shapes and sizes.

As Heffernan and Lemme were quick to tell me when I spoke to them for Den of Geek’s The Fourth Wall podcast, however, Tacoma FD isn’t simply a serialized version of the 2002 comedy classic… but with firefighters instead of highway patrolmen. It has, as Heffernan put it, “some elements of heart, as far as we can take it” that never really had a place in that film and its 2018 sequel. Much of this comes from the relationship with his character’s daughter Lucy (Hassie Harrison), the station’s first female firefighter.

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Beyond the implicitly deeper elements of this story beat and a few others that track throughout the season’s 10 episodes, Tacoma FD excels in its willing embrace of what amounts to comedy “comfort food.” That is to say, the show doesn’t attempt anything deeply conceptual (FleabagRussian Doll) or meta (The Other TwoWhat We Do in the Shadows) with its gags. Rather, Heffernan and Lemme — along with fellow executive producers David Miner, Greg Walter and Kyle Clark, and writers Sivert Glarum, Michael Jamin, Carrie Clifford, Jessica Polonsky and Paul Soter — keep it simple. The A, B and C plots, the series-long gags and one-off jokes and the “heart” come off in the same manner as in popular broadcast comedies like Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Big Bang Theory. They’re easily digestible and meant to be consumed by general audiences. Or, to borrow a word from the Tacoma FD pilot, it’s all very “sawft.”

At the same time, Heffernan and Lemme have found a way to combine Tacoma FD’s general appeal with the sophomoric humor Broken Lizard is known for. And they accomplished this with a story that is heavily inspired by a very specific culture: firefighters and their families. Heffernan acknowledged the firefighters in his extended family on The Fourth Wall. He and Lemme also recalled the many times they’d been approached by fans who were first responders that wanted them to do for firefighting what Super Troopers had done for cops.

But what truly makes Tacoma FD a wonderful, yet underrated comedy series isn’t its simplicity or the specificity of its inspiration. On the contrary, the program achieves greatness whenever it hands over the comedic reins to its impressive ensemble. Aside from Heffernan, Lemme and Harrison, Tacoma FD features the impressive talents of Marcus Henderson, Eugene Cordero and Gabriel Hogan, who play Granville “Granny” Smith, Andy Myawani and Ike Crystal respectively. The fire station know-it-all, the former rookie and a comically dumb beefcake, these three actors flesh out the core group, and as the showrunners explain it, it has everything to do with their impeccable improvisational talents.

“When we were casting, we wanted people who were comedy generators,” said Heffernan. “It’s okay to get someone who can confidently deliver the lines, but you want someone to add that extra special something on there.”

Lemme got more specific in his assessment of the gang’s comedic prowess.

“We like for the scripts to be good. If there was no improv, you’d still be satisfied and happy with the outcome. And if you can get some great improv on top of it, then that’s gravy. All the actors that we got turned out to be terrific at improvising, and I think that has added to the mayhem of the show because a lot of the time, we’ll just let those guys and girls go off on whatever tangent it is that they’ve chosen to speak about at that moment. Then we’re in the editing room and we actually have too many options. It becomes a success problem, or an embarrassment of riches, as we like to say.”

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And that’s exactly what Tacoma FD’s first season has been: an embarrassment of riches. There’s plenty of stoner comedy-adjacent material to keep longtime Super Troopers fans happy, of course, and the rest of the humor is by no means what most critics would describe as being “elevated.” But none of this means that it’s a bad show. More than anything, it’s these simple, comfortable aspects of the series’ storytelling and comedy that make it a truly wonderful viewing experience. So set aside some time, grab something “sawft” and treat yourself to Tacoma FD’s comforts. You won’t regret it.

Tacoma FD airs on truTV.

Listen to our Tacoma FD interview on The Fourth Wall podcast:

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