Along with Jay Chandrasekhar, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske, Kevin Heffernan and Steve Lemme are best known for their work with the Broken Lizard comedy troupe. The group is responsible for a string of comedy films in the 2000s, like the first Super Troopers and Beerfest, that shaped American comedic sensibilities at the movies for a decade.
With their original truTV series Tacoma FD, however, Heffernan and Lemme wanted to do something a little different. The show premiered in late March and gradually, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter, gained a niche following that has resulted in some pretty good ratings for the network. Ahead of the season finale next Thursday, the longtime friends and collaborators spoke to Den of Geek about the inspiration for the series, its surprisingly familial themes, and more for The Fourth Wall podcast.
“An important element that we learned in the TV writing world is that you need a little bit more in the world of sustained arcs over the course of a season,” says Heffernan. “We talked about that, and one of them was this family dynamic. I think that’s something that’s maybe not in Super Troopers.”
On Tacoma FD, the man famous for playing Vermont State Trooper Rod Farva portrays Chief Terry McConky, an equally goofy character who’s a bit nicer around the edges. He’s also on high alert, for aside from managing Lemme’s Captain Eddie Penisi and the other firefighters, McConky is also overseeing his daughter Lucy (Hassie Harrison), the station’s first female firefighter.
“You get to deal with that relationship, and it adds some elements of heart, as far as we can take it,” Heffernan continues. “There are elements of heart and elements of family, which I think maybe aren’t in Super Troopers. I think that maybe gave the firefighter thing another angle, which has a little more substance to it.”
“If you go to these firehouses, a lot of them are a family business,” adds Lemme. “There are generations of firefighters in families. In any given station, you can find cousins, uncles, brothers and sisters. And because these people are all hanging out with each other, more families get made. They’re coupling with each other. That’s something that we just thought was cool. As far as TV goes, it’s all about those character relationships. It’s a rich world.”
As much as Tacoma FD’s strong theme of family owes its prominence to the need for season arcs and long-form storytelling, however, it’s also a personal matter. As Heffernan notes, he has a lot of family members who are, or have known, firefighters.
“They’ve been fans of Super Troopers and they’ve always told us they have a kind of world like that,” he says. “They always brag about it being a funnier world than the Super Troopers one.”
At the same time, Heffernan and Lemme didn’t want to make a literal version of “Super Troopers for firefighters” in Tacoma FD. They wanted to do some that hadn’t really been done, of course, but they also didn’t want to sully their source material.
“In Super Troopers, those guys are always kind of viewed as bumbling highway patrolmen,” Lemme notes. “That was something we really didn’t want for a show about firefighters and first responders. Something that was really pressed upon us, from the beginning, is how prepared these guys all are. And meticulous. Yes, they mess around, but they’re also great at their jobs. They put their lives on the line and we didn’t take that lightly.”
For example, he points to the “Tournament of Champions” station competition in Tacoma FD‘s pilot episode. While Heffernan’s McConky is facing pressure to improve the station’s ratings, Lemme’s Penisi and the other firefighters — played by the equally hilarious Eugene Cordero, Marcus Henderson and Gabriel Hogan — decide to compete for a “super sawft” sample of alpaca fur. A silly array of hijinks ensues, but not at the expense of the job.
“All the work has been done, redone and even thrice checked before these guys start to mess around,” says Lemme. “They’re good at their jobs, but like all firefighters, there’s sometimes this downtime when they go bananas.”
Find out what else Heffernan and Lemme had to say about the first season of Tacoma FD by listening to The Fourth Wall podcast, which seeks to allow creative people behind the scenes to break through the illusory “fourth wall” of stage and cinema to speak directly to the audience of their work. Our interviews with authors, composers, set designers, and others give voice to a whole host of artists we wouldn’t normally get to hear from. Subscribe so that you never miss an episode, or simply listen to the latest episode below! The Tacoma FD season 1 finale airs next Thursday, May 30th at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on truTV.