Adult Swim’s tendency to eschew expectations and swing for the fences is practically the norm. In spite of over a decade’s worth of alternative series, Tropical Cop Tales is without a doubt one of the strangest things to ever grace the network. At its surface level the show lampoons basic cop procedurals, but it operates with such an exaggerated, unnerving tone. It’s as if a Tommy Bahama set up a location within David Lynch’s Black Lodge. It’s this extreme, uncomfortable energy that’s become a trademark of the show’s creators, Jim Hosking and Toby Harvard.
Hosking and Harvard have proven to be some of the most unusual emerging filmmakers of today. Their film, The Greasy Strangler is a uniquely strange endeavor, but the two are allowed to truly go nuts in their Adult Swim series. Tropical Cop Tales is certainly an acquired taste, but it demands to be seen and experienced. We had the opportunity to talk with the madmen behind the series, Jim Hosking and Toby Harvard, who help break down how this ambitious series came together and all of the slimy details.
DEN OF GEEK: For the ill informed, what would you say are the three most important rules or traits of a tropical cop?
TOBY HARVARD: Stay hydrated. I’d say that’s rule one.
JIM HOSKING: I think to have a very shit hairstyle is also very important. Then again, we also really love their hairstyles.
TOBY HARVARD: No, shit hair is important!
JIM HOSKING: Yeah, you’re right.
TOBY HARVARD: And you also need to have a son—well one of them has a son who’s older than both of them—but they both need to be called “mum” by everybody, even though one of them is a man.
Your previous experience is in film, but were you excited to do a television series? Do you have a preference between what the two allow you to do with your stories?
JIM HOSKING: I think that we were both really excited to do a TV show, but also the shortness of the episodes is really fun to us. They can still feel random and unpredictable, and we’re allowed to go with our instincts a lot in regard to just what feels funny for us. Film is a much more serious, committed endeavor, but for me it’s not even a question of whether I prefer one to the other, but in this case it was fun to tackle some shorter episodes.
TOBY HARVARD: I think the series almost feels like Russian roulette. Every episode is different from the last and you really don’t know what you’re doing to get. One episode may be really action-packed and another may be all dialogue. It’s fun to play with expectations and not have a rigid format that you’re stuck to every time.
JIM HOSKING: It would be interesting to watch all ten episodes in a row and see if you could take it or not. It’s quite maddening on purpose, but in a way that makes us laugh. There’s a lot of repetition of phrases, for instance.
TOBY HARVARD: We’ll get certain phrases stuck in our head and it’s impossible to not put them in the script.
JIM HOSKING: Yeah, it’ll become very OCD. But when we were filming, a lot of cockroaches were living in our house. We were getting them every night! It was sort of like being in a terrible warzone where you’re fighting all day and then in the evening they’re even more vigilant, so you need to carry very heavy art books to smash them into the floor. Then going back into the yard to have a restorative IPA and then a huge cockroach flies at your head.
TOBY HARVARD: At your face!
JIM HOSKING: So for us, it was this demonic experience and we have such post-traumatic stress disorder over the whole thing.
TOBY HARVARD: This is our Apocalypse Now. People need to understand the horrors that we went through to make this show possible.
In the second season you’ll need to do some roach-themed episode or something for therapy.
JIM HOSKING: “Welcome to the Ro-tel.”
It’s funny that you mention the OCD nature of the dialogue because I feel like it’s so unique and almost Shakespearean in nature at times. Were you trying to create a particular feeling with how the characters talk?
JIM HOSKING: We found it funny that they would have this flowery and over descriptive way of talking to each other, almost like they’re erudite and having some cocktails in a Victorian parlor. Then it becomes something else when it becomes transposed to these characters and the tropics. But we just like words.
TOBY HARVARD: I think we’re more drawn to the dialogue than to any plot contrivances.
JIM HOSKING: I watched The Favourite the last week. Their dialogue was nowhere near as good as ours is. Nowhere close.
Well, okay. On that note, in The Favourite the Queen gets called a “badger” a bunch, but you’d portray a badger rather differently, wouldn’t you? Talk a little bit about how you guys approach reptiles in this show, or Oinker in The Greasy Strangler, for instance. Is it fun to so ridiculously subvert animals like that?
JIM HOSKING: With the reptiles, we realized pretty quickly that we couldn’t do anything too intricate or convoluted, but we do like that all of these costumes could kind of be fashioned by the characters themselves. Within this world there’s a very rudimentary element to them and you can become a reptile by having some weird rectangular scale-like things on your face.
TOBY HARVARD: You have the right to call yourself a reptile and nobody challenges it. I love having that kind of freedom.
JIM HOSKING: With Oinker in The Greasy Strangler, we originally thought that it was going to be a more permanent cover for his nose—porcelain or a precious metal—something that was a little more unsettling and striking. But then someone from the wardrobe department told me that she could do papier-mâché and that she could be a papier-mâché nose. In the end I’m not even sure if we were that crazy about that approach, but you know when someone’s put in a lot of hard work and you’ve kind of got to run with it?
Was this Tropical Cop Tales idea the original concept that you guys had for this series, or were there other premises that you had considered for a show?
TOBY HARVARD: This was the first thing. We were playing table tennis one day and we came up with the whole thing—the title, the premise, and everything kind of just unfolded pretty naturally from there. I don’t think we had any other TV show ideas at the time.
JIM HOSKING: I can’t remember how it came up, or if the name came up before anything else, but it all happened rather quickly.
TOBY HARVARD: We had a couple of actors in mind from The Greasy Strangler that we liked and we thought, “What if they were tropical cops?” And then in a minute we had the premise, title, and everything. That was that.
JIM HOSKING: It was one of those surefire ideas when you’re like, “Well, someone’s going to buy this, it’s just a matter of who.”
We’ve touched on The Greasy Strangler a few times and it certainly feels like Tropical Cop Tales shares the same DNA as that film. Would you say that your works share a universe? Could the Greasy Strangler conceivably show up in one episode as a suspect?
JIM HOSKING: Well technically, any character that we’ve played with could show up here, but we wouldn’t put the Greasy Strangler in Tropical Cop Tales. That being said, Michael St. Michaels, who is the Greasy Strangler, plays three different characters in the show. Plus, Sky Elobar, who’s Braeden in the film, plays an unusual character in Tropical Cop Tales, too.
This is obviously a very absurd, extreme show, but was there anything that you were told that you couldn’t do, or stuff that had to get toned down?
TOBY HARVARD: Well just the general standards and practices of Adult Swim, like how you’re not allowed to show blood in a realistic way. So on the pilot we kind of came up with these joyous, tropical, multicolored blood and entrails to keep things from getting too gruesome. Then Jim kind of ran with that idea and it just became the style of the show. I don’t know if I’ve seen anything like that anywhere else.
JIM HOSKING: I don’t know if we feel that—did you say that the show’s “extreme?”
I meant more extreme in terms of the show’s atmosphere and energy rather than its violence.
JIM HOSKING: Obviously I don’t really know how anyone will take the show, but I almost feel like the show is rather innocent and old fashioned. It’s like an old fashioned, fun children’s show. Obviously there are some references to sex, genitals, and people are dressed in a strange way. But the way in which some dialogue or a song gets continually reprised could be strange for children, but I think that children would probably really enjoy this show. I don’t know if parents should go out and show this show to their kids, but they’d likely enjoy it.
TOBY HARVARD: The violence does have a certain playfulness to it. It’s almost like how a child imagines a person’s head would explode and things like that.
JIM HOSKING: It’s like it’s written by two very depressed children.
It’s a bit of a lucky coincidence that this show is airing alongside the new season of True Detective. Are you guys big fans of the cop genre? Do you have your favorite cop shows?
JIM HOSKING: I would say that I have literally zero interest in the cop genre and cop shows. I’d probably avoid watching a cop show with every fiber of my being.
TOBY HARVARD: I despise cop shows. I think they’re very boring.
JIM HOSKING: But I think that’s why we wanted to do a cop show because it’s the last thing that we should be doing. We have zero business writing a cop show.
TOBY HARVARD: How dare we write a cop show! We have no right to do that.
JIM HOSKING: But at the same time, I have no interest in horror films or creature films, but when we made The Greasy Strangler, the first question was always, “What’s in the grease?” And I was like, “I don’t care!” I wish the films just had some more of people arguing and getting into each other’s faces.
Do you guys have a favorite episode or set piece from the season?
JIM HOSKING: There are so many for me that I really, really like. I am very fond of this show. I’ve managed to work on it and edit it for a long time and am still rather proud of it. For me, the casting just feels very individualistic and there are characters that you don’t get to see on other shows. Characters that are that joyous and get to express themselves so freely. At the beginning of one episode, Captain Solomon walks into the scene as he skinny dips and there’s absolutely no reason for it. But it was just so funny to get weird and subvert the noir trope like that.
TOBY HARVARD: The actors are also always so on board with everything and never question how weird things may get.
JIM HOSKING: There was one moment in the “How to Be A Tropical Cop” episode where Captain Solomon is wedged between two rows of lockers and he’s singing at the two cops. It was just one of these things that happened in the moment. The words just came to us and we tried them out. Captain Solomon sings, “Give me one good reason not to fire your ass!” and “You’re so stupid!” and we all found that quite funny. That happened early on in the shoot and once you find a rhythm like that and figure out what makes you laugh, it all gets so much easier.
That’s so interesting because that shot also really stood out to me, but not because he’s singing, but because it makes no sense how he’s between those lockers! It’s madness!
JIM HOSKING: That’s what’s quite interesting with making this show. When you’re making something that’s so bizarre, absurd, liberated, or free, it all just starts to feel like a series of logistical challenges that we have to get past—that’s just the filmmaking part of it. It feels very normal after a while, but it should be fun to see how people take this show.
TOBY HARVARD: I think Jim and I are rather desensitized to it because we’ve seen it so much, but also because this kind of material just flows so naturally for us. It’s hard to put yourself in the mindset of someone who’s seeing it for the first time. I’m not shocked by this and it’s not necessarily weird to me.
JIM HOSKING: I don’t think it’s shocking at all. It’s one of those things where if you enjoy it, then you’re really into it, and if you’re not, then it just feels eternally weird that somebody even made this thing.
Finally, how important is a good moniker for a criminal? What would you want to be dubbed if you were a criminal?
JIM HOSKING: I think that I’d be called Tickle Me Terry
TOBY HARVARD: I’d be called Boiled Beef Barry.
DEN OF GEEK: It’s almost worth becoming a criminal just to have those monikers.
JIM HOSKING: It’s very important to have a mysterious moniker.
You need it! It’s crucial!
JIM HOSKING: I think we like names that feel very self important and tragic.
TOBY HARVARD: Arrogant and unwanted.
The first season of Tropical Cop Tales is currently airing on Adult Swim on Fridays at midnight (ET) with back-to-back episodes
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.