They don’t make television comedies like they used to, and few were ever made as brilliantly as “Reno 911,” the jewel of Comedy Central’s glorious mid-aughts lineup. But it’s back, and better than pretty much every new comedy on air right now, despite clocking in around seven minutes an episode.
In these trying times, happiness is an elusive sensation. The unbridled joy I felt one minute into the reboot’s premiere, having realized “Reno 911” is returning to us in fine form, defies description. In Quibi’s hands, the show is back at its Bush-era peak, a relic from a time when few topics were off limits in comedy, and skillful humorists lampooned every one of them with equal vigor and delight. You can’t fully understand the magnitude of this cultural loss until you see Jim Dangle work his way through a PSA on gender pronouns.
The PSAs are only of many gags from the show’s original run that return in the reboot, which premieres on Monday, including Junior’s universally ill-fated attempts to pull drivers over, and Dangle’s bicycle woes. Familiar faces like Patton Oswalt, Toby Huss (Big Mike), and Dave Holmes (Leslie Frost) make appearances as well, furthering the show’s ability to channel its singular original spirit.
Speaking of which, “Reno 911!” left the air in 2009, but more than a decade later, its cultural commentaries hold up remarkably well. Revisit, for instance, the eighth episode of season five, presciently titled “The Wall,” for a taste of the show’s lasting satirical value. Quibi’s reboot is similarly fearless, diving straight into the new politics of policing, transgenderism, paper straws, and gun control. Oswalt’s character is basically Alex Jones. With the exception, perhaps, of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” another holdover from the mid-aughts, there’s just nothing like this on television anymore.
“Reno 911” is a good fit for Quibi’s experimental model, which is to produce series with episodes under 10 minutes long, in vertical and horizontal formats optimized for smartphone viewing. The show actually used to air “hodgepodge” episodes with no narrative string at all, basically just a collection of sketches. There’s continuity in the “Quibi” episodes, at least the three made available to press before launch day, which works well for breezy shows like “Reno.”
There’s something odd about watching “Reno 911!” in 2020, about seeing its unchanged crassness applied to a world where cultural pressures have reined in most satire—even most good satire. Everything is overproduced and overwritten, two qualities that could never be used to characterize “Reno 911!” Thank goodness for that. It’s liberating to revisit comedy’s not-so-distance past, and actually kind of revealing as to how exhausting those overproduced and overwritten shows have started to become.
What makes the consequences of political correctness difficult to measure is that we can’t fully know what’s not being made. The “Reno” reboot actually functions as a glimpse into the magnitude of that loss. Of course, Quibi’s decision to bring the show back without sanding away of its edges indicates some in the industry are still willing to test those waters, convinced there’s a market for genuinely controversial comedy. Between YouTube and the booming podcast industry, that should be abundantly clear.
Like Michael Scott, a character even Steve Carrell believes wouldn’t fly in today’s Hollywood, the bumbling idiots of the Reno Sheriff’s Department are used to satirize the ugliness of racism and sexism and xenophobia. Our laughter reinforces society’s intolerance for bigotry. That’s a worthy effort, and comedy is one of our best tools to tackle it.
I don’t know how “Reno” will be perceived by critics in legacy media, who typically enforce the narrowing standards of acceptable discourse, even if they allow for a little more wiggle room than the left’s most humorless detractors. For 2020, the writing on “Reno’s” seventh season is bold. It’s also great.
I’ll close by acknowledging what’s behind the shameless enthusiasm of this glowing review. “Reno 911!” and “Strangers With Candy” and “The Sarah Silverman Program” were what I watched when my parents weren’t home. They were what taught me the value of satire. They were what made me appreciate the intellectual freedom that comes with comedy. But nostalgia aside, the reboot is worth your time.
Besides, if you don’t watch, you will never know what happened to Trudy Wiegel’s hamster. And trust me, you’re going to want to know what happened to Trudy Wiegel’s hamster.