Given the advertising for TBS’s upcoming comedy series, THE DETOUR, one might be forgiven for thinking that the family road trip resembles National Lampoon’s Vacation movies; I think the leading man even looks a bit like the most recent patriarch from that series. However, this little show is a little more original than that, and instead harkens closer to IFC’s The Incredibly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, a comedy of errors in which things just keep getting worse and worse.
THE DETOUR follows Nate (Jason Jones, The Daily Show), his wife, Robin (Natalie Zea, Justified), daughter Delilah (Ashley Gerasimovich, Louie), and son Jared (Liam Carroll, The Neighbors) as they drive cross-country. What upper middle class family does that nowadays, you may ask, given that airlines seem the more obvious way to go for those with means? Well, that’s part of the story, which is quite the convoluted mess, in the way you hope it will be.
It’s clear from the beginning of the series there is more going on that meets the eye. THE DETOUR is not a big mystery or conspiracy theory show, but it still keeps some cards close to its chest, which is fine since some of the reveals are played for a laugh or to enhance a certain moment.
This is a dense series, but not in a way that should worry you. The overriding mission is to elicit laughs, and it does that frequently. The story is cohesive and makes sense; I didn’t see any glaring plot holes in the eight episodes or so I viewed. But story is secondary to the funny bits that happen, so you can just go along and enjoy the ride without worrying about having to think any deeper than necessary.
Now, that almost sounds like an insult, but I swear it’s not. Comedy can be smart without being a chore, and this one is. There are the rare sitcoms, Arrested Development springs to mind, that do force one to pay attention to really get all the jokes, and that’s fine; I adore that show. But most comedies shouldn’t, and THE DETOUR fits into the realm of most comedies without seeming tired or repetitive.
The biggest compliment I can give THE DETOUR is that it is addictive. True, I didn’t have to keep watching for cliffhanger resolution, but I wanted to because I was amused and anxious to see what zaniness the family gets into next. One thing after another keeps befalling them, some their fault, some not, and it is a pleasure to watch it unfold. I wish I had the full season available, but made do with most of it.
The four main players all hold their weight appropriately. Jones and Zea have more importance in the scheme of things, but the kids are no slouches, either. The four roles they play are likeable, but flawed, and while some of the disasters do stem from bad decision making, not all of them do, so it’s not a constant cringe-inducer. Instead, the show deftly balances its elements to keep viewers invested and able to laugh at the characters without despising or being depressed for them.
In short, THE DETOUR did not give me exactly what I expected, and that ends up being for the best. It’s a well-crafted example of what cable should be doing when tackling sitcoms, making something both fresh and genuinely funny, and not being reined in by the boundaries of what “most” shows do in a given situation. It’s a great series to binge-watch on a Saturday and make you feel better about your own life, while still being impressed with Jones’ (who created the show alongside wife Samantha Bee, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee) chops.
THE DETOUR premieres Monday, April 11th on TBS.