Comedy duo Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson play two-bit ad men and best friends living large in Motor City
“Detroiters” is about two second-rate ad men in the Motor City who are pretty bad at their jobs. They are Sam Duvet (Sam Richardson) and Tim Cramblin (Tim Robinson) — best friends, business partners, brothers-in-law, and proud Detroiters. They make cheesy commercials for the local market, advertising for worthy businesses like the local hot tub warehouse and the optician down the street. Their secretary, Sheila (Pat Vern Harris), is a white-haired relic of the “Mad Men” era who thinks that she’s a sexy blond flirting with her bosses. (She also regularly confuses Tim for his father, Hank, the respected ad man who founded the company and went insane due to overwork.) Sam’s sister, Chrissy (Shawntay Dalon). married Tim, much to Sam’s chagrin, but the partners haven’t let married bliss interrupt their closeness: Sam and Tim (and Chrissy) live next door to each other, Sam in a crumbling house he says he intends to flip.
But amid all this interconnected chaos, in a cityscape that is the poster child for American decline, “Detroiters” primarily derives its comedy from how carefree Sam and Tim are. They love their jobs, their city, and each other, with a codependent affection that is reminiscent of Abbi and Ilana in their sister show “Broad City.” More than serving up a plot, “Detroiters” offers a state of mind; it’s one in which the most ridiculous ideas seem eminently sensible. In the first few minutes of the pilot, Sam and Tim squirt steak sauce on their neckties and swipe a check from another patron to make it seem like they are “accidentally” bumping into a Chrysler rep (Jason Sudeikis, also an executive producer) at a steakhouse. Of course, they have to drive the point home so many times — accidentally bumped into — that they trample all over their own scheme, with unearned but infectious glee.
Tim and Sam are kind of like happy kids in the candy shop of the Detroit metro area — and their enthusiasm is made hilarious by brilliantly timed editing. There were several scenes in “Detroiters” that are so helplessly idiotic, so incredibly naïve, that I could not stop laughing. Richardson and Robinson play off of each other with seamless rhythms, and both lean into their roles as knockoff “Mad Men” hucksters. Some of the best bits in the show are either very bad commercials or very bad pitches for commercials — both of which are opportunities for the show’s many guest-stars to commit wholeheartedly to an unbelievable bit. “Detroiters” is skilled at guiding the viewer to a joke setup without betraying that that’s what is about to happen. In the premiere, a hot tub king played by Steve Higgins — best known as the announcer of Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show” — delivers a monologue about having sex with his wife that is so dedicated, so committed, that even Tim and Sam are riveted; in another episode, following an absurd pitch from security guard Ned (Comedian CP), the two leads look like they are about ready to crack up themselves.
Of the episodes sent to critics, the premiere is the strongest, largely because Sudeikis is the perfect serious foil to Richardson and Robinson. (Sudeikis isn’t a regular cast member, but according to press materials, he will reprise his role as the Chrysler rep.) Without him, the show is a weirder journey, one that de-emphasizes story for the more elusive quality of atmosphere. But it’s a bizarre, rollicking joy to watch. As is fitting for a show named after a place, “Detroiters” is a state of mind — a nice place to visit and stay awhile, to enjoy the world in a completely different headspace.