NTSF:SD:SUV:: debuts tonight on adult swim at 12:15 a.m. Eastern.
Sometimes, it feels like the comedy world is pretty small. National Terrorism Strike Force:San Diego:Sport Utility Vehicle:: comes from the mind of Paul Scheer and costars his wife June Diane Raphael—who appears on the podcast How Did This Get Made? with Scheer and his The League costar Jason Mantzoukas. Scheer has appeared on Childrens Hospital before, which costars his former Human Giant partner Rob Huebel…who wrote the fourth episode of NTSF:SD:SUV::. I could go on.
That's definitely not a bad thing. It just so happens that a lot of these comedians became semi-known right around the same time, and are now in the position to create opportunities for their friends to perform. It allows the showrunners to take risks with format and tone, knowing they'll have top-caliber, adaptable comics at the ready to carry their ideas through. I'd imagine it's also easier for those controlling network purse strings to a) give money to someone with connections, and b) give money at all, knowing their money will go further in securing enough comics to draw a devoted comedy nerd audience.
NTSF:SD:SUV:: (uh, let's just call it NTSF from now on) is the logical successor to Childrens Hospital. The latter is Rob Corddry's joke-riddled spoof of Grey's Anatomy, where you can tell the comedians involved are having a ton of fun embracing the silliness of that over-the-top show. It's very similar over at NTSF. Scheer clearly loves the ridiculous and cliché nature of CSI and 24-type shows, and shows it by having his character Trent Hauser use tons of David Caruso-esque one-line quips—only a few of which make any real-world sense. (He also takes off and puts on multiple pairs of sunglasses in just the opening credits.) There are seemingly unimportant background details that aren't commented on, but flesh out the cartoonish world: The leader has an eye patch; one of the team members is a robot.
Episodes are only about 10 minutes long (when you discount commercials), so there isn't much time to do anything other than tell jokes. In tonight's episode, the team discovers that a Four Loko-like beverage is making college students permanently drunk, then explosive. NTSF calls in the help of the FDA—which rivals the library on Parks & Recreation as the seemingly innocuous organization that's the most fun to illogically hate—to help them solve the case. JK Simmons guests as the head of the FDA, and the deeper the team gets into the mystery, the more they realize, as per cop show cliché, that it goes beyond just you and I. The action, just like it is on network cop shows, is pretty silly, and the banter is electric and dreadfully clever. This is satire that knows its subject matter well, and those who are familiar with the actual shows will get even more of a kick out of it—not that you need to have watched tons of Without A Trace to really get it. (Surveying a dead student: "Looks like this guy went from being high, to being very…um…has anyone seen my sunglasses?")
NTSF and Childrens Hospital are clearly cut from similar cloth, but the two shows differ in a few major ways. For one, NTSF has a clear central character, whereas Corddry's clownish Blake is the main character on promotional posters alone; there are episodes he barely appears in, and the ensemble each gets its turn at the wheel. NTSF is much more geared as Trent's show, at least in the two episodes I've seen so far. In one, for example, he's removed fairly early on but finds his way back to the main action by episode's end—and it just doesn't feel the same without him. It's fine, though, because the shows NTSF spoofs are shows with strong leads anyways, so it all makes sense. Even if they wanted to hand off the comedy, though, sadly most of the other characters haven't really demonstrated their knack for the kind of satire NTSF is going for. June Diane Raphael is pretty great, and seems to grasp when it's best to let serious things slide for comic effect (like suddenly shooting a college student). The others, like Rebecca Romijn and Brandon Johnson—and even Martin Starr—aren't given enough to do.
This becomes even more apparent when addressing NTSF's secondary hiccup: Childrens Hospital can pretty much throw story away, but NTSF has to follow at least a few storytelling conventions. So much of CSI (or whatever) has to do with the 11th hour explanation of what's happened beforehand—telling the audience which clues were red herrings, and which were not. There's pressure to wrap things up neatly in the end, and thus parts of each NTSF episode are devoted to simply stating who's behind what scheme, and for what reason. It doesn't take up a lot of time, sure, but episodes are already only 10 minutes, so even one or two minutes devoted to furthering a plot is a substantial percentage of time. By the time we're getting back to the good stuff, I've been slightly taken out of the action.
I still think NTSF is fantastic; there are a ton of great lines and moments, which given the preview nature of this article, I'd rather not spoil (not that I'd be able to really do them justice on "paper," either). The above paragraphs are only minor concerns for a show that I'd like to last a while—even though the very nature of the show is that it'll run out of gas. But Childrens Hospital has gone three seasons and only gotten better. NTSF is the perfect complement to Childrens Hospital, and an awesome vehicle for Paul Scheer—and all his friends—to let out a little comic steam of their own.