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Tour De Pharmacy rides a fun but forgettable course of cycling and dick jokes

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Daveed Diggs, Orlando Bloom, Andy Samberg, John Cena, Freddie Highmore. (Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)
Daveed Diggs, Orlando Bloom, Andy Samberg, John Cena, Freddie Highmore. (Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)
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Tour De Pharmacy

Director: Jake Szymanski
Runtime: 39 minutes
Rating: TV-MA
Cast: Andy Samberg, Orlando Bloom, Freddie Highmore, Daveed Diggs, John Cena, James Marsden
Availability: July 8 on HBO Go and HBO Now; airs July 8 at 10 p.m. ET on HBO

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At one point in Tour De Pharmacy, the second of Andy Samberg and company’s sports mockumentaries (following 2015’s absurdist tennis-centric 7 Days In Hell), Kevin Bacon appears as Ditmer Klerken, former head of the UCI, the world governing body responsible for overseeing the Tour De France and drug-testing all its competitors. Rocking a comically dumb Swedish accent and sunglasses, Bacon explains, “Most people don’t realize that cycling was invented so that men could fuck in the woods.” It’s an outlandish and crude gag that nonetheless earns a laugh thanks to the guileless stupidity of it all, which is an apt description of Tour De Pharmacy, as well.

This is a sequel of sorts, in concept if not in story, and while it maintains its predecessor’s admirable ethos of doing anything for a joke, there’s a sense of diminishing returns to this spoof of 30 For 30-style sports documentaries. This time around, it’s the world of competitive cycling—specifically the 1982 Tour De France—that finds itself the subject of mockery, as a motley assemblage of buffoons compete for the prize. While the special makes hay of the idea that the entire field of athletes was doping heavily at the time (hence the title), it’s thanks to a bribery scandal that all but five cyclists end up disqualified from the race, leaving the focus on a small group of ridiculous caricatures. Alternating between news footage of the era and modern-day interviews, the larger cast of central roles means less focus on a central pair (as with 7 Days’ Samberg and Kit Harington), but more opportunities for over-the-top characters to explore.

First up, there’s Orlando Bloom, playing Juju Peppi, a severe drug user whom we’re told in the opening minutes “died with his dick out” mid-race. Hamilton star Daveed Diggs portrays Jackie Robinson’s nephew Slim, on a mission to find another sport where he can be the only black man. Bates Motel’s Freddie Highmore is Adriana Baton, a French woman who has to pretend to be a man to be allowed into the race (and played in the modern interviews by Julia Ormond). Samberg himself is Marty Hass, a dimwitted but fey dude-bro whose diamond mine-owning father means he calls himself “African,” despite moving there as a child from the States. (In a good example of the special’s sensibility, it goes for the obvious joke of having Hass quote the words to Toto’s “Africa,” but gives it a twist by making him completely unaware of the song’s existence.) Rounding out the competitors is ’roided-up Austrian meathead Gustav Ditters, played by John Cena in another demonstration of the former wrestling star’s solid comedic chops (and cleverly portrayed in the present day by Dolph Lundgren).

The returning writer-director team of Murray Miller and Jake Szymanski have taken the formula from their last special and more or less repeated it here, and while calling the freewheeling and wide-ranging assortment of jokes and comic setups a “formula” isn’t entirely fair to the inspired silliness of the bits, it’s accurate. A parade of guest stars make brief direct-to-cameras jokes, there’s an abrupt deviation early on from the narrative to do a wholly distinct sketch (in this case, a Swedish TV ad for the then-recently invented credit card that features dedicated cunnilingus), and an increasingly ludicrous days-long sporting event with extremely little interest in sending up the actual sport other than in using it as a vessel for goofball personalities to bounce off one another. But one of the special’s strengths is its brevity: At barely 39 minutes, it wraps everything up before any fatigue sets in, meaning even the gags that don’t land are quickly brushed aside for the next bit.

But the rapid-fire pace can’t disguise the degree to which many of the jokes here are actually fully committed examples of an intentionally drawn-out bit. The Rake Effect, so named for the way in which a classic Simpsons episode has Sideshow Bob step on rakes so many times, it stops being funny only to become funny again, is all over Tour De Pharmacy, often successfully, sometimes less so. Nathan Fielder lands his version of it, reciting an agonizingly long list of drugs found in Peppi’s system at the time of his death. And Highmore’s disguised woman, who starts out unfortunately with some groaningly outdated laughs about gender, slowly gains a strangely warm and endearing arc that has to do with Bacon’s reference about men fucking in the woods. But some of the recurring humor doesn’t quite land. Given that ads for the special have spoiled Lance Armstrong’s appearance, it’s no reveal to say the continually escalating ways in which the fake documentary team reveal the identity of this “secret inside source” get old quick. And this installment finds even more of a reliance on cheap bodily humor than the last, and to more uneven results.

Still, it’s churlish to find too much fault with something so breezy and playful, and so clearly uninterested in doing anything but throwing as many laughs as possible against the screen and hoping they stick. While it may not have the hit-to-miss ratio of its forbear, and is straining a little harder to make it all work (even Jon Hamm’s formerly deadpan narrator gets a little more animated and portentous this time out), it remains a sporting good time. This is the work of very funny men—and make no mistake, it’s almost all men this time, save Ormond and a couple small appearances from Maya Rudolph and Phylicia Rashad—having a grand old time seeing who can chew the most scenery and still make it funny. By the time J.J. Abrams makes a very dumb-but-funny Felicity joke, it’s clear that Samberg and his collaborators have won the race against failure.