In 2017, Detroiters pulled up in its sensible, American-made sedan two years too soon. Capitalizing on his rising star on Veep, Sam Richardson teamed up with friend, fellow real-life Michigander, and Saturday Night Live alum Tim Robinson for a scrappy little Comedy Central sitcom. Had the pair waited until after the success of Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson, Detroiters might still be on today. Nevertheless, the series is everything I Think You Should Leave fans could hope for. It’s aggressive and sweet, welcoming and irreverent in all the same ways as Robinson’s sketch show. Within two seasons, Richardson and Robinson pushed the possibilities of their comedy, which allowed I Think You Should Leave to arrive fully formed. Thankfully, now that all of Detroiters is streaming on Paramount+, their proving ground is still open for visitors.
On its face, Detroiters resembled a lot of Comedy Central’s mid-to-late-2010s lineup—a little Workaholics, a touch of Broad City. Best friends hitting the rat race and doing their best. But it’s closer to this elevator pitch: “Mad Men, but Step Brothers.” For two seasons, Tim Cramblin (Robinson) and Sam Duvet (Richardson) threw tantrums around the offices of Cramblin Duvet advertising, with the energy of two pre-teen boys stuck at their mom’s office while missing WWE’s Monday Night Raw. And the first season, at least, follows a simple format: The boys have taken control of the family business after Tim’s father, Big Hank, suffered a nervous breakdown, and strive to come up with the perfect angle, tagline, and commercial for their clients at local businesses like “Devereux Wigs” (whose wigs “aren’t made from the hair off dead bodies”) or
Chubby Husky Boys.
But, as the show continued and the writing tightened up, Detroiters expanded its worldview. The second season opened new vantages, focusing on Tim and Sam’s relationship to their Detroit community, changing neighborhoods, and families. The second season even deals with the price of local fame in an episode where the guys gain notoriety as local anchor Mort Crim’s “Chump of the Week.” In a very short amount of time, Detroiters managed to fill its world with characters as silly and endearing as the two leads. And, like all great sitcoms, you love hanging out with these people (even though, in real life, they’d be very off-putting).
As early as episode two, “Hog Riders”, it becomes clear that the cast is something special. Characters like Cramblin Duvet’s elderly receptionist, Sheila (Pat Vern Harris), shine in every scene with quotable and memorable recurring bits, like Sheila flirtatiously dropping her pencil in front of Tim and complaining about her “dumb blonde moments.” There’s also Ned (Christopher Powell, known as Comedian CP), a hapless security guard, who is constantly pitching ideas to the guys (“Hefty garbage bags: Now for white people”). These characters aren’t goofy in a vacuum, though. The show is smart enough to let Tim and Sam be whatever the scene needs. The leads routinely change roles, alternating between the straight man and the funny man. When they’re dealing with Shelia or Ned, they’re straight; when they deal with their level-headed assistant Lea (Lailani Ledesma), they explode (like I Think You Should Leave, no reaction is too outsized on this show). Each character can go big or stay grounded, which allows everyone in the cast to be as gleefully dumb as they are.
Season two is an improvement from season one in almost every way. The writing, costuming, and atmosphere all get more cohesive as the show fills out its version of the Motor City. Leaving the office in episodes like “Trevor” and “Duvet Family Reunion,” Detroiters explores Sam’s and Tim’s family lives, in episodes that let the two leads grow as characters without betraying the show’s tone. For example, when Tim apologizes to his estranged brother Trevor (Conner O’Malley) with a disturbing and hilarious monologue, he does so while wearing a Slipknot clown mask.
The show doesn’t forget the city it’s set and filmed in, either. Part of this is due to the omnipresence of Faygo, the Insane Clown Posse-approved, regional soda. (Though Detroiters and Detroiters alike call it “pop.”) There’s also the soundtrack, which is loaded with local heroes, from Motown legends The Spinners to the proto-punk of Death and the MC5. It’s the type of stuff that you’d expect to be on the jukebox in Tim and Sam’s local dive bar. This Detroit-ness continues with the guest stars, which includes local writers (Tuesdays With Morrie author and sports columnist Mitch Albom), former Detroit Pistons (Rick Mahorn), and professional wrestlers (a guest spot that’s too fun to spoil). Detroit music, locations, and faces make the show and the city feel welcoming, a perfect counterbalance to the aggro performances. Detroiters oscillates between extremes, sweetly childish in one moment and maniacally violent in the next.
And that’s kind of thing about Detroiters: it’s sentimental and sincere without dipping into Mike Schur territory. Tim and Sam’s obsessions with scatological humor, hot dogs, and slow-talking adults have the latent childishness of Jackass, Tom Green, and Adam Sandler records. The go-for-broke, anything-for-a-laugh energy is infectious, leaving you wishing they had the chance to do a third season. Usually, this tone is almost impossible to pull off without becoming obnoxious or fratty. But to their credit, everyone on Detroiters makes it look easy, remaining warm, hilarious, and exciting in every episode.