Editor’s Note: this review contains very minor plot details for the first episode of Detroiters—if you think that’s a spoiler, just know you’ve been warned!
What makes an effective advertisement? Well, it should convey what the offering is, its features, and how to get in on it. Going past the surface level—because advertising is as much psychology as it is product awareness—author Simon Sinek expounded on this point during a 2009 TED Talk: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Mad Men‘s Don Draper talked through a similar line of thinking in the second season episode “For Those Who Think Young,” saying, “You are the product. You feeling something; That’s what sells.”
These criteria aren’t true solely regarding advertisements, but about any creative endeavor. In Detroiters, the latest offering from Comedy Central (which debuts February 7th), Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson—the former of Veep fame and the latter a recent Saturday Night Live alum with both alumni of Second City—play struggling ad men trying to bring prosperity to their floundering agency. Just as their characters’ work tends to fall flat in the show, so does the show itself, as it fails, at least in its premiere episode, to establish a reason for consumers to pick it up from the shelf.
In the series debut, we’re painted a picture of what we’re working with: Sam (the two main characters borrow their first names from their actors) tapes a microphone to a broom handle for a makeshift boom mic as Tim sets up the shot with the “Hot Tub King of Detroit” (played by Steve Higgins). Their work is menial and local access-esque, but they aspire to greater things, as a phone call from an associate leads them to rush off set in an attempt to woo Chrysler’s vice president of marketing (Jason Sudeikis, who is also an executive producer along with SNL patriarch Lorne Michaels).
From there, events unfold predictably: They get a chance on short notice, spend too much time screwing around, but ultimately come up with a decent idea at the buzzer, but end up blowing it. Much like its rhythm, most other elements of the show, which have a grand lack of nuance, also come across as obvious. The characters, story, and jokes are largely flat, while background information is presented in strict defiance of “show, don’t tell”: We learn about the transition of the business from Tim’s father to himself and his father’s deteriorating condition through clunky dialogue that doesn’t give characters a chance to endear themselves to us.
If there’s a saving grace to Detroiters, the closest thing to it is Judy the bartender, who comes through with some clutch dialogue (“Two beers. Hot or cold?”). That’s about it, though. And while calling it bad might be a stretch, it isn’t particularly good either.
Comedians are really given a chance to see if they can make a worthwhile half hour of programming on Comedy Central, and we commend the network for that, but Robinson and Richardson’s attempt feels reminiscent of the premiere’s main plot: An opportunity that’s larger than they can handle (a reality that’s obvious to everybody but them) falls into their lap, but they end up bungling it by wasting too much time doing nothing productive before realizing they failed to capitalize on their chance.
Robinson and Richardson are funny guys (or they ought to be based on their backgrounds), but in this case, we’re not buying what they do, and we’re not entirely sure why they did it. The show’s commercials are more entertaining than the show itself, so in a meta way, that could be considered a small victory. Here’s hoping things settle in as the season goes on.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 burritos
Featured Image: Comedy Central