Quibi‘s “bite-sized” entertainment is very much a format “of” and “for” 2020. The streaming site’s aimed at viewers on the go who want short form entertainment, whether they’re watching episodic versions of featured films, daily talk shows, or something in between. And yet the most anticipated program on the platform might be one that debuted 17 years ago. On May 4 the Comedy Central cult classic RENO 911! will return for a seventh season, 11 years after the series went off the air. Why now and why in this way? Nerdist joined Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, two of the show’s creators and stars, along with original cast member Cedric Yarbrough, on a media conference call to find out why.
Fans worried the popular comedy will change its tone and style to appeal to modern sensibilities can rest easy. It might be set in the present day, but RENO 911! is still as dumb—and funny—as ever.
The first three episodes of the show’s new season would easily pass for classic episodes if not for their subject matter. The “best” of Reno Sheriff’s Department’s deal with timely topics, with all the grace of an elephant at a ballet. It’s a balance that Lennon said the writers’ room dedicated a lot of time to. He said they tried to “stay true to the what the show used to be, which was wildly inappropriate,” while still addressing modern day societal issues. That includes police body cameras, arresting African American kids swimming in a pool, cop-watchers, and second amendment activists.
“Weirdly, we do address a lot of social topics and things, but with the absolute dumbest coating on all of them,” said Lennon. As a result, audiences might not realize just how connected to 2020 the show really is because RENO 911! hasn’t changed its approach to comedy. “We’re still in our own weird little bubble of stupid, but they’re definitely in 2020. We tried to walk on the fence between it being ‘fun and silly,’ and also we can’t ignore it and pretend it’s 2005 still,” Garant said. “[There’s] material about crazy white people calling 911 because they saw a black guy.”
“We do that sketch six or eight times. There’s just endless shitty white people this season,” said Lennon.
But just because they aren’t worried about being offensive to a 2020 audience doesn’t mean they were reckless about handling sensitive topics. “As one of the actors that is a person of color I don’t necessarily worry ‘Are we going to be able to handle a given topic in the right way?'” said Yarbrough. “But I do make sure we’re responsible. And if I felt like anything was ever odd or weird, or is coming at it in a crazy way that I don’t think we can do this at all, I would pipe up and say something.” He said that’s one reason the show is so fun to work on, because Garant, Lennon, and Kerri Kenney-Silver, another creator and writer, are so willing to listen to others’ ideas. And part of that is not making any group off-limits.
“The great thing about this show is everyone ‘gets’ it, whether we’re talking about homosexuality, or race, or women’s issues, everyone gets a chance of being offended if they choose to be.” Those weren’t necessarily concerns the show had to worry about when it debuted in 2003. Society consumed and judged comedy very differently. So why return now?
Comedy Central wanted them back in 2009 after a new regime was hired. But Garant said it was “too soon” then for a return. “Everyone’s careers were taking off without the show. It felt like a lateral move,” Garant said. “It didn’t feel like a triumphant return, it felt like, ‘Oh they must have needed work.'”
They’ve performed as their characters over the years at various events, like USO shows or for police groups. But never as a full cast. That changed when Quibi executive Doug Herzog, who the group had worked with before, called. “He said, ‘Come here, it’s this new weird platform, and you will get no notes,’ and we didn’t,” said Garant. “It was something about it being in a new place, a new format.”
“The one thing we knew when we heard about the Quibi format is it’s the ideal RENO 911! format,” said Lennon. “We are the Lays potato chips of programming, Just have a couple.” And all three agreed the series, which Garant accurately describes as a sketch show anyway, has actually benefited from it’s shorter format. The first three episodes were all roughly seven minutes each.
“If anything the short format made the shows—this is just my opinion, these episodes are better because of the length. Honestly. They never overstay their welcome. They just get in, hit hard, and get out,” said Lennon. It’s a sentiment Garant and Yarbrough agree with.
“The show’s an adult cartoon,” said Yarbrough. “You don’t want a thirty minute Bugs Bunny.” They also think age and experience has made them better performers. Yarbrough said it was easier and more fun making the show this time.
“By quite a bit,” added Lennon. “It had almost sort of an Avengers-kind of a vibe of improvisation.” (Later they all agreed the silly Super Friends was the better superhero team-up analogy for a show this absurd.)
Having a well-known, well-established comedic voice also makes it easier to plug in new characters. Lennon says all they want to know of any performer auditioning is “are you as batshit crazy-committed as we are?” If so you will fit in with the original characters, which he says are “all absolutely the dumbest people in the world,” but who are “also very, very sincere.”
And now that they’ve reunited, the possibility for more stories from the Reno Sheriff’s Department are back on the table. That includes a sequel to their single big screen foray, RENO 911: Miami. Garant and Lennon have previously released a full outline for a Lord of the Flies-inspired sequel, RENO 911: SOS. But they also an idea for a Die Hard parody that would take place at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas. It would be titled RENO 911: Miami: Paris Las Vegas. They’d very much like to do both.
But after so many years together, including Garant and Lennon’s start together with The State, that might just be the beginning of their future. Lennon points out there are now more children of State members than State members.
“I did think we could do like a Muppet Babies spin-off show called Wards of the State,” said Lennon, only half-joking. “Let them do some of the heavy lifting for a minute. Child labor still works.”
Obviously not really. And definitely not in 2020. Except maybe only on RENO 911!. Pretty much anything goes there, just like it always has.
RENO 911! is now streaming on Quibi. New episodes air every weekday until May 15th.
Featured Image: Quibi
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.