Detroiters is back! And while it’s not exactly better than ever, it’s at least as good as ever, which is pretty damn good. When the Comedy Central series about two rambunctious Detroit ad men (and best friends) debuted last year, it quickly established itself as one of television’s most unabashedly silly shows, a sitcom with all the aesthetic trappings of sketch comedy—operatic bursts of emotion, cartoonish side characters, whimsical flights of narrative fancy—that alchemically coalesce into full, often moving half-hour stories. In Detroiters, silliness is not a way of accenting seriousness; it is a triumph over seriousness, a bold and brightly colored affirmation that yes, actually, life is pretty funny.
Which is not to say it is frivolous—Detroiters, I mean, but life too. Superficially a show about two buddies (Tim Robinson’s Tim Cramblin and Sam Richardson’s Sam Duvet) making dumb lo-fi commercials for Detroit businesses, Detroiters is deeply interested in friendship—whether it can survive the stresses of growing up and apart, how it adapts to the demands of a business partnership—and family. Season one’s finest episodes, “Happy Birthday Mr. Duvet” and “Husky Boys,” were both about Sam and Tim’s respective attempts to win their fathers’ approval—a cliché that blossoms, in Detroiters’ joyously twisted world, with renewed vitality. If Sam and Tim are larger than life, then their fathers are larger than larger than life, each imbued by Obba Babatundé and Kevin Nash with generous warmth, wit and stature. (Babatundé returns in season two; Nash does not appear in the episodes made available to critics, but fingers crossed.) That generosity is one of Detroiters’ greatest strengths: while its stakes are often (and effectively) exaggerated, its characters, with rare exceptions, are rooted in an emotional reality; every major player is allowed the dignity and texture of an inner life.
This is evident right off the bat in season two, which devotes its premiere to Sheila (Pat Vern Harris), Cramblin Duvet Advertising’s easily overlooked secretary. A dinner celebrating her tenure with the firm—she was the only original employee to stay after Tim’s father’s institutionalization—spirals into conflict when Tim and Sam decline to drive her home. After she gets a DUI, they hire her an incompetent lawyer (a marvelously deadpan Tim Meadows) solely because they want his business. His defense is a bust, but the commercial they make him invites a bid for acquisition by a larger competitor. I won’t tell you what happens next, but that Sheila assumes a narrative agency Detroiters declined to give her in season one. It’s a satisfying, wise move; with a few different brushstrokes, Detroiters could easily become indistinguishable from every other series and movie about two male best friends. Thankfully its writers (the premiere is credited to co-creator Zach Kanin) seem aware of that danger, and take care to focus the microscope now elsewhere.
In season two, “elsewhere” often means the family. One episode introduces Sam’s extended clan in a family picnic, where Tim struggles to accept his friend’s new girlfriend (not an easy thing for Tim, the needier bro in the bromance). Another introduces Tim’s mother, stepfather and large adult brother, Trevor (Conner O’Malley, angsty and intemperate), whom Tim offers a job at Cramblin Duvet in a bid to get him out of the house. Trevor turns out to be something of a Good Will Hunting when it comes to advertising, yet another development Tim must struggle to accept. Detroiters is at its strongest in episodes like these, which explore beyond the walls of Cramblin Duvet to find the human stories that enrich its more predictable, whacky-commercial-of-the-week plots. Even when those storylines are exquisitely funny, and they usually are, they come with the knowledge that the people in them don’t really matter; they’ll be replaced by another quirky small business owner next week. Not so with family. It’s a simple, obvious thing, and that’s what’s so magical about Detroiters: On paper, you’ve seen this all before. In reality, it’s a whole new world, bursting with stories.
Detroiters premieres with two new episodes tonight at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.