In the world of “Angie Tribeca,” police raids and intense interrogation scenes co-exist with car-driving dogs and epic pratfalls. The show may look like the latest installment in the “Law & Order” or “CSI” franchises — that is, until you realize that there are characters named after ’80s bands, shoe insoles and ’90s sitcom favorites populating the precinct.
Starring Rashida Jones as Angie Tribeca, the TBS sitcom takes a number of cues from satirical slapstick comedies like “The Naked Gun” and “Police Squad!” The 10-episode first season, which debuts Jan. 17 in a binge watch-style marathon, follows Tribeca and her partner Jay Geils (Hayes MacArthur) as they work their beat and take down crime — in their own peculiar way.
While speaking with the press at New York Comic Con, the brains behind “Tribeca” revealed how the comedy came to be and the rules they use to keep their weird in check.
Jones revealed how she became involved with the series following a successful stint on “Parks & Recreation,” saying that executive producers Steve Carell and Nancy Carell approached her with the project.
“I wanted to take a little bit of a break after ‘Parks’ because I didn’t think I could do any better in terms of ensemble comedy,” she recalled. “What a great run, what a great show. It will always be my family. But Steve Carell and his wife [Nancy] sent me this script and I thought it was so funny that I had no choice. I really felt like I had no choice. Especially because it’s in the spirit of my favorite kind of comedy, which I’ve never had a chance to do, which is ‘Airplane!,’ ‘Police Squad!,’ ‘Naked Gun,’ so funny. I wanted to take a crack at it.”
But don’t expect Tribeca to be a variation of Jones’ Ann Perkins character from “Parks.” “I play kind of a hard-ass, and Rashida’s a little nicer than that,” she said. “There’s a part of me that wants to regulate and is all business, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.” She was also quick to admit that police procedurals run in her family, as her mother, Peggy Lipton, starred on the ’70s series “The Mod Squad.”
“I did watch some old episodes of ‘The Mod Squad,’ because, you know, it’s a classic and it makes me laugh so hard to see my mom that young,” she said. “It’s in my blood.”
Like every “Angie Tribeca” character, Andree Vermeulen’s has a peculiar name. “I play the medical examiner, Dr. Monica Scholls — or Dr. Scholls, which is a great joke,” said the sketch-comedy performer, who honed her skills at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. “She’s very, very, very serious, very dry, never smiles, which is the opposite of me. So it is a little bit of a challenge. She takes everything literally. She is the only one who knows what’s going on, but what is going on is nonsense, so whatever she declares is probably the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard but it’s taken really seriously as the word and the law. I’m kind of the authority figure, but in the stupidest way possible.”
Jere Burns, who has recently been seen on dramas like “Justified” and “Breaking Bad,” brings a level of intensity to his character Chet Atkins. “I’m the angry lieutenant of the police department,” he explained, “the typical lieutenant who’s always screaming at people. … We’ve all watched these procedurals, so this is that guy, and I have fun with that guy, and take it beyond where there’s any semblance of reality but play it deadly seriously.”
With characters named after musicians and neighborhoods, and a barrage of jokes flying by faster than bullets, executive producer Ira Ungerleider had to prepare himself for the challenge of balancing the show’s procedural tone with the comedy’s absurdist bent.
“The biggest challenge on this show is restraint,” he said. “We’re doing a serious cop show, that’s how we approach it. We are doing ‘Law & Order,’ we are doing ‘CSI,’ we are doing ‘Homicide,’ ‘The Wire.’ We approach it as if we’re doing a very gritty cop show, torn from the headlines, ripped from the streets. We take it all really seriously, so the real challenge for us is to maintain our composure. The moment we start laughing at ourselves and the stupidity, and if the characters start reacting to everything like it’s stupid, I think you lose the rules of the universe.”
“We definitely hint at the kind of structure of a procedural, but we have a very specific tone,” Vermeulen said. “There’s a sweet spot, it’s very dry but you have to kind of push a little energy underneath it without it becoming too cartoonish.”
“We’re trying to tell the truth, our truth,” Burns said when asked how he handles his character’s intensity. “We don’t know that what we’re saying is funny. And as long as the character doesn’t know what they’re saying is funny, then it can be funny. I learned that early on. A director would say, ‘No, no, no, don’t play the joke. Play the seriousness and the stakes, and then it will be funny.’ It’s hard when you’re doing some of the stuff we do to not acknowledge it’s funny, but once you do that you ruin the joke.”
Jones also talked of her real affection for procedurals, citing Mariska Hargitay on “Law & Order: SVU” as an inspiration. “There’s something about her; she’s very human but she still manages to push the plot forward and she is no-nonsense but she’s still manages to kind of maintain her femininity and stay in herself. I really like watching her. I learned a lot from her.”
The show also had Steve Carell on hand to set the tone, as he directed the pilot episode. The cast had nothing but kind things to say about their executive producer, who has plenty of sitcom experience from his years on “The Office.”
“He’s a very sweet, normal person who — it’s kind of refreshing when he’s one of the funniest humans on the planet, and one of the most normal, genuine, grounded people that you know,” Vermeulen said. “He does instinctively have a very dry humor, but it’s not a mean humor. He’s pretty great.”
“Steve has the sharpest, most intelligent sense of humor in the world,” added Ungerleider. “Even if he’s doing something very stupid., there’s an incredible intelligence behind it. I always think to do really dumb humor, it has to be very smart. If something is just straight broad and random, it’s not that funny anymore if there are no rules at all. So he has very specific rules about how things are stupid. The universe has to have rules, even if it’s just a stupid comedy, otherwise it becomes a drug trip.”
The series will also have its fair share of guest stars: Bill Murray, Lisa Kudrow, Alfred Molina, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, Cecily Strong and Ryan Hansen will all have a part to play in the first 10 episodes.
“Just in terms of satisfying a lifelong dream, the episode with Bill Murray was, you know, I mean — there’s nobody better,” Jones said enthusiastically. “It’s a big one. I should probably retire, but I’m gonna keep going, but he was so cool and he’s such a good actor and he’s so funny, so he’s kind of everything.”
“Angie Tribeca’s” 10-episode first season will air in a marathon Jan. 17 on TBS. An additional 10 episodes will air weekly, one each week.