In July of 1993, MTV picked up its own sketch comedy show, "The State." The sketch troupe only recorded about a full network season worth of episodes before leaving for an ill-fated CBS special in 1995. But interest in sketch comedy was on a down swing, and the special's ratings didn't warrant a spot in the CBS lineup.
Since that time, State members have collaborated on several different projects, including "Viva Variety," Wet Hot American Summer and the stageshow "Stella."
Reno 911: The Complete First Season is the most recent DVD release involving the troupe. The show is the brainchild of Thomas Lennon, (Robert) Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney, and the comic sensibilities are very similar to the early-90s incarnation of the State.
The show is a long-form parody of "Cops," following members of the Reno Sheriff's Department as they fight crime in the Scummiest Little City in America.
The first season includes:
Episode 101: Dejected after a day of unsuccessful crime fighting, Officer Dangle rear-ends a civilian and realizes he's the only criminal in town.
Episode 102: When the Sheriff's Department is given $1200 to get people off the streets, Garcia decides to help a hooker improve her life.
Episode 103: Clemmy's degenerate boyfriend Steed surprises everyone when he shows up at the Sheriff's Department to ask her to marry him.
Episode 104: When the Mayor's kid blows his thumb off with an illegal explosive, the officers are put on the line to rid Reno of contraband fireworks.
Episode 105: When the Sheriff's Department is given only two tickets to an upcoming execution, the officers compete in a scavenger hunt to win a spot at the event.
Episode 106: Deputy Jones takes a job as a crossing guard after his suspension from the force for punching Garcia for making a racial comment.
Episode 107: When the entire Reno Sheriff's Department is given a drug test, Deputy Johnson discovers that she is pregnant.
Episode 108: When the FBI comes to town to investigate a homicide, the Reno Sheriff's Department tries to put their best foot forward.
Episode 109: Officer Weigel enjoys the attention when she tries to commit suicide and everyone is assigned to her 72-hour suicide watch.
Episode 110: It's Garcia 15-year anniversary on the force and the guys end up taking him to a strip club to celebrate, Reno-style.
Episode 111: The Office of Homeland Security comes to Reno to teach the Sheriff's Department protocol in case of a terrorist attack. (Pt. 1 of 2)
Episode 112: When Dangle needs help moving out of the house and asks the Department for help, Jones is the only one who shows, or is he the only one invited?
Episode 113: The officers must deal with all of the Halloween mayhem and debauchery, some of which they actually cause themselves.
Episode 114: Deputy Junior helps the department cheat to pass their Homeland Security training. (Pt. 2 of 2)
The characters themselves are over-the-top, to the point of losing touch with reality, whether it's ex-showgirl Clementine Johnson, stereotypical sassy, ghetto African-American woman Raineesha Williams (think Jackee with a bigger butt) or brainless, disturbed Terri Weigel. Every one of the situations are offensive to someone, whether it be Weigel telling her dead mother's grave about "trying to keep the Asians out," Deputy Dangle explaining "CPT" to Deputy Jones or Williams giving a hooker a makeover so she can win a department contest for tickets to an execution. It is not a show that is for the faint of heart.
The entire show is improvised, with the actors only given general talking points for a scene (two cast members will be in the car and be told, "talk about Clementine's pregnancy"). According to the commentary tracks, some scenes are culled from 30 minutes of conversation, with the two or three minutes of the funniest material remaining and the rest on the cutting room floor. That dynamic is what gives the show its unique feel; it would be hard to actually script a "Cops" parody, because the original is so off-the-cuff.
The inherent flaws in sketch-comedy-as-television crop up on Reno 911 like on any sketch-based show; with so many new comic premises on screen each episode, some are bound to bomb. It is particularly grating when that premise is the "shell story," the one that the entire half-hour is based around, such as the Homeland Security visit in episodes 111 and 114.
However, Reno 911 is drastically more funny than not, especially Kenney and Lennon. The pair was the core of "Viva Variety" on Comedy Central between 1997 and 1999, and the chemistry is still there even in a larger ensemble.
Look for State cameos from David Wain and Michael Showalter, among others. State alum Michael Jackson Jann is the director.
(NOTE: The DVD release of Reno 911 is just as the show aired on Comedy Central, a wise choice from where I sit. After all, when parodying another show you have to commit to it fully. "Cops" involves blurred faces and bleeped curse words, therefore so should Reno 911. In addition, the blurring on some of the faces is because Kenney, Niecy Nash and Garant each play multiple characters.)