TBS' The Detour is a "Family Comedy," Not A "Family" Comedy

Apr 08, 2016 by Alex Castle

It’s been a very good 2016 over at the Jones-Bee residence: back in January, defending champion Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee followed Jon Stewart out the door to launch her own show on TBS, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and quickly proved that she should have been the one to inherit Stewart’s desk. And this Monday, her husband and fellow Daily Show alumnus Jason Jones launches a new show of his own on TBS, co-created with Bee: a family comedy called The Detour.

When I say “family comedy,” I mean it is a comedy about a family. It is most emphatically not a comedy to watch with your family, unless your kids are grown. But if they have kids of their own, they shouldn’t let those kids watch The Detour either.

Judging by the trailers, it’s easy to think this thing is little more than a warmed-over ripoff of National Lampoon’s Vacation. That was my first thought, and I didn’t have a lot of hope, given how badly the recent Vacation remake was received.

While The Detour obviously borrows liberally from the 1983 classic in terms of its premise – a family with a semi-bumbling dad, a buttoned-down mom with a buried wild side, a precocious daughter and a slightly confused but hyperactive son, trapped together in a car on a long road trip – but while the Chevy Chase movie is well-loved for good reason, somehow The Detour feels smarter, sharper, and (dare I say it) funnier.

Jones’ character Nate Parker is a normal dad, less overtly hapless than your average Griswold, but similarly eager to please his wife and kids. When the show begins, he packs them all into the car bright and early for a flight from Boston to Florida – early enough that they all fall asleep on the way, allowing Nate to bypass the airport and point the car south, for reasons that are only gradually revealed.

Click here to read our interview with The Detour’s Natalie Zea

As Nate’s wife Robin, Natalie Zea does, if not the impossible, the all-too-rare: she makes a three-dimensional character out of a mom. Skeptical of Nate’s decision to drive rather than fly but taking it in good-humored stride, Robin is loose, intelligent, patient, and was clearly a lot of fun before these kids started cramping her style – not that she’s holding that against them. In other words, she’s a realistically drawn 21st-century mom. The episode where she’s hung over, and her answers to the kids’ questions about drinking, are a particular treat, as is the one where she eats enough cannabis gummies for four people.

But the real secret weapon on this show is the kids. Precocious kids on TV comedies are nothing new, but the balance struck here between that kind of modern Internet-enabled worldliness and childlike naivete – the kids know how to Google, so they know about sex, for example, but have no idea what to do with that information, and are wildly inappropriate at times not because they’re little monsters but because they simply don’t know any better – is really refreshing, and much truer to life than most TV kids, and as a result, much much funnier. The trip itself, as the title suggests, is waylaid at every turn, and each stop gives the writers a chance to explore a different theme or aspect of modern parenting, and what’s refreshing is that this is not a family in constant internal turmoil with itself; for the most part the Parkers join forces and face these challenges as a family rather than turning on each other.

We got the whole first season of The Detour to review in advance of the premiere, and were instantly hooked; I didn’t need to watch all ten to write this piece, but I couldn’t help myself, and a couple of people around the office fell down the same hole. It’s no exaggeration to say this is the most promising new comedy I’ve seen in a while, and if the TBS’ pre-premiere season 2 renewal is any indication, they feel the same way.

They’re so confident, in fact, that they’ve put the whole first episode on YouTube; have a look and if you’re not interested enough to tune in for episode two, premiering Monday night at 9:30pm ET (after the official premiere of the pilot at 9), we guarantee your money back.

Oh, and if anyone happens to live near the Jones-Bee residence, maybe stop by and see if their plants need watering. They’ve been a little busy.

The Detour premieres with back-to-back episodes at 9pm ET Monday on TBS..

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