Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 14, 2015)
Given the absurdity of the long-running reality show Cops, it would seem like a difficult target to spoof. Despite that series’ self-parodic nature, Reno 911! gave it a shot – and often succeeded, as it offered some good comedy.
With this massive “Complete Series” set, we can check out all six seasons of Reno 911! from its debut in July 2003 to its finale in July 2009. With 88 episodes in all, I won’t attempt a complete review of every show, so I chose a selection across the series’ run.
Pilot: “Due to a shortage of criminals, Lt. Dangle declares a zero-tolerance policy, but he becomes the first one affected when he rear-ends a car.” “Pilot” opens the series on a reasonably good note. It needs to carry a lot of weight, as it must introduce a lot of characters in its 21 minutes. The show doesn’t attempt much in terms of story, but it amuses as it sets up the series.
Execution Tickets: “When the Sheriff’s Department is given only two tickets to the upcoming execution, the officers compete in a scavenger hunt to win a spot at the event.” S1 continues with the very funny “Tickets”. I feared the connection to the execution might render the episode too crass, but that element is really just an excuse for the officers’ antics. We find some amusingly bizarre perps that the folks need to find and these gags add up to a solid show.
Clementine Gets Married: “Clementine's scummy boyfriend Steed proposes to her.” It seems somewhat earlier in the series’ run for a big character moment, but at least this allows the episode to balance narrative elements with the usual police incidents. It’s a good program.
Wiegel Suicide Watch: “Officer Wiegel enjoys the attention when she tries to commit suicide and everyone is assigned to her 72 hour suicide watch.” “Watch” comes with an odd split, as it mixes Wiegel-related elements with random police clips. Granted, the series usually combines unrelated segments, but they feel a bit more random here. As out of nowhere as they may be, those moments become the strongest aspects of the episode, as the Wiegel scenes work less well.
Terrorist Training Parts 1 and 2: “The Office of Homeland Security comes to Reno to teach the Sheriff’s Department protocol in case of a terrorist attack.” Wow – a two-parter! As you might figure, “Security” looks at the police in the post-September 11 world. Really, this serves mostly to allow two new characters to enter the Reno force: OHS officers Captain Hernandez and Lieutenant Kim.
Otherwise, the shows concentrate on the usual shenanigans. I especially like the touchy-feely KKK members and the trailer park woman who wants to bite the nuts off of her neighbor. Two parts is probably too much for the theme, but there’s still plenty of entertainment on display.
Halloween: “The officers must deal with all of the Halloween mayhem and debauchery, some of which they actually cause themselves.” After a mix of episodes with strong character-related development, “Halloween” sticks with random police events – and works better because of it. The Halloween cop trips deliver a lot of amusement.
Continuity weirdness: for reasons unknown, the DVD package features the Season One episodes in nearly random order. They’re not shown as shot and they’re not shown as aired – if there’s logic at work, I can’t figure out the rationale.
Oddly, this means the package bills Part 1 of “Terrorist Training” as “Episode 11” and Part 2 as “Episode 14”. “Halloween” and another show pop up between those two “Terrorist” segments – and adding to the weirdness, “Halloween” refers to a second part that doesn’t seem to exist.
Raineesha X: “Williams discovers the Nation of Islam and sets about changing her ways, as well as the ways of several other Deputies.” Some episodes’ overriding themes work better than others, and Williams’ conversion turns into one of the stronger choices, as it consistently amuses. A few other elements fizzle – mainly the tedious joke involved with counting counterfeit money – but the rest entertains.
Clementine and Garcia Are Dating: “Garcia and Johnson start unexpectedly dating and the apartment is pretty disgusted by the change. Johnson begins to have very strong feelings for Garcia, but Garcia may feel differently.” After a good show, “Dating” seems less compelling, mainly because the primary narrative doesn’t seem all that hot. Some of the random bits amuse but this remains a lackluster show.
Junior Gets Married: “After dozens of complaints, The Reno department gets a disciplinary auditor who suspends the deputy's for two weeks. When they all come back after their suspension, Junior, Johnson and Dangle go on a sex slave sting and Junior ends up getting married to an Asian woman who doesn't speak a word of English.” Another mediocre program pops up here. Outside of a hilarious attempt to catch a guy in a milkshake costume, not much satisfies.
Investigation Concluded: “The investigation into the Milkshake Man's death concludes with the entire Reno Sheriff's Department, sans Sheriff Chechekevitch, being fired and imprisoned.” The third part in a “trilogy”, the investigation offers this show’s best elements. The individual police bits entertain as well, but the court sequences become strongest and turn this into a fairly positive program.
Fastest Criminal in Reno: “The Reno Sheriff’s Department have their hands full with a criminal who is in fact the fastest criminal driver in Reno.” Does the “Fast Eddie” thread do much more than give us another way to show the incompetence of the police? Nope. Does it work? Yup, as it adds to a mostly good show.
The Prefect of Wanganui: “The leader of Reno's sister city of Wanganui arrives, but Dangle and Kimball accidentally pick up the wrong man.” No particular aspects of “Prefect” soar, but none of them flop, either. This mix of amusing bits leaves this as a satisfying show.
...And the Installation Is Free: “Jones gets a new job as a voice-over artist for a local carpeting company and considers quitting the department.” While I’m not sure the episode exploits its main theme as well as it could, “Free” still manages good laughs. It mixes in additional amusing segments to become a solid show.
Dangle’s Son: “Dangle discovers he might have a son that he never knew about.” After some good episodes, “Son” falters to a degree. I don’t think it’s bad, but it seems predictable and somewhat lackluster. I like the “Guess Your Weight” guy, though.
Wiegel and Craig Get Married: “Wiegel's boyfriend Craig Pullin (aka The Truckee River Killer) proposes to her; Dangle and Garcia are trapped in a police cruiser in a snowstorm.” Even for the ever-pathetic Wiegel, this story seems… well, pathetic. Still, it’s odd enough to generate laughs.
Rick from Citizen’s Patrol: “As a crime wave sweeps through Reno, the deputies get unwarranted help from their favorite Citizen’s Patrolman, Rick.” This one comes with too many flat notes and bits of physical humor without a lot of cleverness. It’s great to see Paul Reubens here and we get a smattering of laughs, but this ends up as an ordinary episode.
Corporate Sponsor: “Hotties Hot Wings sponsors the department and, despite the free perks, everyone gets fed up.” Though the episode’s premise comes with promise, the actual product seems less than terrific. We still get some amusement but it’s a spottier show than I’d like. The inclusion of many fart jokes doesn’t help.
Christian Karaoke Singles' Mixer: “Clemmie accompanies Kimball to her singles mixer.” That main plot follows a predictable path and the rest of the show lacks much inspiration as well. Even with a guest turn from Paul Rudd, “Mixer” seems mediocre.
Reno Mounties: “Jones and Garcia become mounted police. Junior and Kimball find out they are cousins.” Despite a couple of interesting threads, “Mounties” becomes another flat episode. As usual, we get a couple of laughs but the overall impact feels stale.
Dangle’s Wedding: “Dangle's ex-wife's husband proposes to him.” In this one, the main theme doesn’t work for me, but the guest spots seem stronger. We get Nick Swardson’s always amusing Terry and Zach Galifianakis pops up as well. Those moments bring the strongest parts of the show but can’t overcome the blah nature of the primary plot.
Kevlar for Her: “The new bullet-proof vests designed for the department's female officers have an unexpected side effect. Meanwhile, a freed prisoner plans revenge on the SD, but they don't remember who he is.” Maybe it’s just the return of Steve Marmella – the sex offender who used lewd ways to guess weight a few shows ago – but “Kevlar” works pretty well. It lacks a real theme and that allows it to simply enjoy the nuttiness.
Back in Black: “Dangle takes time to connect with his black half-brother and half-sister from his father's other family in Chicago.” Reno likes to mock racial stereotypes and it does so in amusing fashion here. The culture clash involved with Dangle’s family allows for this to turn into a funny show.
Undercover at Burger Cousin: “To end a string of robberies, Jones and Garcia go to work undercover as fast-food employees.” This one benefits from good guest stars, as Toby Huss, Seth Green and Keegan-Michael Key abet the program. These actors help it provide a lot of laughs.
Death of a Pickle-Thrower: “The department pays their last respects to Jackie the prostitute, who is dying in the hospital.” That’s not much of a main narrative, which means the show mostly focuses on various police visits. These prove to entertain and create a pretty good episode.
Baghdad 911: “The officers must train a group of Iraqi police, but a translator who never says the right things and the new recruits' sense of mischief and overactive libido hamper their training.” The lead story doesn’t go anywhere, and the rest of the show can’t find much to overcome that side of things. This leaves “Baghdad” as a forgettable entry.
The Parade: “The deputies try to win an award at the Carson City Parade.” This episode combines a decent primary tale along with visits from series favorites. While it doesn’t become a great program, it delivers more than enough amusement to make it worthwhile.
Extradition to Thailand: “The deputies get a free extradition vacation to Thailand when a suspected criminal turns himself in.” For Season Six, we lose three characters – Johnson, Garcia and Kimball – and find Deputy Rizzo (Joe Lo Truglio) and Sergeant Declan (Ian Roberts). It’s not a fair trade and the series loses points due to this change. “Thailand” still has some laughs, but it’s not a great show.
Digging with the Murderer: “Dangle and Williams try to get a convicted serial killer to reveal the location of his last victims' body.” Guest stars often help redeem otherwise lackluster shows, and that occurs here, as Rainn Wilson adds zest to “Murderer”. His take on the serial killer turns an otherwise spotty program into a good one.
Dangle's Murder Mystery: “Lt. Dangle decides to host a murder mystery dinner.” This one spans two episodes, and that’s probably too much running time for a semi-thin premise. Still, it does a decent take on Agatha Christie and becomes a reasonably amusing show.
Helping Mayor Hernandez: “The deputies scramble to help Mayor Hernandez when he needs to get rid of a prostitute who happens to be in his hotel room.” I’m not the biggest George Lopez fan, so his presence as the mayor creates some issues. Larger problems come from the generally lackluster nature of the episode, as it mostly ambles along without much spark.
Getaway Trailer: “After being trapped in a crook's getaway vehicle, Wiegel and Rizzo take advantage of this prime opportunity to get better acquainted.” Most of “Trailer” seems mediocre at best. However, Mario the canine witness is awfully cute, so I’ll give the episode that. Is it a bad sign when the main positive comes from the presence of an adorable dog? Probably.
Deputy Dance: “Looking to boost their recruitment numbers, the department taps well-known Reno director Levon French to film a commercial.” As I’ve noted, some episodes benefit from guests more than others, and that becomes the case here, as Craig Robinson’s take on French does a lot to redeem the show. Other elements work well, too, and this becomes a mostly satisfying piece.
Viacom Grinch: “Children's parties in Reno have unwanted guests when the deputies are assigned to go after the sale of illegal toys.” As we near the series’ end, we head there with a limp. “Grinch” flops around without much purpose and only provides sporadic laughs.
The Midnight Swingers: “Jones and Williams go undercover at a swingers' club.” As the last show I planned to watch, I hoped “Swingers” would send us out on top, but that doesn’t happen. Like most shows, it comes with some amusing elements, but it kind of feels as though the series was running on steam at this point. “Swingers” has its moments but doesn’t do much to stand out.
On the positive side, for essentially a one-joke series, Reno 911! managed a lot of laughs across its six seasons. It should’ve petered out after a few episodes, but it was able to keep us interested all the way to the end.
With many exceptions, that is. Even the worst episode never became bad, but some fared better than others, and more than a few lacked much inspiration.
Still, the presence of a talented cast allowed Reno to remain a mostly fun show. It’s probably best when digested in small bites – I wouldn’t want to watch more than four shows in a session, as I think it gets too “samey” after a while – but it’s nonetheless a good series.