NEW YORK (AP) — You could make a dandy drinking game out of "Angie Tribeca" : a tequila shot for every silly gag. Except you'd never make it past the first commercial break.
Consider: An unofficial count of sight gags and silly wordplay in the season premiere (airing on TBS Monday at 9 p.m. EDT) tops four dozen in its 22 minutes.
But "Angie Tribeca" is more than incessant funny business.
This is a show that stands on the shoulders of such comedy treasures as Monty Python, "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun." And that can also stand beside them. Which might seem like a physical impossibility. But not for "Angie Tribeca."
Rashida Jones plays the title character — a feisty, no-nonsense LAPD detective — on a show that is equal parts police procedural and Warner Bros. cartoon.
Detective Tribeca works out of a precinct also populated with high-decibel Lt. Chet Atkins (played by Jere Burns), silky-smooth Detective D.J. Tanner (Deon Cole), dashing Jay Geils (Hayes MacArthur) — who is Tribeca's partner and romantic squeeze — and Dr. Scholls, the bookish but sexy blonde who serves as medical examiner (Andree Vermeulen).
Part of what makes the series brilliant is the cast's commitment to playing things straight — as straight as on any conventional cop drama — while also staying true to the singular absurdity of the alternate world they inhabit.
"We really do function like an actual procedural," says Jones. "We tell the story without referring to the comedy, and let the comedy speak for itself."
The stories are tangled whodunits, while the comedy speaks loud and clear in brilliant bursts that mine the trove of crime-show cliches. (When a cop says, "We turned the apartment upside down and we didn't find anything," the apartment has literally been turned upside down.)
This sort of hijinks differs markedly from Jones' previous comedies — "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" — with their looser, mockumentary style.
"This is highly staged, highly choreographed. You have to be on your mark," says Jones. "A lot of our jokes are visual, and they require details and concentration from every department across the board — wardrobe, lighting, special effects, stunts, animal trainers, makeup, hair. Everybody's challenged every single week!"
Steve Carell, star of "The Office," and his comedian wife, Nancy Walls Carell, created "Angie Tribeca." The first 10 episodes premiered earlier this year. With another 10 now awaiting them, fans who worried the concept wouldn't wear well can relax. Law-and-order shows are abundant and enduring, not to mention overflowing with tropes and time-tested formulas. "Angie Tribeca," firmly planted in this ethos while giving full rein to its own native foolishness, could run for years.
"It's the kind of show that can reinvent itself," Jones says. "It's surreal: We can take it anywhere."
This season explores what she dubs the "artful procedure," with nods to "True Detective," ''Fargo" and even "Mr. Robot."
"There's a moodier vibe, where our detectives are struggling with their own pasts," she says.
Not only will Tribeca continue to struggle with visions of her vanished fiance and former partner, Sgt. Pepper (played by James Franco), but she will awaken from a nine-month coma to learn she has given birth to a child with Geils, who is now raising the infant with Dr. Scholls, his substitute girlfriend. (Geils tells the distraught Tribeca, "I THINK about YOU when I make love to her. What ELSE do you want?")
Jones — the daughter of 1960s "Mod Squad" heartthrob Peggy Lipton and music legend Quincy Jones — has an arresting comic manner, but she brings something else to the job: actual experience in a bona fide police procedural, a short-lived TNT series called "Wanted" a decade ago.
"It was basically like the show I'm making fun of now," she says with a laugh. "I was a tough cop chasing bad guys through the streets of L.A. The character on that drama and the character I play now aren't that different. The difference is, I have to be up for the gags. Like where I have really hairy legs because I've been in a coma for months, or when I'm having an animal poop on me."
One of the two-dozen bits of free-range zaniness in the premiere has Tribeca erupting with a sneeze that makes her eyes bug out, cartoon-like.
"It took 35 minutes to put the eyes on, 20 to take them off," says Jones. All that, for a piece of physical humor that lasts a half-second. "Everything is so time-consuming to prepare. But it's so worth it!"
And it's the sort of blink-and-you-might-miss-it brand of daffiness that rewards repeated viewings.
"Everyone on the show has a shared sense of humor, but also a shared taste level," says Jones. "We want to make something artful, but still keep the jokes dumb. That's a skill: to match the high-and-low. And we take the job VERY seriously."
And if you don't watch? As TV cops are often heard to say, they're sorry for your loss.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore