The idea of “defunding the police” was polarizing the minute it started to gain traction, even for those of us who recognize that law enforcement needs serious overhauling. If police really lost all their funding, what would that actually look like? Reno 911: Defunded offers a satirical take and it might be the only TV show that can pull off this delicate, even risky premise and actually make us laugh at the absurdity of it all. The comedy has been making fun of shows like COPS for almost two decades now, taking no prisoners when it comes to the system, the criminals and individual members of the force who sometimes care more about their image than doing what’s right. Even if we’ve yet to see any real policemen rock Lt. Dangle’s short shorts in the field, suspension of disbelief is part of the fun, and it always has been.
LA Weekly spoke with Reno’s creators and three of its most popular cast members– Kerry Kenney-Silver, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben-Garant –during a brief but lively Zoom chat recently about the improvised faux reality show, which built a passionate fanbase on Comedy Central (2003-2009), then was revived years later by short-form (and short-lived) content outlet Quibi. After a Paramount+ full length movie called Reno 911! The Hunt for QAnon last year, the show is back on the ROKU Channel.
Despite moving around, and long breaks in between, the show’s droll themes and deadpan delivery haven’t really changed much over the years. It still pushes boundaries and it still skewers important societal issues like racism and feminism while finding humor in sex (straight and gay), politics and human nature. Re-watching old episodes then watching new ones, there’s almost zero development in terms of storylines, but there is a funnier and funnier, more focused approach to the situations as the show progresses, with pertinency to current events playing a stronger role as the world’s woes have grown proportionately and woke culture has made what they do seem more daring.
“The show by nature is almost like a sketch show in the sense that there’s these smaller bites and you’re following the storyline of people, but you can pop in and out at any time,” says Silver, who plays the “Karen”- like cop Deputy Trudy Wiegel.
“I would actually say pound for pound if you look at really old Reno’s… Yeah, definitely there’s some filler. I’m still proud of it, but it definitely has a little bit of filler and like parts that make the hot dog,” Lennon, who plays Lieutenant Jim Dangle, admits. “I think we have gotten better at doing the show. Yeah, it’s certainly more fun to do…. Maybe because all the actors, everybody’s like really grown as improv people. You’re also watching characters— everyone’s been playing those characters, basically off and on for 20 years. So it’s like, I feel like in some ways, we’re getting a little better at it. I think, maybe.”
“People know each other as well. People know their own character and each other’s character so well, so there’s such a chemistry there that doesn’t come from a writer’s room. It really does come from the cast,” says Grant, who plays Deputy Travis Junior and directs many of the shows. “And we’ve been really lucky that we’ve been given more and more freedom as the years go on.”
While RENO 911 gets ammo for its most audacious moments from current events, that’s where the realism usually ends. The individual players are intentionally more caricatures than relatable characters. Still, their arcs and backstories do add new layers to the ensemble’s actions and reactions. There’s definitely a familial eaze and flow between the three during our interview. Silver likens the show to “comfort food,” to which Grant interjects “We’re the Flintstones! ” All three agree then Silver chimes in, “There’s no growth but that’s by design.”
“A lot of times people on the show, I’m positive they don’t remember what all their backstories are,” admits Lennon, sharing that his character Dangle got married, had a son and later hooked up with Trudy in the movie, plot points that have never been addressed again. “I mean, there’s hundreds of storylines.”
“Sometimes we sit in the morning briefing scenes and I turn to people, and I’m like, ‘Wait, are we cousins?” recalls Silver about the fluid nature of the mockumentary’s relationships.
“It’s a rare show that people love and they really don’t care!” adds Grant. “We brought three people back from the dead without mentioning it ever. Nobody cares. Which is just great.”
The cast, which also includes Cedric Yarbrough (Paradise PD, BoJack Horseman, The Boondocks), Niecy Nash (Clean House, Claws) and Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs, Bridesmaids), enjoys free-reign, and each adds their own witty and weird dialog to the basic storylines and scripts. Their gifts for timing and tine allow them to tackle stuff what could easily be off-putting but somehow isn’t, from the Proud Boys to Q-Anon to Ted Nugent (Weird Al Yankovic reprises his role as cocky Trump-nut The Nuge this season).
Other guest spots to look out for on Reno 911: Defunded –which is free to watch on the Roku channel whether you have a Roku device or not– include Jaime Lee Curtis and George Lopez. The stars share what filming those episodes was like and discuss their thoughts on tackling controversial themes and ideas in the current cultural climate in the full interview (see video below).