Six episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
All it took was ten episodes last year for The Detour to solidify itself as one of the funniest and most outlandish new comedies on TV, managing to cover topics like overtly racist roadside chain restaurants and the anxiety over failing as a parent in one economical, hilarious swoop. The show was over-the-top to the point of idiocy at times, but it was an idiocy with class, the kind of thing with a set-piece poop joke that you could laugh at guiltily, but also somehow feel the need to tell everyone who’d listen about the show’s well-pitched humor.
Season 2, I’m happy to report, is as bawdy and disgusting as ever (actually, on that last point, it blows anything in season 1 out of the water). The characters are established, the structure is simultaneously fresh (new setting, no road trip) and comfortably nostalgic (same interrogation framing device), and – most integrally – it remains laugh-inducing to the point of tears at times. Its one misstep, however, is a classic case of sequelitis: in season 1, it was a show with an “edge,” and in season 2 that edge is still there but it’s no longer as shocking or surprising, and co-creators Jason Jones and Samantha Bee don’t do much in the way of crafting a fresh voice.
Before the bodily fluids begin flying, the Parkers find themselves trapped in trailer park hell following the events of season 1, where we learned that Nate (Jason Jones) orchestrated an entire family road trip to take down what he thought was a global corporate conspiracy to poison people with hand sanitizer. With their lives in the process of imploding, the new season opens with Nate getting a job offer from a company based in New York, and the Parkers quickly climb into a moving van to head for the big city.
Where a lesser show would have spent the remaining nine episodes going through yet another detour-laden series of misadventures, The Detour plants the Parkers in Manhattan in the opening minutes and lets them run amok. Besides Nate there’s mom Robin (Natalie Zea), who’s doing all she can to convince Nate to abandon his plans to live in New York, daughter Delilah (Ashley Gerasimovich), and son Jareb (Liam Carroll). As the season progresses the interrogation scenes from season 1 are reintroduced with a new angle, picking up on last year’s cliffhanger: who is Robin, why does she have so many aliases, and why doesn’t she want to go back to New York?
There’s even a hilariously obtuse new maguffin for the interrogators to chase after, and it all creates a sometimes unbalanced sense of new and old to The Detour‘s second season. Things feel familiar, like the interrogation subplots and weird objects everyone is obsessed with that lack a clear utility, but The Detour season 2 is completely unlike last year’s vacationing mayhem, which provided a clear through-line for an otherwise madcap show.
For that reason, this year can feel a bit bloated and unfocused. Over the course of the first six episodes, the Parkers face squatters in their new apartment, an unpleasant new doorman with a confusing accent, and the return of Robin’s actual husband Carlos (Jeffrey Vincent Parise). Some tangents are brilliant, toeing the line between hilarious and obnoxious with masterful footing (see: Nate falling into a kiddie pool of his neighbor’s pre-birth water), but some are uninspired and highlight season 2’s inability to feel fresh. Episode two’s entire plot, involving random millennials showing up in the Parkers’ apartment, a mysterious club, and gonorrhoea of the eye, is so forced into being it detracts from the humor. The plot no longer feels naturally flowing, instead taking on Manhattan’s manic energy to a near exhausting extent.
Doubly disappointing is season 2’s reliance on gross-out moments instead of season 1’s more quietly clever gags. In a show full of poster-ready slapstick and left-leaning political wallops (all of which I loved, don’t get me wrong), the most memorable joke of season 2 for me remains a running gag where the employees of a hotel mispronounce the second half of Nate’s full name – Nate Parker Jr. – as one phonetic word: Nate Parkerjar. It’s capital-s Stupid, but it had me in stitches for weeks after just thinking about it. Season 2 feels less clever, deciding to turn each character’s defining personality trait up to an 11 (Delilah is MORE insufferable, Jareb is MORE naive) instead of finding ways to subtly evolve the characters with the humor.
With that being said, I laughed like a lunatic all the same. Even though The Detour delves into more immature political and bathroom humor than ever, and some can feel repetitive to the point of diminishing returns, the set-ups and punchlines almost always connect. In season 2’s hands-down best scene yet, Nate and Robin’s argument over having a new kid ends with a prolonged scene of sexual warfare that manages to titillate, shock, and spur uncontrollable laughter. It’s the snarky, sardonic edge all of season 2 needed, giving the middle finger to both prissy cable sex scenes and the very idea of whether or not a family like the Parkers should reproduce.
Played winningly by Jones and Zea – particularly Zea, who rises above the typical aloof, day-drunk mom role with aplomb – The Detour is a hard car to wreck. They’re so successful in making even the dumbest jokes play with enthusiastic glee that it’s doubtful the show would have worked without them at all. And since much of the new story focuses on Robin’s mysterious past, Zea gets a whole helluva lot more to do this time around, instead of only being a passenger to the season’s story like last year. More of a passenger than ever is Robin’s half-sister Vanessa (Daniella Pineda), who feels unfortunately forgotten and unused. In a cute meta moment she claims that she’s “a much more complicated character” than anyone gives her credit for; it’d actually be funny if the show had taken the time to make it true.
The new story, which comes to encompass Nate and Robin’s suburban years and an oddly emotional revelation mid-way through the season, may lack the more dextrous subversions of season 1’s highest highs, but the show remains as uncommonly funny as ever, even in the face of a diminishing return on its edginess. That’s not a good omen for its ongoing future, but for now, The Detour is still an easy recommendation (not to mention downright mandatory viewing for anyone into dysfunctional family comedies), particularly in a world where it’s easy to feel jaded by traditional sitcoms. It might not feel all that fresh anymore, but in Jones and Bee’s hands The Detour is still miles ahead of most other half-hour comedies on TV.