The deputies of the Reno Sherriff’s Department have returned in Reno 911! Defunded, a Roku Original series. The latest resurgence of the unexpectedly resilient comedy improv series has been rescued from the now-defunct Quibi and re-edited into a more conventional 11-episode, half-hour long format that sees all of the deputies returning. After a year and a half of non-stop copaganda, it’s what the Sherriff ordered, and you can watch the whole season for free right now on the Roku Channel.
Reno 911! first premiered on Comedy Central in 2003. Created by stars Thomas Lennon (Lt. Jim Dangle), Kerri Kenney-Silver (Deputy Trudy Wiegel), and Robert Ben Garant (Deputy Travis Junior), the mockumentary-style sketch series adopted the format of the Fox network’s long-running Cops series.
Just as Cops used the trappings of documentary filmmaking to present police work in a positive light, Reno 911! used the format to expose cops as despicable, racist, abusive of their authority, mentally ill, and, in many cases, just downright stupid.
Compared to most other on-screen depictions of police, who are frequently shown to be “generally good people trapped in a bad system,” Reno 911! revealed lousy, self-interested individuals were upholding the system.
This angle led to plenty of comedy. For one thing, the Reno 911! crew was comprised of a diverse set of people. This means that when Deputy Weigel says something racist at one of the deputy morning meetings, Deputy Sven Jones (Cedric Yarbrough) and Deputy Raineesha Williams (Niecy Nash) are there to offer a rebuke.
Furthermore, the show relies heavily on slapstick humor, which works exceptionally well when the characters are deplorable. You don’t worry about Deputy Junior when he’s blown up trying to start a NOS-fueled street racing car; you laugh until your sides hurt. Who cares if these jerks get burned in a fire, anyway? The low stakes combined with genuinely impressive action and stunts gave the show a unique comedic flair.
The earlier seasons of the series have aged surprisingly well. For one thing, unlike much of the contemporary programming when the show initially ran, Reno 911! never pretends we live in a post-racial society. For example, in an early episode, Deputy Sergeant James Oswaldo Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui) laments the fact that as a Latino police officer, his white counterparts don’t afford him as much deference as they do to the Black deputies.
Deputy Clementine Johnson (Wendi McLendon-Covey) rounds out the cast as the department harlot, playing exceptionally well against the competent but incredibly repressed Cherisha Kimball (Mary Birdsong), who joined in the third season.
The show’s final season on Comedy Central saw the addition of two more cast members: Sergeant Jack Declan (Ian Roberts), an angry mustachioed white man who hates everyone, and Deputy Frank Salvatore Rizzo (Joe Lo Truglio), a reassigned corrupt cop that proves he’s not above murdering a soccer coach for paltry personal benefits. While these were both excellent cast additions, it was regrettable to see Deputies Garcia, Johnson, and Kimball depart.
Fortunately, all ten deputies have returned for Reno 911! Defunded. The season was filmed in autumn 2020 and set in 2021, but far from shying away from the events that took place across the United States in summer 2020, Defunded instead embraces them (although it’s worth noting that while the civil demonstrations are incorporated, COVID-19 is absent from the world of Reno 911!).
Throughout the season, establishing shots of the Reno Sherriff’s Department show the building to be covered in anti-cop graffiti — and I mean the kind of anti-cop graffiti that had to be edited out of the season’s trailer.
In more than one episode, we see how the deputies handle civil unrest in Reno (wearing full Police-Tek riot gear, they huddle together in fear inside the station, eventually being rescued by firefighters who inform them the danger passed hours earlier).
In another scene, Lt. Dangle and Deputy Junior encounter a prepubescent, red ball cap-wearing white boy armed to the teeth with weapons of war. However, other than chiding him about smoking cigarettes, they pat him on the back and thank him for the “support.”
Honest updates to content like these are part of how Defunded successfully brings the Reno 911! formula into the present day. Another example is that new video mediums are parodied throughout the season. While Cops may have formed the backbone of the public’s perception of police work once upon a time, that’s no longer the case.
Defunded reflects this with a segment that centers on Karen-filmed cell phone camera footage, while another episode is a parody of the HBO series The Jinx. Since cell phone video and “true crime” documentaries are the method for telling “nonfiction” stories about police these days, rather than through the FOX Network’s now-canceled Cops, these updates to the storytelling medium are apt.
Defunded also does an admirable job of navigating making a new season during a pandemic. For one thing, Reno 911!’s format is already well-suited to pandemic-era filmmaking since the cast frequently plays more than one role.
Suppose Kenney-Silver already passed her COVID test to play Deputy Wiegel alongside the rest of the cast. In that case, she can also play Jackie the Pickle-Throwing Hooker alongside those same castmates in the next scene without increasing the risk of exposure on the set.
Furthermore, some actors seemed unable to travel to the filming location, including some returning guest stars and cast regular Nash. While it would have been devastating to have Defunded without Deputy Williams, this problem is circumvented by allowing her to appear in some of the show’s interstitial “public service announcements,” one of the show’s conventions that have been present since its earliest episodes.
These segments are some of the highlights of the season. In one example, Deputy Williams implores those who would engage in civil unrest in Reno to instead “loot Tahoe.” In another, she explains in excruciating detail how to report her for misconduct (so she can be suspended with pay).
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In addition to the returning cast, Defunded also gives us more of the memorable characters for which the series was known, including Jamie Lee Curtis as a “Bad Lieutenant Woman” and Michael Ian Black appearing in a plethora of roles throughout the season. Reprising his role from the previous season, “Weird Al” Yankovic returns as the Nuge, back to conscript Dangle and Junior into the most dangerous game.
And one returning guest star was especially outstanding: Wanru Tseng as Cindy, the department’s secretary. In scenes where she helps Weigel take a staff photo, and in a storyline where she and Dangle attempt to adopt ballroom dancing as a “retirement plan,” Cindy gets more comedic fodder to work with than she did on the original run of the series and delivers on the comedic potential.
Over the past two decades, the Reno 911! deputies have consistently proven to be well equipped for comedy (even if they’re well-equipped for nothing else), and Defunded is no exception. While the short episodes on Quibi and the recent streaming movie on Paramount Plus, Reno 911!: The Hunt for QAnon, each proved the cast is hilarious in any format, the deputies still work best in the half-hour format.
Hey, Roku: I’d watch more of this! Or I’d pay for it on DVD. In a world where the boot of the law is on your neck one way or another, why not laugh instead of cry until you lose consciousness?
This article was originally published on 3/4/22.
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