In 2018, Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson had a problem: the show that they co-created and starred in together was getting cancelled. After only two seasons and 20 episodes at Comedy Central, it was revealed that Detroiters would not be renewed for a third. Richardson tweeted out the news in December 2018, offering a glimmer of hope that the series could be picked up elsewhere. Seth Meyers penned an entire op-ed for Vulture pleading for the “brilliantly stupid show” to be saved—but it was no use. Detroiters wasn’t saved, and the final episode aired on August 16, 2018.
During an interview with The Ringer in 2019, Robinson and Richardson reflected on the Detroiters debacle. Comedy Central had initially shown support for their show despite middling ratings, but things completely shifted when a change in management became more “hands-on-y.” This forced the pair to really fight for what they wanted to include in Season 2. The final season was pushed from a winter release to a summer release, and little effort was put into marketing it. The cancellation came at the same time that Comedy Central was restructuring their entire scripted lineup, with executive VP and co-head of talent and development Sarah Barbineau telling The Hollywood Reporter that “our goal is to make shows that our core audience will love but that will also appeal to a growth audience.” It’s another way of saying “there’s no room for weird stuff.” Richardson said outright he feels that Comedy Central screwed them. He believes Detroiters could have succeeded on a streaming platform.
A little less than a year after Detroiters completed its tragically brief run, I Think You Should Leave dropped its first season on Netflix and, well, the rest is hotdog history. Co-created by Robinson and Detroiters co-creator and writer Zach Kanin—both of whom, along with Richardson, are featured in the cast—the six-episode sketch show thrived in its complete chaotic embrace of the absurd, and it was equally embraced by audiences. Social media and word of mouth has allowed the show to reach a massive audience and gain second and third lives as popular memes, fostering a communal aspect that has become an essential part of watching the show. The second season, which premiered earlier this month, was no different. I Think You Should Leave proved that people want the weird stuff.
As I’ve tried to describe to likeminded friends in my pitch for why they should watch Detroiters: imagine if I Think You Should Leave was a sitcom, because that’s basically what it is. Imagine if the sketches of I Think You Should Leave didn’t stop after three to five minutes, but continued on within an entire connected story. It’s the exact same comedy of I Think You Should Leave, just a little less unhinged—though never diluted, never compromised—and refitted into a narrative format. The world of Detroiters is far less anarchic than that of ITYSL, but it operates on the same frequency, filled with those same idiosyncratic characters who act wildly out-of-step with agreed-upon social norms and human behavior at large. But where the obstinate oddballs and outcasts who proliferate ITYSL are singled out from sketch to sketch, Detroiters creates an entire community of them—one within Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson’s native city of Detroit.
In Detroiters, Tim and Sam play themselves—as Tim Cramblin and Sam Duvet. Together, they’re lifelong best friends who run the ad agency “Cramblin-Duvet Advertising,” which specializes in small, local late-night commercials, though the pair dreams of making it big with an ad for something like the prestigious Detroit Science Center or an adult furniture store. Tim is a legacy ad man, whose father, Hank Cramblin, was revered in the business but went clinically insane. Thus, Tim is constantly living in Hank’s shadow, trying to be someone his dad and his dad’s colleagues can respect. From episode to episode the story typically centers around, in one way or another, a commercial that Tim and Sam are making or trying to make, with a few episodes that deviate from that path—such as the Duvet Family Reunion, and the “D” advertising awards. B-plots will tend to follow a separate dynamic between Tim and Sam (like when they forgo their ad duties and become motorcycle guys), or with a secondary character, such as Tim’s wife Chrissy (Shawntay Dalon), their employee Lea (Lailani Ledesma), their secretary Sheila (Pat Vern Harris), or with a character newly introduced to the episode.
But the biggest thing that separates Detroiters from I Think You Should Leave is its core attitude towards the freaks and weirdos who won’t back down, won’t admit that they’re wrong, don’t understand that they’re causing a scene. In ITYSL they’re someone we’re happy that we aren’t, who we’re relieved to be pointing and laughing at instead of vice versa. Tim Robinson is fascinated with those guys because, as was written in a recent profile of him, he’s afraid that he is one. Instead of alienating such people, Detroiters imagines a world where they’re nurtured. The best example of this can be found in the show’s central relationship, the friendship between Tim and Sam. Highlighting the best friendship they share in real life too, the silly but very genuine warmth between them permeates the entire world of the show (even though fictional Tim can be somewhat possessive of fictional Sam, often looking to sabotage Sam’s romantic endeavors because he loves him too fiercely). The two bozos extend the same patience they afford each other’s eccentricities with the kooks that they encounter in their job and their day-to-day lives—like Smilin’ Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), a furniture store owner who is near-debilitatingly terrified of a man in a gorilla suit Tim and Sam hired for his commercial.
In this way, beyond always having Sam by his side—even when they endure their share of brief fallings-out—the people of Detroiters function in step with Tim’s weirdness, rather than Tim consistently singling himself out. In Detroiters, even the most normal people have a proclivity for the very strange, and everyone gets their turn to be that one person in the hot seat who won’t admit that they’re wrong. Because, well, we’re all that person sometimes. It makes the world a more frightening, and funnier, place.
After a few years with no viable streaming access in the wake of the series’ cancellation, Detroiters is currently available to watch on Paramount+. There is no better show to try out next if you’ve caught up on I Think You Should Leave and are itching for more Tim Robinson content (something of which there is, sadly, not nearly enough). And who knows—perhaps if enough people stream Detroiters, there will be precedent for a well-deserved revival. But, for now, just have fun hanging out with the two not-quite-best advertising men in the city of Detroit.
Watch on Paramount+
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.
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