What does Reno think of Comedy Central’s Reno 911!?
Jokes are dangerous toys. Most will offend someone, somewhere, sometime. Some jokes, although funny, can be as dangerous as hollow points. Others, while lighthearted and teasing, can hurt feelings. And when people don’t get the joke, they can get mad, especially when everyone else is laughing.
On July 23, Comedy Central decided to crack a joke about Reno. They aired the premier of the new series, Reno 911! It’s a half-hour unscripted spoof of police reality shows, set in Reno—sort of.
The camera crew follows the exploits and records the personal opinions and trash-talking of six members of the fictitious Reno Sheriff’s Department. It’s like a combination of Cops, The Real World, Dallas and Keystone Cops. The cast includes Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon, The State/Viva Variety), the squad’s leader who wears non-regulation but comfortable Daisy Duke shorts; Deputy Trudy Wiegel (Kerri Kenney, The State/Viva Variety), who has a small fear of people and lights; Officer Travis Junior (Ben Garant, The State/Viva Variety), the K-9 officer with a stoner search dog; Deputy Clementine Johnson (Wendi McLendon-Covey, The Groundlings Theater in Hollywood), a former stripper and magician’s assistant waiting to be discovered; Deputy James Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui, The Fairly Odd Parents), whose love for guns is second only to his love of using them; Deputy S. Jones (Cedric Yarbrough), who moonlights as a male dancer; and Deputy Rayneesha Williams (Niecy Nash), who’s as ready to use her mouth as her gun.
The cops run around a neighborhood that looks more like the Hollywood Hills than Fourth Street. They are more concerned with their images on the reality show and personal drama than—what’s that other part?—upholding the law.
In one episode, Dangle and Junior are on a stakeout at a motel, waiting for a drug exchange before busting in. However, they get distracted when they see a man in another room who looks like Leonard Nimoy. After arguing about it, they go over to meet Mr. Spock, who turns out to only be a Spock look-alike. While they clear up the confusion, the deal goes down next door, missed entirely by the cops-turned-celebrity-hounds.
OK, so there are a lot of holes in the story. First off, the uniforms they wear would look fake on a security guard. Second, there isn’t a precinct on the planet that would let an officer get away with a “Legalize It” sticker on his locker. Third, except for the whiplash montage shots of the Reno Arch, some casinos and side streets, none of it is filmed here. There are palm trees in the show!
Most of the filming is done in or around Los Angeles. Garant said he came to Reno earlier this year and, with the help of his friend John Rogers, spent one day driving around and filming people.
“We’d drive past people and yell, ‘Hey, flip us off! C’mon, flip off the camera!’ Some people did; some just looked confused.”
Garant said he’s always been a little fascinated with Reno, which influenced the decision to name the show after our fair town. It couldn’t be just anywhere. It had to be here.
“We didn’t want to set it in the South because all of our guests would have to do a Southern accent,” Garant said. “Everyone’s heard of Reno, but they don’t know what it’s about other than divorces and casinos. Besides, all those trailer parks look the same everywhere.”
Reactions in and around Reno have been somewhat negative. After 11 of the 13 episodes, many people still haven’t seen the show.
“I’ve just caught bits and pieces,” said Randy Flocchini, chief of TMCC police. “But from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t depict reality as I know it.”
“I watched it once and thought it was stupid that I was even watching it,” said a Reno police officer.
The official word from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department is that they are not offended by the satire in the slightest. Michelle Youngs, speaking on behalf of WCSD, said that shows depicting officers acting outside the law are more discrediting than Reno 911!
“Shows that portray officers ignoring people’s civil rights or excessively violent officers are far more damaging to our reputation than some outlandish satire,” Youngs said. Personally, she admitted that she thinks some of the episodes have been funny, though not based in reality.
Reno 911! has disturbed some residents. On the day after the premier episode, Bob Garrison talked about it on his noon-time talk radio show on KBZZ. He thought some of it was amusing but hardly so, and on the whole, it was unrealistic. He worried about the impression of Reno that the show might give to the nation at large.
“You know, I didn’t realize that I had civic pride until now,” Garrison said.
His thoughts on the matter were echoed a few weeks later by Jessica Salisbury, a Reno native who lives in Sparks. She says the show is giving Reno a bad reputation, partially because it’s not too removed from the truth.
“It’s close enough to the truth that it’s not funny,” Salisbury said, pointing toward the biggest trailer park in America. “It’s creepy. Sure it’s comedy, but I don’t want to sit there and watch Sun Valley on TV. It’s embarrassing, because sometimes it’s like that here.”
Garant was surprised and a little let down when he heard that local response was less than favorable.
“We’re trying to offend people, sure, but it’s not the cops,” Garant said. “At the station we film at, here in Long Beach, they love it. Most cops we run into try to pitch us ideas and scenarios.”
Garant stressed that they are trying to spoof a style of TV show, not actual law enforcement agencies or personnel. “It’s not like The Shield. Most of our cops are good guys at heart, even if they are a bunch of fuck-ups.”
The ratings and critical acclaim have been good enough for Comedy Central executives to renew the show for a second season. Garant said that he and the other producers, Lennon and Kenney, are trying to get the green light to bring the whole cast out here for some on-location filming. That should bring some money into town. They’ll very likely stay in a casino and may even gamble.
Bad publicity or good publicity, it’s got the whole country thinking about Reno, which has to be good in the end.
“It’s not so bad, really," Youngs said. "Like that old saying, any press is good press. It will probably be good for tourism."