Debuting almost twenty years ago on Comedy Central, Reno 911! recently returned for a seventh season. After being revived by the short-lived streaming service Quibi, devoted fans and an entirely new generation of followers gained the chance to watch new adventures of the comically dangerous fictional police department of Reno, Nevada on the Roku Channel. During an exclusive interview with CBR, Reno 911!‘s star Thomas Lennon discussed the history of the series and how the show got away with its darkly comedic storylines.
Reno 911! became a fixture in comedy circles after it premiered on Comedy Central in 2003. The hit series ran for six seasons and even spawned a feature film adaptation in 2007. Lennon reflected on the start of the series, sharing, “We shot the pilot for Reno 911! in the year, 2000. There were no numbers after it. It wasn’t the aughts. Straight up, we were all nervous if Y2K was about to happen. Maybe it was a reaction to all that crazy mayhem of Y2K. But yeah, we shot the pilot for Reno 911! in 2000. So, yes, you could have legally grown up with it.”
Looking back at the origins of his character, Lt. Dangle, an enthusiastic and well-meaning (but idiotic) cop with the Reno Police Department, Lennon noted, “We had nothing. So everybody, I think, and I say this as a blessing and a curse about myself, everybody just took a slightly adjusted version of their persona, and I basically, just sort of pushed the slightly more flamboyant part of myself, which definitely exists and I was sort of inspired by Viggo Mortensen. Have you seen GI Jane lately? Watch GI Jane, you’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, Dangle’s outfit is totally stolen from Viggo Mortensen in GI Jane.’ Blonde mustache, blonde highlights, sizzling tan legs, the whole thing. I just lifted it from Viggo.”
Reflecting on Dangle’s openly queer identity since the show’s inception — which at the time of the pilot was a novel concept — Dangle noted, “I think it was interesting. There were so many people that were like, ‘Hey, is Dangle out?’ or ‘What’s up with Dangle?’ Watch the pilot, where Ben Garant and I make out for basically, almost three minutes. It’s part of what kept us off Fox, at the time. They kept telling us, they’re like, ‘You cannot have two dudes kissing for three minutes at the end of the show.’ And we’re like, ‘Fuck you. It’s amazing. We’re not going to cut it.’ And they’re like, ‘We would definitely like you to cut it.’ And we’re like, ‘We’re not going to do that,’ and then they’re like, ‘Fine. You’re not picked up.’ So, they did win that round.”
One of the things that have remained consistent over the years has been the sheer silliness of the cast. Regardless of how serious things get, the cast of Reno 911! are always there to over-complicate things and bumble their way into trouble. Lennon shared, “I think the whole point of everything we were doing on Reno 911! is there’s just a level of sincerity to what we’re doing, no matter how dumb the characters are. The weird thing about Dangle, when I put on the shorts and I have the mustache, I feel very, very macho. In my mind, when I’m in that outfit, I’m basically acting like I’m Lee Majors. It makes me turn up what to me, at least, feels like the most macho version of my persona… Even if we’re doing a sketch called ‘Who Pooped in the Book Donation Box?’ I’m always trying to play it like I’m in a Eugene O’Neill play.”
The ridiculous nature of Reno 911! allowed the comedy to take big comedic swings with an inherent goofiness that contrasts the show’s darker storylines. Lennon shared, “Comedy Central’s always been incredibly lenient with us and we’re in a very, very special situation, which is, if you don’t really write scripts, which, mostly, there’s no actual script of anything we’re ever going to say. So everything you’re hearing us say out loud, which I think is part of why people relate to the show and especially cops relate to the show, weirdly and say, it’s very accurate, is because we don’t sound scripted.”
That freedom to create any dark storyline they decide has carried over to the show’s new batch of episodes on the Roku Channel. “We’ve done stuff that, I think, a lot of shows couldn’t do, like Dangle goes on trial for murder, coming up,” he said. ” And I was thinking about like, I don’t know if they could have done that on The Office. I don’t know if Michael could have been on trial for murder and you would still definitely like him.”
Thinking about the show’s darker plot beats, Lennon admitted, “There are, in fact, a lot of things that we could never say if you put them in a script. These are just conversations that we have, that you’re like, ‘There’s no universe where that would get by the legal departments.’ Everything, every script that you write goes through several lawyers and a bunch of people up the chain. And we just don’t do that. Subsequently, we get to do really messed up episodes. Like I would’ve thought… Somebody asked me the other day, cause in the episodes on Roku now, there’s an episode, ‘Let’s Shoot an Unarmed White Guy,’ is the name of the episode. I kept waiting for someone to come and yell at us about that. And it never happened… It was like, can you do an episode called that? And we’re like, ‘Why can’t we? We’re Reno 911!'”
“But there’s also something about us that both the cast themselves, and the people, are so good-natured,” he added. “You could look back on Reno 911! now. You could look back and say, ‘Wow, they did really messed up, awful, gross, weird, deviant stuff all the time.’ But then weirdly, you would have to add the asterisk after that, that it was almost always pretty good-natured. We just aren’t a mean-spirited bunch of people. So as weird and as dark as we go… We went on trial, we went to prison. We went places people would not go. But the answer is because I think we mostly did it out of a place of being pretty good-natured people, who actually, also genuinely get along.”
The show originally returned for its seventh season on Quibi, only to make the leap to the Roku Channel after the bite-sized streaming service ended up folding in less than a year — a transition Lennon embraced. “Honestly, it’s a gift because of the fact that now you can just get them on Roku,” he said. “I’m not going to wax on Roku too much more, but I will for a second. It’s the best remote control in the world. It is. You can tell what it is, it’s got a headphone jack. I don’t actually work for Roku. If one more person is like, ‘Hey, you got to do some new Reno 911!‘ I’m like, there are 25 of them on Roku, which is free on your telephone. You don’t even need the box. It’s literally free. Stop asking me for new Reno 911!. You could watch them for two hours straight if you started right now. Okay, so go to Roku. Roku’s amazing.”
The Reno 911! revival features the return of creators/stars Robert Ben Garant, Kerri Kenney-Silver and Thomas Lennon, along with Cedric Yarbrough, Carlos Alazraqui, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Niecy Nash. Season 7 is available on Roku.
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