For the sake of this opening paragraph, let’s consider Reno 911! as a reality show. (I’m certain it is only slightly more scripted than other “reality” programs like Rock of Love, Real World, The Bachelor and the presidential election.) For a reality show, there’s a lot of dead air during every episode of Reno 911!; people are often left flabbergasted and stare blankly into the camera, and most of the cast seem unsure of what to do next. A palpable, uncomfortable silence envelops the beginnings and ends of each scene. With the possible exception of The Hills (while billed as reality, has to be scripted), no show captures the awkward nature of day-to-day life for the human race than Reno 911!, the reality show.
But as you know, Reno 911! is most surely not “reality”. It’s impossible to believe that a group this incompetent would be allowed to even carry firearms. (It is impossible to believe … isn’t it?) It’d be too hard to buy a “Jump the Shark” contest sponsored by the sheriff’s department to raise money for Autism, as happens here in the first minute of Season Five.
Or that the deputies would be celebrating the $40 they make at said benefit, and the one doing the jumping would cut his jugular when he fails to make the jump. That “Jump the Shark” scene (and the multiple different outcomes revealed later in the season) is meant as a visual metaphor for the shows demise into absurdity, and a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that the show is no longer grounded in reality.
But the first version, in which Lt. Dangle (played by series co-creator and writer Thomas Lennon) falls and is unable to jump the shark, is the more fitting metaphor. In its fifth season, Reno 911! aspires to be a show so illogical that viewers will be put off or uncomfortable. Instead, the show fails to surprise (or stick the landing over the shark, as it were), relying on too many similar gags, old characters, and cheap offensiveness over the course of it’s 16-episodes.
Reno 911!’s fifth season picks up where the fourth left off, with Lt. Dangle about to marry his boyfriend (played by former would-be MTV VJ Dave Holmes). The cliffhanger ending of season four is quickly passed over in the first five minutes of the first episode, as if the whole thing was a lark to get viewers to tune into Season Five. Officer Trudie Weigel (played by series co-creator Kerri Kenney), sells the baby she had at the end of Season Four and never reveals whom the father is. Dangle can’t legally be married to a man in this current climate, so he goes back to being a closeted homosexual.
As has been the case since the Third Season, many of Reno 911!’s thrills are gained from the periphery characters who come in and out of the main character’s lives. Nick Swardson’s Terry Bernadino stole the show in the Reno 911! movie, and does so in the episodes he appears here. The scenes in which Terry is questioned by Dangle and Travis Junior (played by show co-creator Thomas Ben Garant), and repeatedly affirms he believes himself to be the angel of death and describes the hilarious places he’s worked (like “Who Let the Clogs Out”) are by far the best of the season. Patton Oswalt returns as Boozehammer of Galen, and insults Dangle and Junior’s taste in M. Night Shyamalan movies while he is pinned between two cars ala Signs. Jim Rash is also a riot as Andrew, a guy who is always getting into trouble at the local brothel, including one time when he impersonates a police officer by wearing a stripper’s police-style outfit.
But those other characters serve as stopgap and filler for the antics of the regular cast, which have become completely predictable and non-shocking. The original allure of the show was that the sheriff’s deputies of Reno were so outrageous; you’d never know what kind of craziness they’d get into. None of the season’s intended shocks really connect; they all have a feeling of “Saw this already in season one” vibe.
As evidenced in the bonus commentaries which feature various cast members, no one on the cast is all that enthused about doing the show, anymore. Kenney spends significant time in her portions of the commentaries talking about minutiae no one could honestly think is interesting. For instance, she talks about castmate Niecy Nash’s supposedly important decision to wear her shirt with the top button open like it was an integral part of the episode. It’s both a mildly depressing and revealing (pun intended) segment.
Every great comedy runs into the great wall of complacency (unless it’s Seinfeld) and Reno 911! hit that wall two seasons ago and hasn’t slowed down. It’s not that there aren’t funny moments during Season Five, it’s just that for each funny moment, you have to wade through 10-minutes of staid, retread comedy. By the time the season ends in yet another cliffhanger, you’ll be ready to lock up Reno 911! and throw away the key.