Keeping a wandering TV family together and grounded

Keeping a wandering TV family together and grounded
In The Detour, which recently returned to TBS for a fourth season, married Canadian partners Jason Jones and Samantha Bee have created a comedy about a family that is not exactly a family comedy. It’s full of mayhem and love and usually interrupted sexual situations. One could call it both mature and juvenile, intelligent and dumb — not by turns but all at once. As I wrote of it once before, it can be violently physical, which is not to say physically violent. I think it’s brilliant.

Jones plays father Nate Parker, with Natalie Zea as his partner, Robin — Bee, of course, has her own TBS show, the current events comedy commentary Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, which was nominated for two Emmy Awards earlier this week. Liam Carroll and Ashley Gerasimovich play mismatched twins Jared, sometimes called Jareb, and Delilah.

Nate is a big lug with a righteous core; Natalie a woman with a past, bits of which keep escaping into view. Jared is a sort of idiot, who last season succeeded an alpaca as the mayor of the Alaska town in which the family was hiding. (To explain almost anything in the series would be to begin a long story and, indeed, every season is framed as one, told to some mystified body of officialdom.) His sister is a smart square peg who took off running at the end of Season 3; in the new season, the family is trying to find her, a trip that takes them to a Tibetan lamasery, down South American rivers and onto a Japanese game show.

I spoke with Jones recently by phone, as he walked in Manhattan.

The Parkers are frequently at odds, yet The Detour strikes me as a portrait of a good marriage.

That was our first and foremost reason for writing it, to show an honest marriage — even though we’re not married on the show. An honest relationship, let’s call it. One that is not saccharine or built with too much judgment — all the tropes that you see in TV comedies, for the most part.

When you sat down with Samantha to create the show, were there specific things you each brought to the table?

We’ve always defined our relationship as a chainsaw and a scalpel. We each have a trade; I’m more of the lumberjack where she’s more of the surgeon. I would maybe bring the bigger ideas, the bulkier stuff, where she would get in there and just carve away and really nuance things. I guess that would be the best metaphor; a lumberjack and a doctor.

In the first season, the show was structured like an episodic road film, a family trip through strange places. Subsequent seasons feel more intricately worked out.

It was always supposed to be here’s a regular family, they’re on the road on what seems like a normal vacation with its own plot about ‘I’ve been fired and I’m trying to get my job back,’ and at the end of the season, it’s not about that.

It’s about my wife, her life. I don’t think a lot of shows completely turn the narrative around; a successful show that came out of the gates with a road trip, they’d go on another road trip. I didn’t want to give up the road, ’cause that’s interesting to me — a family comedy where we’re having discussions in our living room every week, I had no interest in shooting that. So the idea was to always keep it moving, and the trope we came up with was we were on the run.
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