For a physical TV comedy loaded with gags, one in particular sticks out for Angie Tribeca star Rashida Jones, during the episode The Wedding Planner Did It: Tribeca turns to a surgeon, played by Adam Scott, and says, “While I have you here doctor, I’d love you to check out this mole.” The surgeon responds, “That’s a suspicious mole, you should have it looked at.” And there’s Jones with an animal trainer between her legs, wrestling a live mole to her face while it poops on her hands. “For me, that’s the heart of the show,” says Jones remembering the scene.
Whenever a comedy scene requires zany, call the straight man; or in this case, the woman. That’s what Steve and Nancy Carell did when they tapped Jones to play the no-nonsense LAPD detective of the RHCU (Really Heinous Crimes Unit) in their TBS comedy series, Angie Tribeca, a police comedy that has resurrected the satirical physical comedy genre made famous by the 1960s show Get Smart and the early 1980s short-lived Police Squad, which ultimately blossomed into the Naked Gun movie franchise.
“I didn’t read for it,” says Jones. “Steve and Nancy emailed me directly and said, ‘We have this script. We have you in mind. It’s really dumb and we hope you like it.’ I liked it very much, but I wasn’t looking to return to TV after having a daydream job on Parks and Recreation. I knew how difficult [that schedule] was. In addition, I was writing and producing. But this was non-negotiable.”
What intrigued Jones was the chance to sharpen up her comedic timing on Angie Tribeca. “Every single scene is highly choreographed as there are several visual gags in any given scene. I say, ‘It’s a booby trap,’ and then someone is touching the boob on the mannequin. There’s so much technical stuff that has to be worked in,” explains Jones. Case in point, during the pilot, there’s a scene where Angie questions the mayor’s wife, played by Nancy Carell. During their exchange, Mrs. Perry offers Angie a ridiculous amount of food, which she scarfs down. With each take, all the action has to be reset, the actors repositioned, and food wiped off their faces. On Parks and Rec, Jones says, “It was a little looser. Rarely were there marks on the floor, because there were two or three cameras capturing what was happening naturally.”
As the Harvard-educated daughter of award-winning musician and producer Quincy Jones, she quickly rose in Hollywood as an actress who could balance equal parts drama and comedy. While many remember Jones as Ann Perkins, the level-headed best friend to Amy Poehler’s scatterbrain Pawnee, Indiana government official Leslie Knope on Parks and Rec, one of Jones’ early breaks was on David E. Kelley’s drama Boston Public in which she played the high school secretary, embroiled in a romance with an English teacher, and penning a sex advice column in the school newspaper.
Leslie Nielsen was known for sarcastically winking at the camera as calamity flew around him on Police Squad. However, Jones is more subtle on Angie Tribeca, and that characteristic kicks the onscreen hijinks to a higher echelon of hilarity. Her Angie is tough-ass (she destroys her plywood dummy during a fighting sequence), she’s fearless about going the distance (goes undercover as a nude model and wears a wire), and like any career-obsessed, single woman on TV, is afraid of marriage (she lost her old partner Sgt. Pepper, played by James Franco, on the job, but he’s coming back in Season 2).
“There’s a high level of difficulty to what she’s doing,” enthused Steve Carell about Jones at the Television Critics Association winter tour. “She makes it look effortless. But she plays the part and commits to it, giving it depth amid all the absurdity and the silliness. She’s the lynchpin for the entire show. We met with a lot of funny people. It’s such a specific tone. It’s not about being funny, but understanding when to pull back, and not have a self-awareness of being funny.”
Angie Tribeca returns June 6 for Season 2. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, as it raises the show’s profile during what is a very competitive Emmy nom period. Season 2 will send-up shows like Fargo and True Detective, and will feature such guest stars as Heather Graham, Mary McCormack, Noah Wyle, Maya Rudolph, Eriq La Salle, Danny Pudi, Busy Philipps, Kevin Pollak, Rhys Darby, Ed Begley Jr, Joe Jonas and Joey McIntyre. Some of Angie’s headaches include drug-dealing lifeguards, and the murders of a sushi chef and a boy band bad boy.
Says Jones about Season 2: “Our hope is that it will be a little drier since the audience is accustomed to the way we tell jokes.”