So essential is the requirement for scenes of humiliation in modern TV comedies that two out of three shows premiering over the next few days feature, among other yucky yuks, children projectile-vomiting in a minivan while their father experiences explosive diarrhea in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant (TBS’s “The Detour”) and a woman who accidentally leaks milk from her breasts during an office meeting (Amazon’s “Catastrophe”). The third comedy (Showtime’s “Dice”) is based on the interior life of longtime loudmouth Andrew Dice Clay, who comes with his own special relationship to everyday filth.
Soiled pants, awkward sex, toilet terrors, body dysmorphia, foul talk, pummeled egos — our society will certainly leave an open book for future anthropologists who wish to understand our psychological states of mind. We let it all hang out and then smear it on the walls, mainly for laughs. To make a successful, shrewdly funny TV show from such raw moments of vulgarity is a difficult task, requiring more than just buckets of fake fluids.
Jason Jones and Samantha Bee, the husband-and-wife creators of TBS’s “The Detour” (which stars him and premieres Monday ahead of her political comedy show), deliver a ribald but bumpy road-trip comedy that wants to be more than just a slapstick retread of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (which already got a retread last year in theaters). But after several episodes, the show can’t quite find its way.
There are enjoyable pit stops, however. Jones plays Nate Parker, a cog at a Big Pharma office in Syracuse, N.Y., who makes a last-minute change to his family’s Florida vacation plans — instead of flying, they’re taking a road trip in their clunker minivan, much to the chagrin of Nate’s wife, Robin (Natalie Zea) and their tweenage twins, Jared (Liam Carroll) and Delilah (Ashley Gerasimovich) — the sort of children who think nothing of waving “Help us, we’ve been kidnapped!” signs at passing trucks and cars.
The Parkers don’t get far before disaster strikes, and if it wasn’t for the kids’ sharp zingers and surfeit of awkward birds-’n’-bees questions, “The Detour” would be a whole lot less fun. A side plot involving a criminal coverup at Nate’s job seems more of a nuisance than a narrative arc, and Jones overdoes the doofus-dad routine.
It’s a familiar and crudely drawn archetype, but Jones’s Nate is slightly sharper than the iteration of “Andrew Dice Clay,” the alter-ego character at the center of “Dice” (premiering Sunday). The show is built around the idea that Dice is not like the misogynist and generally misanthropic oaf he has played onstage since the late 1980s.
Only he is like that, sort of. Living off the fumes of fame in Las Vegas, Dice is prone to kvetch about any mild irritant (ATM fees at the casino, for one example), which easily turns him into his bombastic stage persona — or an older, creakier version of it. “Dice” is mostly a warmed-over attempt to ape Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with just a dose of the existential despair seen in Louis C.K.’s “Louie” — which is never more despairing than when Dice gets a look at the sculpture of his penis made by legendary groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster in 1989 and fails to behold the majesty he expected to see.
“Dice” is a late arrival to the semi-autobiographical meta-comedy game, but things improve greatly whenever Dice’s girlfriend, Carmen (Natasha Leggero), pushes him around; or when Toni (Lorraine Bracco), the boss of a casino to which Dice is deeply in debt, turns him into her “dancing monkey.” It’s 25 years overdue, but it’s fitting to see women cut Dice’s metaphorical manhood down to a realistic size.
Both “The Detour” and “Dice” could study Amazon’s excellent “Catastrophe” for months and still not approach its effortless and biting sense of the human condition.
Season 2, now available, moves ahead a few years in the relationship between Rob and Sharon (Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan), an American advertising executive and Irish schoolteacher in their 40s who met on a one-night stand that resulted in pregnancy. Now married with a toddler son, they’ve just welcomed a new baby, a daughter named . . . well, it’s one of those unpronounceable Irish names, somewhere between Maureen and Moira. Mwyrn? Moirwyn? (“It’s Moron,” says Rob’s mother, played with resolute wackiness by Carrie Fisher.)
The show, created and written by Delaney and Horgan, is filled with an almost claustrophobic sense of its characters’ attraction to one another and the squishy degree to which they’ve grown close, from their sweaty attempts at postpartum sex to all the smells and stickiness that come from four people living together when only two of them are toilet-trained.
“Catastrophe” is here and gone in six episodes, but it leaves you spent, satisfied and pleasantly skeeved, the way the best modern comedy shows do. It’s easy to feel like you’re also a part of this marriage, for better and certainly worse. That’s where the vulgarity becomes an intimate component of the show instead of just a way to get cheap laughs.
Catastrophe (six episodes) is available through Amazon Prime. (Disclosure: Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post as a separate company. )
Dice (30 minutes) premieres Sunday at 9:30 p.m.on Showtime; all six episodes are also available on-demand for Showtime subscribers.
The Detour (one hour) double-episode premiere Monday at 9 p.m. on TBS.