If someone told me two weeks ago that I’d be kicking off 2013’s first installment of This Week In Web Videos by profiling a series about John Ortiz’s character in American Gangster and Jim Gaffigan dressed as 1980s drug-addicted cops, I would’ve said “Oh, are you talking about the Two Cops web series? That’s not Ortiz and Gaffigan, but I can see why you’d liken the lead characters to those two dudes because they look a lot alike.” Then I’d write a glowing review of said web series, just as I’m about to do right now.
Created, written, produced by and starring various members of the Columbia Film School-born humor collective Sunset Television, Two Cops is a Believer Magazine-hosted show that I came very close to ignoring. Why? Because when I read its description — a 1980s-themed documentary about two cops living together — I anticipated a rehashing of the old stakeout trope where two dolts who’ve got no business wearing a badge drink, do drugs, and lament their dysfunctional family lives. That is exactly what Two Cops is about but I expected something that was either more punchline heavy or painfully expository. Never did I think that I’d be presented with one of the most authentic, visceral cop comedies to date. The Sunset Television team, comprised of Alex Goldberg, Karrie Crouse, Drew Blatman, and Graham Mason, are unassuming masters of the tragically wry and while they know that may not garner them overnight viral success, it sure as hell makes for a fantastic first note of the year.
Two Cops is a sleeper series, the kind of project that probably won’t break 10,000 combined views until the whole squad is off consulting on a Wes Anderson movie 18 months from now. Just think, you’ll have one over on all of your friends because you read this article.
Mark my words, and theirs too.
What was each of your comedy backgrounds before Two Cops?
Graham: We met at film school, we all went to Columbia, and most of the comedy that I’ve done in a professional sense has been with this group. We all have some stuff that we’re working on our own too. I’m a screenwriter by training and that’s what I’m working on right now.
Alex: Yeah, after film school together we started making things together basically just as an outlet to get shorter things made instead of doing longer projects or directing exercises like we had to do for school. All of us were different degrees of comedy nerds and have wanted to be in it for a while and we all found each other as collaborators. It’s pretty warm hearted.
My heart’s warmed.
Karrie: All of us being film students, a lot of what we did in the beginning was messing around with form and playing with style. Those were starting points for us.
Alex: Unlike a lot of sketch groups we came at it not from a performer angle or a writerly angle, but from a cinematic language.
Graham: We wanted everything we did to have a different style to it, like an old B Movie. Everything was going to be very specific.
Alex: So it wasn’t like we were making something to showcase the writing, which I think is a lot of what Internet comedy is. We were showcasing the style.
Graham: And I think what’s cool about Two Cops is that we sort of melded it. It’s character driven, but it still has a really nice texture.
You guys nailed the tone and, more important than what it looks like, it’s really funny and deft, so you’ve gotten to that place of good writing even if it wasn’t your main focus to begin with.
Alex: It was definitely a goal with this project, “let’s do character driven.”
Graham: Let’s do something tiny and acting heavy. Just characters in a room, but still very goofy and funny. The cop uniforms help us remember that we’re in a comedy.
Can you tell me a little bit about what made you want to make Two Cops, what made you choose this kind of world?
Graham: A while ago we had this idea for a show called The Crime Room. We always wanted to do a cop thing and it was gonna be a sitcom about a police station, like a Cheers-style sitcom. Then we wrote it and it was not producible. And then we had a meeting and thought “What if we just both play the cops but then we were trying to think of how we were going to put them together, like maybe they’re alone in the station?” But we have an apartment and thought it would be funny to have them be roommates and wear their uniforms. Then we decided to shoot it as a documentary. We like to play it straight and the documentary format really allows us to do that.
This series requires some viewer buy in; it’s not super jokey and it runs long. What made you decide to be brave and soldier on with this kind of tone and format?
Drew: I think it’s just an evolution of our style. Doing something that is stylized but also a little dramatic too. Going back to where comedies used to be, not just all balls to the wall.
Alex: It also reflects our tastes.
Karrie: We couldn’t do it the other way if we wanted to.
Alex: Well we tried to do it like that and then it came out like this.
Drew: I don’t want to say that we suck at making viral videos, but we do. It would be cool, it sucks that the views on this are kind of low, but I think people are just going to have to be a little more patient and accept its length. We have faith that people will discover it. We don’t have that in our mind, “Let’s get a million hits.”
Graham: We do play it straight but at the same time there’s a huge dick joke in the first episode.
What advice do you have for aspiring web producers, creators, writers, who want to get into the game and want to get noticed and make an impact in the space?
Karrie: I think we were in a cool position when we were in school because we just wanted the work to be something that we were proud of. We actually didn’t do any reaching out, people kind of found us. I guess what I’m saying is: just focus on the work and there’s some part of me that thinks that people tend to find the good stuff.
Alex: Make the shit that you want to make and hopefully people will want to watch it.
Graham: One practical thing is giving your sketches a context and a specific kind of texture. That was something that, from the very beginning, we set out to do, and it gave us production values that we didn’t necessarily have because it feels like it costs more than it does. We want our work to be about more than silly jokes.
It’s the evolution of web videos; hopefully more people get there soon.
Graham: Yeah, hopefully there will be a whole network of watchable shows on the Internet; it’s only a matter of time.
1. Production style
3. Comedic tone
I’ve never seen a 1980s documentary parody web series that actually looks like a 1980s documentary, until now.
As I’ve said in days of yore, honest jokes founded in real life scenarios are the most relatable and often hit the hardest, as long as viewers are willing to give their attention. Important to remember: sad times can provide powerful inspiration for comedic retellings.
We’ve seen and celebrated plenty of subtle humor in this column but nothing’s been as dark and textured as this. It’s a brand new day.