“It’s not a silly comedy anymore. It’s a silly drama.”
As Delocated star and creator Jon Glaser points out, you can’t really describe his show any better than Sergei’s line in the first episode of the show’s second season. So it makes sense that Delocated, which ended its three seasons with a half-hour finale last night, went out in dramatic fashion.
It didn’t start out that way; at least it didn’t seem to start out that way. Season 1 was more light-hearted and goofy for goofy’s sake. Though Delocated has always been about a Russian mob target in the witness protection program who moves to New York City to become a reality star, the Russian mob threat never felt all that particularly grave. Probably because Yvgeny, the assassin assigned to take out “Jon,” was an incompetent man-child whose true passions were stand-up comedy and vodka. (Props to Eugene Mirman for so deftly portraying a mild-mannered simpleton born into a crime family but not cut out for the dirty work.) “Jon’s” presence in the witness protection program was the show’s backbone, but the humor came in absurd, secondary storylines, like “Jon” throwing a Ska-Mitzvah for his son, or this sublime scene from Season 1’s finale where “Jon” meets a drifter played by Michael Shannon and asks him to don the ski mask and assume “Jon’s” identity because he can’t take the pressure of having his life under a microscope.
In Season 2, Adult Swim gave the go-ahead to turn Delocated from a 15-minute show into 30-minute show, in the process changing it from a joke-a-minute gag-fest into something with a little more weight. At some point Glaser and the show’s other executive producers (PFFR’s John Lee, Vernon Chatman and Alyson Levy) decided to raise the stakes and find a Russian mob henchman with some teeth. They found him in Sergei, a menacing psychopath with no time for Yvgeny’s ineptitude. Sergei racked up a serious body count throughout his time on Delocated, including “Jon’s” parents and his brother, Lon.
Glaser said the show struck gold when they found Steve Cirbus to play Sergei, and called him almost the MVP of the show. Sergei shifted the entire tone of Delocated, and made the show much more dramatic as a maniac hell-bent on making “Jon” and everyone else around him suffer. Even with this shift, however, Delocated remained incredibly hilarious. Season 2 is the series’ apex. The show figured out there was a lot of comedy to be mined in how “Jon” responded to these horrific things happening around him, perhaps best executed in Season 2’s “Tap,” where Jon carries his brother’s ashes in an urn around his neck and tap dances them all the way to Maine as a tribute. Even with the darker turn, Delocated never lost its sense of absurdity.
Delocated’s finale, “The Frrt Identity” continued with the show’s hybrid merging of sinister drama and absurdist humor. It picks up one year after Season 3’s finale, where Sergei narrowly escaped the FBI and commandeered a speedboat to an unknown location with “Jon” as his hostage. The finale opens with “Jon” waking up on the shores of New York disoriented and unsure of his identity.
We quickly discover that over the past year, Sergei had brainwashed “Jon” in a cabin somewhere in Russia to kill his family and friends. There were a lot of places Glaser and his production team could have gone with one final episode to wrap up the series, but a Bourne Identity parody seemed as fitting as any. It’s a staple of the classic crime dramas on television to kill off major characters leading up to a series’ conclusion as a means to tie up loose ends. Delocated did it in one fell swoop as “Jon” kills TB, David (a particularly harrowing scene with Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” playing in the background), and ultimately Sergei in a scene that pits student vs. master. Of course in true Delocated style, both “Jon” and Sergei are in their underwear for a “skin on skin” death match.
After dispatching with Sergei, “Jon” tells the FBI back at home that he’ll live out his days in Russia and not be returning to the States, unless of course he can star in a sitcom alongside Richard Belzer.
The show’s final image of “Jon” in his trademark old-man slacks chipping golf balls while Sergei’s body hangs tethered upside-down to the cabin perfectly encapsulates Delocated: dark, dramatic, absurd and incredibly funny.
It will be missed.
Delocated is the only show Phil Davidson ever felt compelled to write about.