One of the best things about Emmy® season is the occasional respite from “the conversation.” Nearly all television series in competition emerge as well-meaning, beautifully rendered, and incredibly dense series. After watching so much legitimately great television, you just need a palate cleanser. Something that takes the quality edge off. Something in which you can luxuriate in its infinite silliness. Two years ago, 7 Days In Hell brought about such an experience, and this year, HBO’s Tour de Pharmacy delivers the same breath of comedic fresh air. You can thank creators Andy Samberg and Murray Miller for that.
In a world of omnipresent dramatic anthology series, a comedic sports anthology series just makes total sense. This was Samberg and Miller’s goal from the start.
“When we pitched 7 Days in Hell, we thought that this could be a sports anthology series similar to 30 For 30,” Murray Miller explained. “That’s basically exactly what we pitched, so it was always the idea from the start – to make it a series.”
And an absurdist sports anthology series just happened to be what HBO – and perhaps the world – needed.
Tour de Pharmacy offers a fictitious 1982 Tour de France where all but four cyclists are banned from the event due to insane amounts of doping. John Cena, Freddie Highmore, Daveed Diggs, and Samberg play the four cyclists. The cast delivers on all levels in an insanely over-the-top take on the sport.
As 7 Days in Hell filled the need for a great tennis comedy, Tour aims to do the same for the cycling world.
“Cycling has a cool look. Similarly, it’s a niche sport, which we thought was kind of a cool way to go,” Miller said. “The lack of awareness that Americans have about both tennis and cycling help with the writing of these things because no one will be too nit-picky about the rules.”
That lack of awareness also allowed Samberg and Miller an opportunity to play with cycling’s history. In both films, much of the comedy stems from actual events. A streaker at Wimbledon. A deadly serve.
If there is a formula to these mockumentaries, then the team relies on a perversely amplified reality to create great comedy.
“If we do that with baseball or football or basketball, then people will be like ‘Oh yeah! That happened.’ It just wouldn’t be as surprising.”
Let’s hope, though, that cyclists in the Tour de France don’t actually pull out their members to relieve themselves. Or dope that extensively. Yes, let’s hope for that too.
The entire cast of Tour de Pharmacy delivers on nearly every level. Their commitment to the sublimely silly helps ground the comedy in ways that feel less staged, less overtly silly. They use Miller’s comic setups and make them sing.
But there are two extremely buzzy, water cooler moments that you won’t soon forget.
One such moment deals with a unique relationship between Freddie Highmore and Julia Ormond.
“I was thinking about all of the sports comedies that included that gender play of a woman playing in a man’s sport or vice versa,” Miller remarked, “and we’ve seen a woman with her hair tucked in her hat so many times. I thought it was a funny twist on that to make it clearly a man with fake hair tucked into his hat and a fake mustache on.”
Miller initially intended to have Ormond superimpose her voice over Highmore’s for increased comic effect. However, Highmore so dramatically committed himself to the material that it ultimately warranted leaving his voice in the mix. Therefore, you have Freddie Highmore playing a young Julia Ormond.
Another buzzy moment deals with a “mysterious special guest” comically revealed in the trailer.
Infamous cyclist Lance Armstrong won a record seven Tour de France victories before a doping scandal resulted in a voiding of his Tour wins. He also received a lifetime ban from Olympic sports. So, of course the controversial figure appears in Tour de Pharmacy. Just under “top secret” lighting.
“Initially, James Marsden, an avid fan of cycling and a cyclist himself, had a friend who was a professional cyclist. Through that friend, Andy Samberg got on the phone with Lance, talking to him about what we were thinking about, and Lance was game.”
It’s a bold move on the cyclists part that results in some very memorable scenes.
Again, Murray Miller and Andy Samberg fully intended to create a sports anthology comedy series. It started with 7 Days in Hell and continues with Tour de Pharmacy. So what’s next on the comedy horizon for the team?
The possibilities boggle the mind.
“If it were up to me, we’d tackle all of them,” Miller laughed. “I think we’re going to keep with the niche sports for a while before we get into the more familiar ones. The ones that come up are gymnastics and swimming and chess. Fencing came up. Sports that people haven’t seen before in terms of a comedy are what we’re most attracted to.”
All of those would be fine come the next Emmy season. We’ll be here waiting.