TV Reviews

Peak TV Cheat Sheet: No Activity

Too much TV, too little time.

The eternal search for something good to watch on TV just keeps getting longer. It’s not because there isn’t plenty of worthwhile content out there; it’s that there is so much content to sift through – all the new shows the streaming services pummell us with every week, all the old shows we swear we’ll finally get around to. It’s about to get a lot worse with the streaming apocalypse almost upon us.

So, if we’re all drowning in the sea of Peak TV, consider this new feature on the site a life preserver. I’m going to do a series of Peak TV Cheat Sheet articles very briefly breaking down TV shows, new and old, and hopefully helping those out there who just want to find something to watch.

First up, a CBS All Access comedy series I binged while sick in bed this week. I had never heard of it before and only watched it on a complete whim. I present:

No Activity (2017-Present)

CREATED BY | Trent O’Donnell and Patrick Brammall

SOURCE MATERIAL | An Australian web series of the same name also created by O’Donnell and starring Bramall

NUMBER OF EPISODES | 16 over the first two seasons.

EPISODE LENGTH | 28 minutes

PREMISE | Set against the world of a major drug cartel bust, No Activity’s first season “follows two low-level cops (Brammall and Tim Meadows) who have spent far too much time in a car together; two criminals (Jason Mantzoukas and Jesse Plemons) who are largely kept in the dark; two dispatch workers (Amy Sedaris and Sunita Mani) who haven’t really clicked; and two Mexican tunnelers (Arturo Castro and Adrian Martinez) who are in way too small a space considering they’ve only just met.” The second season switches from a drug bust to lower stakes takedown of an underground cockfighting ring and adds Cristin Milioti to the full-time cast while subtracting Castro, Martinez and Plemons.

WHERE DOES THE TITLE COME FROM | It refers to the consistent phrase the cops use whenever dispatch calls to check on their status. There is almost always no new activity for them to report, and even when there is they likely haven’t noticed because they’re either busy arguing or generally caught up in comic shenanigans.

IT’S KIND OF LIKE | Think of it as The Other Guys meets Stakeout meets a UCB Improv Comedy Show, which is just about right for a Funny or Die production

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? | Similar to Adam McKay’s Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg 2010 cop comedy, No Activity is a series very much so focused on the type of cops and criminals you don’t normally see. On a group stakeout, these are the guys who have to park the farthest away. An impossibly optimistic Meadows is fine with that, but Brammell – falling more into the Wahlberg role – clearly resents it, feeling professionally stymied. The criminals are far from the masterminds of any kind of operation, more like day laborers. The dispatch workers, meanwhile, feel like second class citizens to the 911 phone operators sitting across from them in the same office.

So, they all spend most of their time simply sitting around talking, which is where the Improv Comedy Show element comes into play. Each season gradually builds up to a bust in the finale and each individual episode has its own overall storyline, but baked into that is a lot of free space for talented comedians like Meadows, Mantzoukas, and Sedaris to spin what-sound-to-be improvised monologues as their more silent screen partners react in horror, frustration, or often just pure confusion. That makes No Activity a series which trades mostly in the mundane, plumbing the depths of boredom and the tedium of a non-glamorous life for jokes, which will amuse some but alien others.

WHICH SEASON IS BETTER? | The second. It’s far more tightly constructed and benefits immensely from the addition of an incredibly game Cristin Milioti.

WORTH YOUR TIME IF YOU ENJOY… | Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Will Ferrell comedies, Jason Mantzoukas, improv comedy

YOU SHOULD PROBABLY KNOW… | Will Ferrell actually guest stars for three episodes in the first season, opening the gate for a rotating roster of surprise guest stars throughout the entire run of the series, like Jake Johnson, J.K. Simmons, Chris Gethard, and Matt Walsh. My favorite of the bunch, surprisingly, is Jessica Alba, who puts in a hilarious season 2 turn as a crazy actress named….Jessica Alba.

YOU SHOULD PROBABLY ALSO KNOW… | Brammell sounds a lot like Ryan Reynolds. So, from time to time it feels like you’re listening to Deadpool ridicule Tim Meadows.

IS IT COMING BACK? | Unclear. The second season just premiered last November. Official word on a third season could be coming any day now. Should it be canceled, the first two seasons do manage to tell their own complete story.

WHERE CAN I WATCH IT? | CBS All Access

Next Up: Tell Me a Story

What do you think? Does No Activity sound right for you? Or not so much? Is there any other show you’re curious about? And do you think this Peak TV Cheat Sheet feature will be helpful to you going forward?

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