by Sadie Gennis
Nick Brown, John Lehr
There haven’t been a lot of comedy westerns save Blazing Saddles, Three Amigos and Wild Wild West, none of which were released in the new millennium. Thankfully, Hulu breathed new life into the genre with its original series Quick Draw, an improvised comedy from 10 Items or Less‘ John Lehrand Nancy Hower.
Quick Draw follows Sheriff John Henry Hoyle (Lehr), a bumbling Harvard grad who is so confident in his intellectual superiority he even boasts about graduating 327th in his class. Now living in Great Bend, Kansas, Hoyle attempts to introduce forensics to the local rubes, who include the dim-witted Deputy Eli (newcomer Nick Brown), the brazen brothel owner Honey (The Sopranos‘ Allison Dunbar) and the mopey Undertaker Vernon Shank (Cougar Town‘s Bob Clendenin).
For each episode, Lehr and Hower wrote a script outlining the general plotlines, but then allowed the actors to improvise the dialogue and experiment within the basic framework. “The experience of being on set is kind of lemming-like,” Brown tells TVGuide.com. “You gotta be alert and aware … You gotta be on your toes and ready to play your character as well as you can, but at the same time you have no idea what’s happening.”
Though Hoyle’s struggles to utilize criminology are often used for laughs, the series is heavily grounded in history. In preparation for Quick Draw, Lehr and Hower did a lot of research on the late 1800s — when forensics really was beginning to emerge —and passed along information and slang terms the cast could draw from to add historical accuracy amidst the lunacy. In fact, some of the show’s best comedy is drawn from sensational real life events, such as the practice of temperance; the town Nicodemus, populated entirely by free slaves; and the Benders, a family of serial killers who terrorized Kansas (a topic Supernatural fans will remember fondly).
That being said, Quick Draw does take some getting used to as a viewer. With the exception of Curb Your Enthusiasm, improv series are rarely seen — let alone successful — on TV and it’s a very different style of comedy and pacing. Though that difference is actually Quick Draw‘s greatest strength. The unstructured nature of the series allows the audience to experience more genuine reactions from the actors. But much like Family Guy, the series isn’t afraid to push the boundary between comfort and comedy. Jokes are often repeated beyond the typical point of acceptability until somehow it becomes funny again. This can be slightly offputting at first, and if you didn’t make it through the pilot because of this, that’s entirely understandable. But if you can, cut Quick Draw a little slack and maybe check out a later episode, when the series had really found its groove. (Trust us, you won’t regret it.)
“I think this is the front end of what’s going to be a trend,” Brown said of improv on TV. “I think it’s a lot of fun to watch actors being at their most playful.” And while there are high risks involved in creating an improv series — the need to shoot all actors simultaneously, having actors you can trust to always deliver — Brown thinks it’s not as risky as most people think.
“With the core of dedicated, really smart, funny improvisers that exist today, you could do a lot more,” Brown says. “And I hope people start doing a lot more because quite frankly, there’s a spontaneity that you catch in an actor that you’ll never catch in a scripted scene except with the luckiest moments and the most talented actors.”
Check out an exclusive clip from Quick Draw‘s finale, which will be available for streaming Monday.
And while you wait for the full episode, why not marathon the entire first season? The first seven episodes are available on Hulu and we’ve even embedded Episode 1 below!