'Grimsburg' Review: Jon Hamm Comedy Skewers Crime Clichés

‘Grimsburg’ Review: Jon Hamm Comedy Skewers Crime Clichés

The protagonist of “Grimsburg” looks and acts nothing like Jon Hamm, though the actor lends his voice — and backing as an executive producer — to the lead of Fox’s latest animated sitcom. Detective Marvin Flute is a scruffy, potbellied deadbeat who’s somewhat skilled at solving crimes, if nowhere near as much as he thinks he is. Flute is a far cry from the debonair types Hamm is best known for playing, from Don Draper on “Mad Men” to Paul Marks on “The Morning Show.” But with animation, Hamm can separate his voice from his famously handsome face, even roughing up his signature baritone to sound significantly less suave. The change in medium offers a chance to expand the performer’s range.

The namesake of “Grimsburg” is a small town with a big fatality rate. (Motto: “Come for the hiking, stay because you’re missing.”) Created by Catlan McClelland and Matthew Schlissel and developed by Chadd Gindin, “Grimsburg” is a heightened riff on the likes of “Murder, She Wrote” — procedurals set in rural hamlets that naturally beg the question of how such a limited population can produce so many criminals, or sustain so many lost lives. Naturally, “Grimsburg” escalates such suspension of disbelief to outright absurdity. A murder mystery party takes place in a hybrid train-mansion, dubbed a “trainsion”; a serial killer leaves animal bones at the scene of every crime, cuing up 20 minutes of nonstop boner puns.

Detective Flute’s return to Grimsburg after a nervous breakdown and some time away serves as the series’ inciting incident, though he’s quickly surrounded with a coterie of eccentrics, including his ex-wife Harmony (Erinn Hayes), a local news anchor who was quite literally raised by bears, and Dr. Pentos (Alan Tudyk), a Hannibal Lecter-like figure with a vaguely European accent and an ever-present orange jumpsuit. Some of the characterizations are broader than others: Flute’s son Stan (Rachel Dratch) craves his approval, a consistent well of jokes and story alike, while his boss Chief Patsy (Wendi McClendon-Covey) is a scattered patchwork of archetypes. She’s established as an anti-vaccine fringe conservative early on, though that personality never seems to stick.

Collectively, “Grimsburg” is an all-too-easy sendup of a culture obsessed with true crime, copaganda and gritty prestige. (Just a week after “Grimsburg” debuts on Fox, the latest season of “True Detective” will launch on HBO.) To match the joke-a-minute pace of a broadcast comedy, “Grimsburg” affords itself a broad range of satirical targets. The “trainsion” episode is a take on Agatha Christie, “Clue” and “Knives Out,” while a slasher plot set at a summer camp recalls the classic ’80s B-movie “Sleepaway Camp.” Everything from horror to mystery becomes grist for the mill, so long as it comes with a body count and an opportunity for Flute and his colleagues to make fools of themselves.

“Grimsburg” frequently succeeds in getting laughs at the expense of an industrial complex that’s long since jumped the shark. At one point, a director decides to make a scripted show about Flute’s latest case while the investigation is still underway, then complains the detective is going “too fast for eight heavily padded episodes.” But “Grimsburg” runs into the same problem as many spoofs when it comes to cultivating emotional stakes, which are needed for any show’s longevity no matter how silly the premise. We’re never sure how seriously to take any twist; one killer turns out to be a character’s immediate family member, though the connection never comes up again. Animation allows for some abstraction, and for “Grimsburg” to avoid the exploitative gore that marks so many of its live-action reference points. To last for the long haul, though, even the most effective parody has to work as a story of its own.

The first episode of “Grimsburg” premieres on Fox on Sunday, Jan. 7 at 8pm ET.