Since Reno 911! was canceled in 2009, following its six-season run on Comedy Central, Robert Ben Garant (who starred in and co-created the series alongside Thomas Lennon and Kerri Kenney-Silver) has always had a feeling the show had a second life. “Reno had been off the air for over 10 years,” says Garant of the effort to find a new home for the Cops spoof, which followed a bumbling crew of deputies in the Nevada city who attempt to uphold law and order — but often create their own disorder. “We edited together a highlight reel and tried to sell it, and everybody passed.”
That is, until Quibi came calling, and Garant and his colleagues realized that the now-shuttered shortform video platform would be the perfect place for the show. “We had one of our editors cut one of the old episodes down to seven minutes,” says Garant, who notes that the format still worked for the sketch-driven comedy. The show was revived with the complete original cast for its seventh season.
It was on day three of the 12-day shoot for season eight that Garant and crew learned that Quibi was folding. He says Viacom “picked up the tab” and allowed the season to finish, and the show’s seasons seven and eight landed on the Roku Channel (as did several other titles in Quibi’s catalog).
It was after filming that last season — and in the middle of the pandemic — that the creators received a call from Paramount with an intriguing offer: The studio wanted a Reno 911! movie for its burgeoning streaming service, Paramount+ — and the execs already had an idea of what it should be about. “They wanted it to be called Reno 911! The Hunt for QAnon,” says Garant. “It was a very weird, Barton Fink kind of thing. My gut [told me], ‘You can’t do a movie based on a title!’” Yet Garant, Kenney-Silver and Lennon sat with the idea, ultimately agreeing that the thought of tackling the conspiracy theory-led, far-right movement was exactly the type of thing Reno 911! was meant for. Says Kenney-Silver via email: “The great thing about the QAnon conspiracies is that the level of absurdity often feels like it was born out of our show to begin with. Not a hard reach. Many of [the believers] felt like they came right out of a comedy writers room, ripe and ready to pick. So thank you to QAnon for doing some of that work for us.”
The trio collaborated on the script that, Garant notes, was more like a “long treatment,” as much of the film — like the TV series and the 2007 movie spinoff, Reno 911!: Miami — was improvised. The screenplay, a copy of which Garant shared with THR, has little dialogue; its 31 pages are mostly filled with scene directions that indicate the plot points the actors hit once they came together on set. “We know what needs to happen in each scene, and we really don’t rehearse it or discuss it anymore,” says Garant. “By season four or five, everybody got it — everybody knew what they were doing.”
The plot is, as even Garant will admit, completely ludicrous, in the Reno 911! way: The squad has been assigned to issue a subpoena to the mysterious Q, and after some extremely light investigative work, the Reno cops sign up for a QAnon-themed booze cruise off the coast of Florida — primarily as an excuse to take a group vacation, with hopes of uncovering Q along the way. Going undercover as members of the far right and crossing paths with Oath Keepers and “the girl who pooped on Nancy Pelosi’s desk” during the Jan. 6 insurrection, the closest they come to Q is Patton Oswalt’s character, Ron, an avid believer in the Deep State who charms Deputy Clementine Johnson (Wendi McLendon-Covey) with his anti-establishment worldview.
Getting the castmembers to return was easy. “Everyone wanted to do it,” says Garant. “If there was someone who didn’t want to, there would have been no way we could have convinced them.” With that in mind, however, assembling everyone for the 11-day shoot was more of a struggle — there were just two days on the schedule when the entire cast was available.
In addition to the “juggling act” of the production schedule, there was the worry that the actors might struggle to find their characters after pauses between seasons and movies. “We created these characters back in the year 2000, so we have been dropping in and out of them for the last 22 years,” adds Kenney-Silver, who plays Deputy Trudy Wiegel. “I have to admit, the night before we begin filming, there is always a moment where I think, ‘What if I can’t find her this time? What if Trudy is off living her bizarro life and I can’t access her for this movie?’ But then, as soon as I slip into my granny panties and beige polyester, there she is. For better or for worse, she’s back.”
After eight seasons and a feature film, Garant also dismisses those night-before worries once the cameras start rolling and the one-liners start flowing. “Every single person was better than they’ve ever been by a lot, and it made it really fun,” he says.
He also commends McLendon-Covey, calling her “the star” of the film and praising her work with co-star Oswalt. Their characters’ wacky romance drives the film, and while their backstories were written into the script, the actors themselves improvised the deep, dark details of their onscreen personas. “They didn’t rehearse them. They didn’t discuss them. They just knew what it was going to be about,” says Garant. “It was amazing one-liner after one-liner, but you are genuinely invested in their relationship. I think everybody got a lot better over the years, but watching Pat and Wendy this go-round was just awe-inspiring.”
But that’s not to say Garant and the cast don’t know exactly how dumb the material is — which is the essence of the Reno 911! franchise. There may be moments of sincerity, but they will still lead the viewer to some of the film’s silliest gags, such as — spoiler alert! — the third-act reveal that Q is a white-robed guru played by RuPaul, whose grand messages are spurted out at random from a broken Speak & Spell toy. “QAnon is so blatantly dumb on the surface, and it doesn’t get any smarter [if you dive in further],” says Garant. “The idea that it’s a Speak & Spell, that it’s just random words, is more accurate than any other possible portrayal.”
Garant also notes that for the first time in the franchise’s two-decade history, there was actually an audience that openly condemned the film. “A lot of weird, right-wing people came out [against us]: ‘All these libtards in Hollywood are obsessed with Q! Is George Soros paying them to make this movie?!’” he says with a laugh. “The only people who have complained so loudly are the people who hate cancel culture — they tried to cancel us.”
The film might be the wildest pick in the grab bag that is the outstanding television movie category, which sees Reno 911! up against other TV spinoffs Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, Ray Donovan: The Movie and Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas — and much heavier fare in The Survivor, a Holocaust drama from Oscar winner Barry Levinson. “Do you remember when Mike Tyson came out of prison, his first fight was against an overweight, 40-year-old white guy named Butterbean?” Garant laughs about his competition. “I feel like we’re Butterbean. Even I would feel guilty for voting for Reno over the Holocaust movie.”
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.