Netflix’s New Comedy ‘Tires’ Explores Everyday Struggles with Humor

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Somewhere, amid its fart jokes, Netflix’s new comedy series Tires delves into the everyday quest for contentment, or whatever stands in for it along the way.

Tires, created by comedian Shane Gillis and co-written and co-produced with frequent collaborators Steve Gerben and John McKeever, centers on the struggles of a failing branch of Valley Forge Automotive situated in a dreary concrete expanse in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The store is managed by Will (Gerben; similar to older sitcoms like Seinfeld, most characters in Tires share a name with the actor portraying them), a failson positioned there by his father, the chain’s owner. Will sees it as an opportunity, even though it’s clear to his cousin and mechanic Shane (Gillis) that this store is the least profitable one, meant to isolate them. Shane understands their mediocrity because he’s part of it, making sure Will, fellow mechanic Cal (Chris O’Connor), and the disheveled receptionist Kilah (Kilah Fox) don’t do any work either.

Despite the recent discourse on trades, this kind of drudgery pushes you towards student loans. Will remains in denial, convinced his next harebrained marketing idea will save the store and himself. Shane, aware of the indignity, reacts with existential juvenility. One might imagine Sisyphus, or perhaps Shanegillis, content. Cal and Kilah seem to be living their best possible lives in the metaphorical above-ground pool of despair, with highlights no higher than a smoke break. Yet, the team clocks in every morning. And when the branch faces closure, they muster just enough ambition to mount a defense.

Gillis, one of stand-up comedy’s biggest breakout acts of the past five years, is perhaps best known for being fired from SNL immediately after being hired on its writing staff, following the discovery of an old podcast clip where he made off-color jokes. (As a fan of the podcast, I’d argue the context was misinterpreted, though much like Al Capone going down for tax evasion, Gillis was caught.) Gillis has since moved on and become one of the country’s most popular touring comedians, showing that the best way to handle cancellation is to simply ignore it.

Gillis is often seen by fans and critics alike as a conservative comedian, a partly accurate assessment at most. This may apply to his style. He speaks fondly of his Trump-supporting family, which to many tastemakers places him slightly to the right of Pinochet. However, what’s true for most tastemakers and what’s actually true are so different that they’re almost incomparable. The useful takeaway about Gillis is that he plays into biases, letting his frat boy gone-to-seed persona sneak in nuances that both the easily pleased and easily offended often miss.

Gillis is arguably the best vocal impersonator of Trump alive — an impressive feat since nearly everyone has tried that voice over the past eight years. If he shares anything with Trump, it’s an impatience for social niceties. The characters in Tires follow Gillis’s brash example, suggesting that decorum is a luxury for the idle, not those on the fringes.

Simply put, Tires realizes the dream that Parks and Recreation didn’t. Parks and Recreation started similarly, focusing on thankless but crucial small-town government work in flyover country. However, it soon became embarrassed of its humble ambitions, opting to relocate its government employees to Washington, D.C., to manage the unwashed masses from a safe distance. It’s a perfect time capsule of Obama-era media, where caring for your constituents meant correcting them. Something golden and orange loomed on the horizon; it was easy to mistake it for a sunrise.

In a pep talk Shane delivers to six models before a bikini car wash (Gillis occasionally indulges in his frat boy persona), he recognizes that anyone at a tire shop at 2 p.m. isn’t living their best life. But the funny part about life being over is that it goes on regardless. Meanwhile, the sun is out, the beer is cold, and the models are beautiful when viewed through a slightly drunken haze. While the characters of Parks and Recreation left for cooler cities, the staff of Valley Forge Automotive has nowhere to go. They’re stuck in an unglamorous job, but someone has to change those brake pads. Society functions thanks to those too embarrassed to attend their high school reunions.

Through its funny, exasperated, dumb, and mostly well-executed jokes, Tires conveys something that could be the anthem of a whole class of Americans, something John Mellencamp once sang in the song “Pink Houses”:

He's got greasy hair, greasy smile

He says, "Lord, this must be my destination"

'Cause they told me when I was younger

Said, "Boy, you're gonna be president"

But just like everything else those old crazy dreams

Just kinda came and went.
Joe Joyce
Joe Joyce
Staff Writer.

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