Name a professional sport and there’s a good chance it’s been plagued by doping-related scandal at some point in its history. When everything comes down to being better, faster, and stronger, it’s just a matter of time until morally flexible contestants start raiding the pharmacy. But HBO’s new mockumentary comedy Tour de Pharmacy takes this notion to the extreme, imagining a fictional 1982 Tour de France where literally every participant is packed to the swollen, vein-bulging gills with performance-enhancing drugs.
To make things even more complicated, the ‘82 TDF is soon walloped with another scandal that narrows the field to a mere five contestants. Rather than cancel the proceedings, the race continues with the remaining five, and they’re as colorful a lineup as anything this side of ESPN 8. There’s JuJu Peppi (Orlando Bloom), an Italian cyclist on a path toward imminent tragedy. There’s Marty Hass (Andy Samberg), representing Africa—and despised by his fellow Nigerians because he’s the clueless, white son of a blood diamond baron. Next up is American Slim Robinson (Daveed Diggs), nephew of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, a man determined to break out of his uncle’s shadow. Then there’s “Adrian Baton” (Freddie Highmore)—actually Adrianna Baton, a French woman determined to prove she’s as good on a bike as any man. Last but not least is Gustav Ditters (John Cena), a hulking Austrian brute who was a 98-pound weakling a year prior, but that’s definitely not suspicious, move along.
Created by Andy Samberg and Murray Miller (Girls, American Dad!), Tour de Pharmacy isn’t going to revolutionize the mockumentary genre for anyone who’s seen… well, anything from This Is Spinal Tap on down. But while it isn’t blazing new trails, it does ride this familiar path with all the skill and dexterity of a seasoned athlete. Mixing “archival footage” with commentary from equally fake experts and historians, Tour de Pharmacy also splices in interviews with the older versions of the final participants, played by Jeff Goldblum (Haas), Julia Ormond (Baton), Danny Glover (Robinson), and Dolph Lundgren (Ditters), respectively. These older versions are a good showcase of Tour de Pharmacy’s stellar casting across the board—everyone here is funny and on their game.
And part of the fun is in seeing just who’s going to show up next, and in what ridiculous context. Without spoiling any of the details, Tour de Pharmacy includes hilarious appearances from unrelated celebrities ranging from a former boxing superstar to an A-list Hollywood director, and that’s not even getting into the countless familiar faces who are actually playing characters. The absolute best cameo also doubles as one of Tour de Pharmacy’s best running gags, a segment involving an “anonymous” commenter whose anonymity is breached, first accidentally, but then in an escalating series of more and more ridiculous complications.
That segment is also a perfect example of something Tour de Pharmacy excels at: Taking a familiar gag and making it 10 times as funny by pushing it well beyond the boundaries of logic, common sense, or even the laws of physics. And then there’s the just plain weird. There’s an educational film about red blood cells that turns into a violent anti-police screed. There’s a credit card commercial involving spilled milk and disciplinary cunnilingus. And few will forget the sight of Will Forte begging everyone around him to violate him with a series of phallic objects.
Tour de Pharmacy is a potent, weaponized mixture of the very clever, very stupid, and utterly ridiculous. And at a brisk 40 minutes, it’s absolutely worth the ride.