Andy Samberg comedy

TOUR DE PHARMACY and the Lies That Entertain Us

Monday, July 10, 2017 Rob Samuelson

Jake Szymanski, Murray Miller, and Andy Samberg have a (very hilarious) thing against athletes. Following 2015’s 7 Days in Hell, their latest sports mockumentary for HBO, Tour de Pharmacy, finds the creative team building a cohesive worldview that skewers athletics, greed, desperation, entitlement, and a media environment that portrays these things as the height of human achievement. It’s not some high fallutin’ treatise on those things, though, because for all their satirical aims, these fellas are ultimately purveyors of farce. Delicious, postmodern farce.

Photo credit: Tour De Pharmacy/Facebook


Mixing comedy ringers and real-world sports stars, Tour de Pharmacy looks at how rampant doping was in professional cycling in the early 1980s. After the Tour de France’s drug czar (Kevin Bacon) is found taking bribes in exchange for clean drug tests, only five cyclists are allowed to remain in the event. They are:

  • Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) as an “African” entrant to the competition, the son of a blood diamond mogul
  • Orlando Bloom (the Lord of the Rings trilogy) as a guy so loaded to the gills with dozens of kookily named drugs -- and an Arby’s sandwich -- that his heart explodes while he rides down a hill
  • Daveed Diggs (Broadway’s Hamilton) as Jackie Robinson’s nephew who is obsessed with breaking the color barrier in cycling because it’s the only sport white enough by the early 1980s to allow him to follow in his more famous family member’s footsteps
  • Pro wrestler John Cena as a German cyclist who put on at least a hundred pounds of muscle in a year because he “trained really hard”
  • Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as a French woman pretending to be a man to prove that women can cheat like men at professional sports

There is a delirious crassness to much of the casting and characterization. For instance, Highmore’s part really should have been played by a woman because it’s a female character and the “man in a dress” trope is something that hardly ever worked well when it was new. Despite miscues like that, Tour de Pharmacy has a method to its provocation.

Szymanski, Miller, and Samberg see the sporting world as a lie, so they punch back against the lie with offensiveness and zaniness. The people in this movie are flimflam losers who cut corners and would never be able to hack it in a world where hard work wins the day. These characters understand that they will be rewarded by a fawning press (personified by James Marsden as a reporter exhausted by trying to put a positive spin on everything the athletes do) as long as they play their parts. But they’re too greedy to even take an easy win, so they sabotage each other and themselves time and again throughout the movie’s brief 40-minute runtime.

None of that righteous bile-spewing would matter if the movie didn’t have the jokes to back it up. While perhaps not as inspired as 7 Days in Hell’s mocking of professional tennis, Tour de Pharmacy’s juxtaposition of in-person interviews with people like disgraced Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong (whose supposedly secret identity is revealed by the crew’s incompetence with lighting) and “archival” footage is a punchline machine. Out-of-left-field interludes, like a raunchy European commercial for credit cards and a violent animated sequence that explains how blood doping works, combine with the main actors making silly faces and contorting their bodies in comically grotesque ways to sell the idea that the sports we obsess about aren’t worth the importance we put on them.

But slyly, the movie still suggests that these prefabricated athletic events are valuable to our world, that, for all the skewering done by this movie, there’s a reason we still flock to these feats of strength, endurance, and speed. Sports matter because enough people in our society agree that they matter. We’re all a little fake inside, so of course our sports reflect that. Sure, we’d all love to see a more pure form of what the human body can achieve, but this kind of hackery is still somehow impressive to us because we understand that performance-enhancing drugs only make already gifted people better. We'd prefer that these gifted people not lie to us, but if they're gonna do it, screw it, we're bored. We may as well watch it.

Director: Jake Szymanski
Writer: Murray Miller
Starring: Andy Samberg, Orlando Bloom, Freddie Highmore, Daveed Diggs, John Cena, Mike Tyson, Lance Armstrong, James Marsden
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Available on HBO Now, HBO Go, HBO networks

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