Ever wonder why comedy sequels are rarely ever able to be as funny as the originals, even when all of the same people come back to make them? Well, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the writing and directing team who have brought us things like the gone too soon cult TV show Clone High, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and last year’s surprisingly excellent TV-to-film adaptation 21 Jump Street, have just done an interview with Collider, and in addition to confirming that they are now officially signed on to make 22 Jump Street, they also had some interesting things to say about the hurdles you need to jump over in order to make a comedy sequel.
First off, what’s the plan for a 21 Jump Street sequel? The only specifics regarding what the new film is going to be about are that it’s called 22 Jump Street because the program gets moved across the street to a fancier building, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill will both be back as our undercover agents, this time infiltrating a college, and Ice Cube will once again be back as their commander, who continues to be abhorred at their general idiocy and lack of professionalism.
One of the first things Lord and Miller reveal about their plan for 22 Jump Street was that they didn’t want to sign on to do the film officially until they got far enough into the writing process to be sure they could make a good movie—a development that just happened recently. What was the thing that finally popped off the page enough to convince them? According to Lord, once they got deep into the process of developing the story, they found that the key to doing more with these characters was to make the sequel, “ … more about their marriage, basically. If the first movie is about two people getting together for the first time, this is about what happens if you try to really make the relationship work. We’ll probably never do another bromance after this one, but we’re trying to get as emotionally deep into that as possible.”
Back to those problems people trying to make a comedy sequel face and why so few comedy sequels are able to be funny though. Miller explained, “People don’t wanna see the same movie that they saw the first time, they don’t wanna see something super different from the first movie, and navigating what that is has been challenging.” He later went on to elaborate, “Comedy sequels are tough. There are some animated ones, like the Toy Story sequels obviously are awesome. There are some sequels that are good, but it’s really, really hard to make a good comedy sequel. All the natural jokes of that concept have been told in the first one.” Lord then added, “And so then you try to shake it up, and a lot of times you shake that up too much.”
So what are the problems specific to 22 Jump Street that they’ve been avoiding in an attempt to not shake up the winning formula too much? Miller begins, “Now the expectations are higher. And trust me, we know this as we’ve been going through working on the script, is that sequels are really hard especially for a comedy, and especially for a comedy where we were trying to subvert some paradigms,” with Lord elaborating, “If you subvert the subverted paradigm, then you’re just back in the paradigm (laughs). So that’s the whole crazy loop that we’ve been in.”
Seeing as the original 21 Jump Street was so well-liked and earned such a huge return on the fairly minimal investment the studio put up to make it, a sequel getting produced was likely inevitable, whether Lord and Miller were involved or not. It seems that we can take comfort in the fact that two guys with such a strong track record and with such a keen awareness of what often makes comedy sequels a bad idea are going to be coming back. Otherwise we would have likely gotten stuck with a more straightforward action story that just repeated the jokes of the first film in an attempt to remain comedic—and that sounds a whole lot like the formula for making a Hangover sequel.
If you want to read Lord and Miller’s comments in their entirety, head on over to Collider.