HBO’s “Tour de Pharmacy” is a triumph of crass comedy and A-list cameos in under 40 minutes

The real “Fab Five.”
The real “Fab Five.”
Image: HBO
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As the real Tour de France slogged into its eighth stage last week, HBO needed only 40 minutes (and a whole lot of movie stars) to hilariously spoof cycling’s dark history with performance-enhancing drugs.

On July 8, the network released Tour de Pharmacy, its second sports mockumentary produced by and starring the comedian and Saturday Night Live alum Andy Samberg. In 2015, Samberg teamed with HBO to create the hysterical but unabashedly oafish 7 Days in Hell, a fake documentary about “the longest tennis match in history,” which also starred Game of Thrones heartthrob Kit Harrington as a witless tennis prodigy.

This time, Samberg and company spoofed the scandal-ridden world of professional cycling, and the result was even more wacky and star-studded than its predecessor.

Tour de Pharmacy retells the infamous (and fictional) 1982 Tour de France, during which nearly every rider was disqualified for doping after having been caught paying off the head of the world’s cycling governing body (played, naturally, by Kevin Bacon half-attempting a Finnish accent). That left only five cyclists eligible to finish the race: Marty Hass, an insufferable American frat boy who grew up in Nigeria and makes a point of representing Africa (Samberg); JuJu Peppi, an Italian who has a drug-induced heart attack whilst leading the race (Orlando Bloom); Slim Robinson, the nephew of legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson (Hamilton‘s Daveed Diggs); Adrian Baton, a French woman disguised as a man (Freddie Highmore); and Gustav Ditters, a ‘roid-raging Austrian bodybuilder (wrestler John Cena).

The mockumentary uses Betamax archive footage of the race, while the aged cyclists (played by famous people Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Julia Ormond, and Dolph Lundgren) are interviewed in the present day. They’re joined by even more stars playing themselves, including the director and producer J.J. Abrams as a version of himself who’s weirdly obsessed with French New Wave cinema, and sportscaster Joe Buck deadpanning about his distaste for cycling.

Written by Murray Miller and directed by Jake Szymanski (the same duo who made 7 Days in Hell), Tour de Pharmacy is exactly the type of utterly silly and self-aware comedy that seems to work well in contrast to our dour reality at present. It is replete with flopping penises, unsubtle stereotypes, and extreme drug use—all of it crass but still totally amusing. It delivers as many laughs as most full-length features, without any filler.

The only element that does not work is the presence of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who’s one of the several talking heads interviewed in present day. The cyclist is in on the joke, poking fun at his central role in delegitimizing the sport. But it’s only been five years since he was formally charged with doping over the course of his long career—charges he lied, and bullied others, about for more than a decade. Armstrong admitted to most of it in 2013, but has not yet atoned enough to warrant this comedic turn.