[17 September 2013]
With so many investigative procedurals on TV, it’s hard to believe that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the only one on network right now that’s going for comedy. After all, aren’t those hard-hitting police tropes pretty silly anyway?
They look silly in this version of Brooklyn. The show centers on the borough’s fictional 99th Precinct, which, as the premiere opens, is about to get a new commanding officer, Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher). His buttoned-up demeanor immediately clashes with the more laid-back attitude of Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), as it might get in the way with his ability to compete with his partner, Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), for the most number of arrests in a year. If he wins, she has to go on a date with him—naturally.
While their contest plays out in the background, the partners are also investigating a murder-burglary with the other detectives on the force, Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) and Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio, who was also in the longest running cop comedy, Reno 911!). Around these five central cops, Brooklyn Nine-Nine assembles a number of clichés. It’s a sitcom and a satire of a police procedural, most obviously, but it’s also an ensemble workplace comedy. And a will-they-or-won’t-they romance, possibly two will-they-or-won’t-they romances, since Boyle is also carrying a torch for Diaz. And, if you focus on the relationship between Holt and Peralta, it’s an Odd Couple-style buddy comedy.
It’s to this busy show’s credit that the pilot doesn’t feel disjointed. All of these disparate parts are working more or less harmoniously. Peralta seamlessly moves from antagonizing Holt one minute to flirting with Santiago the next to, you know, actually solving a crime. He goes on various assignments with different members of the team so you get to know the other characters, but still, this process doesn’t feel like piece-moving.
The only thing that Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t try to cram into the pilot is any sense of place. Sure, plenty of cop shows are located in New York City. That Brooklyn Nine-Nine zeroes on Brooklyn specifically seems like it should be significant, but the locations used in the pilot—a generic electronics store, an empty storage center—could be found in any city in America. (I fully admit that, as a Brooklyn resident, I might be overly sensitive.)
It’s not that the borough doesn’t have comedic or even scenic potential. Brooklyn Nine-Nine may have even attempted a joke at its expense in the pilot, as one of the items stolen during a theft is, of all things, a really expensive ham. That seems like a crack at foodie culture and the proliferation of yuppy grocery stores in Brooklyn, but to make the parody land, the show could have pushed it further; the sham could have been an artisanally cured, hand-butchered ham meant for some kind of farm-to-table, nose-to-tail dining experience. And the thug who rips it off is your run-of-the-mill TV criminal, which leaves you wondering if he really has connections to the black market that would be interested in such a very expensive ham.
That said, even without exploring Brooklyn’s gentrification growing pains, the premiere covers a fair amount of ground in its half hour, however superficially. You get the basic outline of how the precinct works, some jokes, an open-and-shut case, and introductions to the main players delivered as Holt gets a rundown on each of the detectives from Sergeant Jeffords (Terry Crews, sadly underused in the first episode).
More substantively, the first episode does offer some background on Peralta and Holt. Samberg being one of the most recognizable faces here, and being Samberg, Peralta gets the wackiest jokes, such as the commercial-ready moment of him wearing a Speedo to protest the Precinct’s dress code. But he’s not a total contempt-for-authority cliché. Instead, he fits a different mold: the best detective on the force. And so he takes on a bit of police work, making him more than just comic relief or even the comic center.
Holt fares even better. Andre Braugher is, among other things, a consummate straight man, appearing here to be sensible without being stuffy. It’s much harder to elicit empathy for his man-in-charge over Peralta’s wisecracking-but-competent detective, but Holt cuts to the heart of Peralta’s shenanigans in a way that makes it easy to root for he captain. Holt gets a huge payoff at the end of the pilot, and it’s one he completely earns.
Payoffs look likely down the road for the show too. All this setting up predictably means there’s less time for jokes in Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s first episode, and so it’s much like other ensemble comedies, laying groundwork for increasingly interrelated characters and situations. This certainly happened with Parks and Recreation, the previous single camera workplace show executive produced by Michael Schur, Daniel J. Goor, and David Miner. It may be that Brooklyn Nine-Nine does for cop shows what Leslie Knope and company did for office sitcoms, and that can only be good.