TELEVISION REVIEW: "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"

Most television shows take at least a few episodes into their first season to really find their footing.  They only have a few half-hour or hour-long installments in which to establish not only plot and characters, but to create realistic, intriguing relationships among those characters and to develop their tone and mood.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is mid-way through a full season order for its freshman year, comes out of the bullpen swinging.  While in the most basic sense, it has been lucky to avoid the malaise of an actor leaving after the first one or two episodes, Brooklyn Nine-Nine's pilot starts off strong and fully-formed, like Athena coming forth from Zeus' head, and lays the groundwork for what should be a truly enjoyable comedy.

The show moves along with a snappy, zippy energy, where the quips fly faster than the bullets.  The show centers around a group of detectives at Brooklyn's 99th precinct, and stars Saturday Night Live alumnus Andy Samberg, Men of a Certain Age's Andre Braugher, and is rounded out by a diverse cast of comedians, including ex-football player (and actor) Terry Crews, writer and actor Joe Lo Truglio, and stand-up comedian Chelsea Peretti.  They solve crimes, they get on each other's nerves, and they keep us entertained all the while.
The cast of "Brooklyn Nine-Nine".  
From left: Stephanie Beatriz, Joe Lo Truglio, Andre Braugher, Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero, Terry Crews, Chelsea Peretti.
(facebook.com/BrooklynNineNine)

Upon first viewing of this show, it is easy to see how indebted it seems to be to "Parks and Recreation", whose first season, in turn, seemed to be a near-copy of The Office (the three shows share a creator/writer in Mike Schur).  Several of the same archetypes are still there: Andy Samberg's Detective Jake Peralta has a Leslie Knope-esque boundless energy and good cheer; Stephanie Beatriz's Detective Rosa Diaz, whose disinterested stare and intimidating attitude are reminiscent of Park's April Ludgate. Joe Lo Truglio's simple, hardworking Detective Charles Boyle is the butt of many jokes a la Parks and Recreation's lovable loser Jerry Gergich, while precinct Administrator Gina Linetti, played by stand-up comedian Chelsea Peretti, is Donna Meagle and her non-sequiturs taken to a wacky, almost painfully sarcastic extreme.  Yet Brooklyn Nine-Nine, over the several episodes I have watched thus far, proves itself to be much more stable right off the bat, and more certain of just what kind of show it wants to be.  The patter is fast and charming, the quick flashback cuts are timed just right--it hits all the basic notes of strong single-camera comedy.

The characters are laid out quickly but distinctively in the 22-minute pilot.  In addition to the aforementioned characters, the show also finds strength in Detective Amy Santiago, a go-getter with a chip on her shoulder played by Melissa Fumero; Terry Crews' Sergeant Terry Jeffords' amusing desk-jockey, whose large musculature belies a soft heart and creative nature; and Andre Braugher as the new precinct captain Ray Holt, whose incredible deadpan, when brought into play with Samberg's playfulness, creates some of the funniest moments on the show.
Detective Peralta and Captain Holt (Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher) work it out.
(facebook.com/BrooklynNineNine)

The pilot centers around the openly gay Captain Holt's installation in the 99th, and how Detective Peralta and his coworkers deal with having a tough, disciplined boss.  It's a classic by-the-book versus screw-the-procedure set-up, but what could have been boringly cliched is made delightful by the way the characters bounce off each other.  Detective Peralta and Detective Santiago, who share a kernel of unresolved romantic tension (which will likely be resolved by the end of the season), are competing to see who can solve more homicides; if she wins, she gets his car, but if he wins, she has to go on a date with him.   Fumero plays against Samberg well; it will be great to see her get to do more than roll her eyes at him.  Detective Boyle harbors a puppy-dog crush on Detective Diaz, who lacks interest but enjoys making him run around in circles, is a slightly less cheerful relationship that will hopefully develop into more of a friendship.  Beatriz's Detective Diaz, while reminiscent of April Ludgate as of the pilot, brings a lot of potential to her role, while Lo Truglio inspires sympathy and a bit of laughter at his expense. Sergeant Jeffords struggles with the thought of returning to field duty after he panicked on a stakeout and shot a mannequin; he is now in mandated therapy sessions.  Meanwhile, Gina sits back behind her desk observing everything, all the while making amusing quips.

Refreshingly, Captain Holt's sexual orientation is treated neither as a throwaway joke; nor does it comprise the sum of his character.  It's part of who he is, and informs why he is so strict about rules in his precinct, but just as important to Holt's character are his unreadability and his devilish sense of humor that he lets out in small bursts.  This aspect of the show, as well as its diverse and talented cast, is one of its greatest strengths.  

As for what still needs improvement, as the show progresses, hopefully Andy Samberg will be able to carve out a distinct identity for his Detective Peralta.  It is still hard for him to shed the mannerisms he used while a cast member on SNL; for him to be a successful main character, Peralta needs to be a different kind of person from Samberg himself and from what we are used to seeing from him.  The lovable goofball is a fun center, but as Leslie Knope became self-actualized over the course of the first season and beginning of the second of Parks and Recreation, there needs to be more to Samberg's character.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs on FOX on Tuesdays at 8:30/7:30 central.  It is definitely worth a look, whether you're a fan of crime shows or of ensemble comedies.

Comments

  1. I will have to try it out! We tivo'd but I think it got erased. Thanks for the heads up...even if you don't come out of a bullpen "swinging"...:) Love your reviews!!!

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