Tonight is the premiere of Fox’s much-hyped cop comedy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. From two of the minds behind Parks & Rec (showrunner Mike Schur and executive producer Dan Goor), the series stars Andy Samberg as a wise-cracking, incredibly talented detective — Comedy McNulty, if you will — and Andre Braugher as his tough, no-nonsense boss. We’ve seen the full-length trailer and a slew of promos, but now that we’re only a few hours from go-time, I figured I’d dig through a bunch of reviews to get an idea of what the critics have to say about the pilot.
And away we go.
The throwback feel of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is built into the premise. It belongs to a narrow genre, the squad room sitcom, whose most notable example remains the 1970s classic “Barney Miller.” And the relationship between Mr. Samberg’s Detective Jake Peralta and Mr. Braugher’s Capt. Ray Holt stems from an even older and more celebrated show: they’re a modern, manscaped version of Hawkeye Pierce and Colonel Potter in “M*A*S*H.” [NY Times]
Hmm. The New York Times compared a potentially hip new show to two shows that both went off the air before most of the target demo for the new show was born? Sounds about right.
The most exciting sitcom ensemble of the fall draws from some heavy-hitting comedic institutions: Saturday Night Live and The Lonely Island for Andy Samberg, The State for Joe Lo Truglio; Terry Crews and Chelsea Peretti are fresh off of stints with Arrested Development and Parks And Rec, respectively. But the pilot’s secret weapon is Andre Braugher, making his debut in a primetime comedy and clearly relishing the opportunity. His Captain Ray Holt is a straight shooter concealing a wry sense of humor, a crucial counterbalance to Samberg’s zanier tendencies. The pair strikes a winningly sweet-and-sour dynamic, one that’s informed by decades of department hotshots bouncing off of their commanding officers, yet retains a playful freshness. [AV Club]
Casting both with and against type works to establish a sense of comfort and possibility simultaneously; a pretty rare feat for a series right out of the gate. As viewers, we feel like we know, and trust, the Captain, but are entirely uncertain of what Peralta might do; which is exactly what is needed in order for these characters to work. As an added bonus, Braugher and Samberg actually have terrific chemistry, and to their credit, the friction between them is subtle in nature. [IGN]
So it’s a great ensemble with really good chemistry. Got it. Anyone wanna throw a couple handfuls of shade at Andy Samberg real quick?
Samberg’s detective, whose wisecracking ways do not belie but certify his effectiveness (“The only problem he hasn’t solved is how to grow up,” says his sergeant, played by Terry Crews) is a cousin of Hawkeye Pierce and Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale; in “Saturday Night Live” terms, he is Chevy Chase in “Fletch” and Eddie Murphy in “48 Hours” and the first decade of Bill Murray’s film career.
Samberg is, in fact, a little irritating — not every actor is a Murray, a Murphy or even a Chase — but when he’s not required to be smart-alecky and self-satisfied, he can be nearly as attractive as he’s meant to be. [LA Times]
Anyway, the main takeaway from almost every review is that the first episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is pretty good, not great, and that there’s plenty of room for the show to grow going forward.
The trickiest thing for Brooklyn Nine-Nine will be hitting the right tone, keeping the laughs rolling while showing that its characters’ jobs do matter. (The first case they pull, after all, is a murder.) The pilot manages that well, getting its heft not from the mystery but from the gradually revealed backstory that explains why Capt. Holt is so gung-ho to make his mark in the 99th.
If Barney Miller was a top 20 show in 1977–year of the Summer of Sam–then I’m guessing Schur, who makes Parks hilarious without undercutting its emotional or civic stakes, can strike the same balance with his co-creator Dan Goor. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is not a dark comedy, but shows promise of being a believable one, a possible successor to The Office where the characters are pounding pavement instead of pushing paper. [Time]
Case in point: Parks & Recreation.
There’s obvious chemistry between Samberg and Braugher, Braugher and Crews, and Samberg and Fumero, and a clear sense of the world and the tone of the show — basically a mix of “Barney Miller” and “M*A*S*H” DNA updated for 2013 — along with a bunch of jokes that land. That said, the pilot is more of a smile-and-nod experience than a consistent source of laughter; one of the few laugh-out-loud moments comes from a weird cameo by another “SNL”er.
But so much of what makes comedy in general and Schur’s style in particular funny involves familiarity and understanding of the characters. It took a half dozen or so episodes for Schur and Goor to know exactly how to write for Nick Offerman as uber-masculine “Parks” boss Ron Swanson, and for viewers in turn to understand all the strange things that made Ron tick, but once we all knew where we stood, it required very little for Ron’s antics (being seduced by one of his evil ex-wives, or enjoying a shoeshine much too much) to make “Parks” viewers double over with laughter. [HitFix]
I think that last point is probably the most important. Creating an ensemble comedy requires giving all the characters some level of depth and building a little universe around them. And, if you’re doing it right, that takes time. It’s why so many quality comedies — The Simpsons, The Office, Parks & Recreation, etc. — don’t really start clicking until their second or third season.
Now, that’s not to say Brooklyn Nine-Nine will end up being as good as the shows name-checked above. But I really, really want it to be. Between NBC passing on John Mulaney’s pilot and most of the comedies that did make it to air this season looking like piping hot garbage, I need something to believe in. Anything. And Mike Schur has never steered me wrong before. (Between Parks & Rec, his work on the early years of The Office, and everything FJM ever did, his track record is immaculate.)
So, yes, I will definitely be checking out Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and I will be giving it a full season to find its legs. We’ll file it under Cautiously Optimistic.