The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has a history of honoring new sitcoms; since the 1970s, the Golden Globe for Best Television Series (Musical Or Comedy) has been awarded to a show’s rookie season more than a dozen times. Still, when the cast and producers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine took the stage to accept the Globes’ top TV comedy prize last month—beating out the previous year’s winner, Girls, and the well-decorated likes of Parks And Recreation, The Big Bang Theory, and Modern Family—it was a surprise. But it wasn’t a surprise without precedent.
The unspoken provision here—beyond the HFPA’s dubious standards for quality—is that no comedy so early in its run is the “best” on TV. Comedy is a medium that thrives on the fresh and the new, but it also needs time. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a sitcom that emerged with remarkable confidence and a winningly lived-in tone, but it’s still a first-season show. Relationships need time to settle. Performers need time to find their characters. Writers and producers need time to find the rhythms that are right for their show. For Brooklyn Nine-Nine, these characteristics weren’t in place until after the last snockered celebrity wobbled away from the final Golden Globes after-party.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s 13th episode, “The Bet,” is the surest sign that this very good show might someday be a great one. For once, it goes through no great pains to re-introduce the members of the 99th precinct to the audience. In tying together a number of ongoing storylines—like a wager between Detectives Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Santiago (Melissa Fumero)—some exposition is necessary. Yet, “The Bet” is the first episode of the series where its characters are simply allowed to be. While a victorious Peralta ferries Santiago around New York on an intentionally terrible date, their co-workers bounce off of one another while celebrating injured-and-honored bullpen stooge Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio). When a medicated Boyle gets startlingly honest with his fellow cops, it’s hilarious, because the previous 12 episodes established Boyle’s everyday meekness. When Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher) can’t keep himself from uncovering secrets about another officer, it’s even funnier—these are the stoic leader’s first on-screen mistakes, and he keeps making them.
“The Bet” is a prime example of Brooklyn Nine-Nine as a character comedy in a high-concept comedy’s clothes. The big risk posed by its pilot and its premise is that of procedural storytelling: Make a workplace sitcom about the police, and the topic of police work has to at least be broached. With few exceptions—Craig Robinson in a guest appearance as the “Pontiac Bandit,” the climactic showdown that led to Boyle’s injury—Dan Goor, Michael Schur, and the show’s writers let the badge inform personalities, rather than stories. It’s a versatility that serves Brooklyn Nine-Nine well: In this world, being a cop is about butting heads with pompous firefighters, fretting over the sergeant’s kids, and capturing bad guys.
Using the show’s ostensible lead to sell all three of those points is the major challenge facing the back end of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s first season. The show came out of the Beverly Hilton with two pieces of hardware this past January: The big series win, in addition to a Best Actor award for the fifth-best part of the ensemble, Andy Samberg. That’s no knock on the Saturday Night Live alum—this is a strong cast that’s grown stronger over the course of the season. Lacking Terry Crews’ gonzo energy or Lo Truglio’s knack with a pratfall, the most distinguishing features of Samberg’s character come from the writers’ room. By dropping hints about Peralta’s childhood—raised by a single mom; adopting a crime reporter as a role model—the show illuminates his chosen profession as well as his puckish on-the-job behavior. These are never Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s most elegant passages, but that strain should be expected. The writers are scripting the kind of color for their star that Braugher or Stephanie Beatriz possess in a simple scowl.
To live up to the mantle bestowed upon it at the Golden Globes, Brooklyn Nine-Nine still needs to make some improvements. Samberg could stand to come alive in the same manner as his co-workers; Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller could be integrated into the ensemble in ways that don’t involve them playing gross-out punching bags. But those are the types of moves a show can make in time—it took a couple years of Parks And Recreation for Jim O’Heir to play gross and human—and time is something that Brooklyn Nine-Nine can buy with those Golden Globes. Meanwhile, it’s effortlessly cultivated a crackerjack sense of ensemble play—to the point where celebrating a single member of the cast is absurd. Brooklyn Nine-Nine couldn’t build one of the best first seasons in recent memory (there’s a more accurate superlative) on the back of one character or one actor. That requires the collective burst of celebration prompted by Peralta’s victory in “The Bet,” or the detectives’ continued inability to read their new commanding officer. (And Braugher’s slightly masked amusement with that befuddlement.) If it took such a short time for Brooklyn Nine-Nine to get this good, and it continues to improve, imagine how good it’ll be a year from now.
Created by: Michael Schur and Dan Goor
Starring: Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Melissa Fumero, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Stephanie Beatriz
Airs: Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Fox
14 episodes watched for review