Since 2007, TV Club has dissected television episode by episode. Beginning this September, The A.V. Club will also step back to take a wider view in this, our new TV Reviews section. With pre-air reviews of new shows, returning favorites, and noteworthy finales, the TV Reviews section doesn't replace TV Club—as usual, some shows will get the weekly treatment—but it adds a look at a bigger picture.
The current make of Fox sitcom is a Trojan horse: The majority of the network’s Tuesday nights are occupied by comedies that hook viewers with a known quantity—Zooey Deschanel, Mindy Kaling, and now Andy Samberg on Brooklyn Nine-Nine—but inspire loyalty with colorful, endearing supporting casts. It’s a model based on the balance New Girl struck midway through its first season, and it’s one The Mindy Project seems increasingly aiming toward, even if Dr. Mindy Lahiri remains far better drawn than any of her OB/GYN associates. This is a conclusion Brooklyn Nine-Nine appears to have arrived at earlier than either aforementioned show, its bullpen camaraderie locked down from the cold open on. That doesn’t just outpace its network cohorts—it also laps the last show co-creators Michael Schur and Dan Goor worked on, Parks And Recreation.
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.
Performance is key in the first episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but there’s strong storytelling at work here, too. Like the Samberg-Braugher relationship, it’s part of a delicate give-and-take: The show depends on the instant chemistry generated by its leads, which enlivens the police-procedural framework (and vice versa). That genre has grown increasingly grim in recent years, so it’s refreshing to see wisecracks underlining, rather that juxtaposing, the details of an investigation. Yes, it’s a murder investigation, but the cops of Brooklyn Nine-Nine take their jobs seriously and the episode doesn’t dwell on the gory details—the joke is never on the victim, only on the culprit and the detectives on his trail. Still, this is a fundamentally lighthearted universe: The ammo in the premiere episode’s big grocery-store showdown would be harmful only to the lactose intolerant.
Schur has increasingly weaned Parks And Rec off of the most explicit mockumentary conceits, but after nearly a decade of working in that style (three of which were spent with Goor), its traits are embedded in his work. By way of pulling viewers into the 99th precinct, Braugher and Crews each receive monologues that would be talking heads in an alternate-universe version of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The most surprising development of the pilot arrives in a long speech by Braugher, whose gravitas keep the reveal from being too blunt—but for its first half-hour, at least, this is a new show speaking in older shows’ language.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a tight, funny pilot where the energy of the cast salvages the few down moments. Still, it lays some possible traps for the rest of the series, not the least of which is the ever-present temptation of cop-show cliché. This isn’t Police Squad!, but it’s not about to pretend like its creative staff hasn’t absorbed each and every Lethal Weapon film or Law & Order spin-off. Braugher himself starred in one of the 1990s’ most important pieces of pop-culture policing, Homicide: Life On The Street; it’s only fair that he participates in one of the pilot’s best bits of trope-bursting, a deadpan torpedoing of prescriptive one-liners of the “the only case this detective can’t crack” variety. It’s been a long time since a TV comedy set in this world had any legs—even the small-screen adventures of Lieutenant Frank Drebin could only sustain six episodes. But as long as Brooklyn Nine-Nine keeps its eye on character, it should be fine.
And that’s what’s most heartening about the show’s pilot: Its central mysteries involve its protagonists figuring one another out. Looking inward is a line of investigation that can go a long way for a sitcom, and Samberg and Braugher show no signs of closing the book on each other any time soon. (Nor do Samberg and Melissa Fumero, or Lo Truglio and Stephanie Beatriz, and so on.) The biggest laughs from the first episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine come from Braugher calling Samberg “Meep Morp,” not a pair of detectives sustaining heavy, gourmet-food fire. And if Fox Tuesday nights are going to become the most envied stable of comedies on the broadcast networks (a title it’s been eyeing for the past two falls), that’s precisely the target its shows should be aiming for.
Created by: Michael Schur and Dan Goor
Starring: Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Melissa Fumero, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Stephanie Beatriz
Debuting: Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on Fox
Format: Single-camera half-hour sitcom
One episode watched for review
Reviews of Brooklyn Nine-Nine by Molly Eichel will appear weekly.