Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “Pilot”

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s theme riffs on the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” right before Adrock comes in with the first verse (everybody now, “I can’t stand it, I know you planned it…”). It’s a nod to Spike Jonze’s epic, iconic video for the song, featuring the mustachioed-out Beasties in full on homage mode to cop shows of the ’70s. Brooklyn Nine-Nine takes that inherent goofiness and uses it as a tonal undercurrent. After all, this is a show starring Andy Samberg, who evokes a certain ridiculousness with facial expressions alone. But Brooklyn Nine-Nine feels real. No, I don’t believe that many cops spend their time fire extinguisher racing, but creators Michael Schur and Dan Goor (Parks And Recreation) are able to balance a slap-sticky light-heartedness with workplace fodder that feels of a piece with some of The Office’s stronger seasons and the loving homage inherent in Hot Fuzz.

I’ve never been a particular fan of Andy Samberg’s, who can run amok if not checked. Samberg plays Jake Peralta, the best detective in the Nine-Nine, who opens up the show with the best monologue from Donnie Brasco, and then solves a crime with the use of a nanny-cam. But Samberg doesn’t go crazy, and he doesn’t mug. He feels like a real guy around the office, badge or not. The main tension of the episode arises from the arrival of the new CO, Ray Holt (Andre Braugher). Their first scene together, wherein Holt asserts supremacy over his underling, is when Brooklyn Nine-Nine starts to get good. The great Braugher, who showed comedic chops for the first time as hapless Owen in Men Of A Certain Age, is an anchor to counterbalance Samberg’s freneticism. As Peralta hems and haws, Holt stands firm. But even by the end of just the first episode, their relationship evolves from at-odds to a simple thorn-in-the-side situation. The characters may push each other, but when it comes to trapping a criminal, they know how to come out in Charlie’s Angels formation.

I guess we’ll call it the Big Reveal: Holt is gay. But it doesn’t feel like a massive shock coming from Braugher. It’s not a secret, he says, but it explains so much about this guy. Holt doesn’t target Peralta out of a dickish desire for dominance but because he has something to prove. Holt’s sexuality gives the character depth, but, as of yet, doesn’t define him. At the same time, the joke isn’t on Holt’s sexuality, but Peralta’s complete misread of the situation. A fine foods importer is murdered by tough-turned-butcher with a jonesing for jamón ibérico. Murder isn’t supposed to be funny, but it’s the investigation that’s played for laughs, never the victim.

The most awkward part of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s first episode is a pilot necessary evil. Character introductions and plot explanation is given via monologue, first by Terry Crews’ Sgt. Jeffords and then by Chelsea Peretti’s civilian secretary Gina. Jeffords and Gina look to be the show’s most slapstick-oriented characters, and my current favorites in the ensemble. Jeffords’ physical presence belies a softness underneath. New twin girls (Cagney and Lacey!) mean he’s lost his edge, and he yearns to ride the desk.

Once referred to as Terry Titties, Jeffords explains his team to Holt. “Scully, Hitchcock, and Daniels,” he begins. “They’re pretty much worthless but they make good coffee. Now, onto the good ones…” There’s tough-as-nails Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), clumsy, affable Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio, whose shtick I never seem to tire of), and Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero, a real find), Peralta’s ambitious partner and potential love interest. Peralta and Santiago have a bet, Gina explains to Holt. If Santiago gets more arrests, she gets Peralta’s car. If Peralta gets more arrests, they go on a date (with sex, or at least over the shirt action, guaranteed). It’s a contrivance, and while I usually appreciate anything that reminds me of the movie Hackers, it’s an unnatural way to bring two people together. Still, just as I appreciate the Samberg-Braugher pairing, there’s real gold to be mined from the opposing styles of Samberg and Fumero. Emotions play out big on Samberg’s face, especially with his considerable mouth and protruding lips. But Fumero’s style is smaller and more subtle; an uncomfortable look here, a sneer there. Her ambition (she wants Holt to be her rabbi) is contrasted with his comparative slack. It’s Gina who plays the precinct’s April Ludgate-esque outsider, but she rules not with an eyeroll but a sardonic smile. She also a willing participant in the controlled chaos. Just like Holt’s sexuality, the cast is incredibly diverse for a network show without belaboring the point that it has a diverse cast. This is just the way things are in the Nine-Nine.

Stray observations:

  • I wonder how Ray Holt would deal with Homicide: Life On The Street’s lone wolf Frank Pembleton.
  • “I gorged myself at that funeral. I was constipated for three days.”
  • “I will tell you on six conditions. Number one: Let me use your office to practice my dance moves. Second…”
  • “What’s worse is Santiago hooked up with a 92-year-old.” “That’s not accurate sir.” “Wait, you hooked up with him?” “Humility over. I’m amazing.”