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Fall 2013 Review: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

18 Sep

Hanging in the Nine-Nine It’s a fantastic feeling to start the fall review season on a positive note. Andy Samberg and company had a very promising start in this new comedy from the creators of Parks and Recreation.  Samberg plays promising young police officer Jake Peralta, who is the best in his squad and making arrests, but is held back only by his immaturity and his refusal to follow any semblance of protocol.  The pilot begins with the appearance of new captain Ray Holt, a straight laced and no nonsense veteran played by Andre Braugher of Homicide, Men of a Certain Age, and the recently cancelled Last Resort. Braugher replaces Samberg’s previous captain, who had let Samberg get away with whatever he wanted.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is funny, which is just about the highest compliment a comedy can get, especially in the first episode, which is often weighed down by the need to set up the premise and introduce the characters, leaving limited time for laughs.  Samberg, coming in to the show, is very much in a similar spot that Parks & Recreation star Amy Poehler was in coming into that show.  Samberg was a breakout Saturday Night Live performer but has been perceived largely as a wacky side character rather than as a lead. Parks & Recreation creator Michael Schur channeled Poehler’s talents and made even those of us, myself included, who had come into the show not a fan of Poehler’s work, love her as Leslie Knope. Schur and co-creator Dan Goor attempt to do the same with Samberg here, and from what I’ve seen in the first episode, I have ever reason to be optimistic. Samberg manages to tone down ever-so-slightly the ridiculous persona that he made famous on SNL and in guest appearances on Parks & Recreation, and the decision of Schur and Goor to make Samberg and his coworkers quite competent was a smart one, turning Samberg’s wackiness into a asset rather than a flaw.  The change that made Parks & Recreation turn from a so-so show to one of the best comedies of the past decade was the decision to change Amy Poehler from a Michael Scott-like semi-idiot into an extremely competent and extremely likable worker with simply more than her share of eccentricities. Based on the first episode, it seems like Brooklyn Nine-Nine is putting lessons learned from Parks & Recreation into play.

Samberg works besides some very talented colleagues. Braugher, a first-ballot television hall-of-famer in my mind, brings a surprise sense of comic timing for someone who has largely plied his trade in dramatic roles. He works well as a foil for the sillier Samberg to play off of.   Samberg’s partner is Amy Santiago, played by little-known Melissa Fumero, a young up and comer like Samberg who has the no-nonsense instincts Holt’s, She a bit less dry than Braugher and so far has mostly existed to counter Samberg as well, but she had a couple of nice comic moments. On the sillier side of the cast, is civilian administrator played by Chelsea Peretti, a comedienne who is a little over-the-top for my liking in this role.  Her ratio of converted lines that are supposed to make me laugh to laughs was the lowest of any of the main cast members.Personal favorite Joe LoTrugio plays the hard-working but minimally competent Charles Doyle, who partners and crushes on scary Rosa, played by Stephanie Beatriz. LoTruglio gets the majority of the physical humor in the pilot, and sells it better than most of the other actors probably would have.  Terry Cruz plays the bureau’s sergeant, and though he doesn’t have a lot to work with in the first episode, I’ve liked what work of his I’ve seen in the past.

Not every joke took, particularly Peretti’s, and there were a couple of false starts, but that’s to be expected in comedy, a genre in which, far more so than hour long dramas, takes chemistry and comic timing which need to grow over time to really find its rhythm.  A comedy that gets even a couple of solid laughs in the pilot is worth giving a solid try, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine got more than its fair share.  Everything about this reminds me of Parks & Recreation, and while maybe that sounds derivative, there should be pride rather than any shame in imitating one of the best comedies on television. Samberg, who in unedited form, is simply out of control, can be extremely funny when handled properly.  His wackiness naturally comes out; his robot imitation in front of Braughter in the pilot is a highlight, and some of his quick silly faces are hilarious.  What he needs is someone to impose the restraint that let the silliness stand out rather than dominate.  All the evidence so far suggests this may be the perfect setting for his talents.

Will I watch it again?  Yes.  It was funny.  It has actors I like, and I like the creators’ previous work.  It has more than enough going for it to get me to a second episode, and almost certainly a third and a fourth.  This is one of the easiest decisions I imagine I’ll face all fall.  Could it get worse, or fail to evolve and be simply mediocre? Sure.  But I’d bet strongly against it. My biggest concern is that I can already see potential emotional devastation if Brooklyn Nine-Nine faces an early demise on Fox Tuesdays (RIP Ben & Kate).