End of Season Report: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 1

2 Apr

The team at the nine-nine

 

The bounds of genres are constantly blurring these days and not everything which broadly fits in the box labeled “comedy” has the same exact aims, which make these shows harder to compare against one another than ever before. If a comedy is laugh-out-loud funny, then it’s succeeded regardless of anything else. Some comedies, however, may be less funny, but have captivating characters or plots, and those are also worth watching regardless of anything else. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is at its best hilarious; it doesn’t attempt character development or serial plots and that’s okay. Girls isn’t as funny but it focuses on character and fascinating themes and that’s good too. Shows like Parks and Recreation meet somewhere in the middle. Parks and Recreation has probably been my favorite comedy of the past few years, but that’s not to say that a funnier show that’s lighter on characterization or vice versa couldn’t ascend to the top spot if it’s simply that good at what it does well. In fact, my favorite two comedies this past year were Eagleheart which is hyper-absurd and hilarious but takes place in a world without any sort of consistent characterization, and Enlightened, whose status as a comedy mostly boils down to the fact that it’s a half hour; it’s more depressing than most of the serious drama series currently airing.

That’s not specifically relevant to Brooklyn Nine-Nine more than any other new comedy, but these thoughts were consuming my headspace as I considered Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s first season, its progression, and expectations for future seasons.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the best new comedy of the season. It’s funny right off the bat. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s closest analogue is Parks and Recreation, which is no coincidence as it’s created by Parks and Recreation veterans Dan Goor and Michael Schur. The episodes have been relatively consistent from the start, certainly by new comedy standards, and some of the characters that I didn’t love early on I’ve warmed to over the course of the season (Rosa and Gina in particular).

Goor and Schur have managed to tap Andy Samberg’s manic energy and apply a solid dose of restraint which smartly keeps his character from being over the top. One of the lessons learned from the creators’ experience was to follow the Leslie Knope rather than the Michael Scott model – Samberg’s Jake Peralta may be an immature doofus but he’s relentlessly competent at his job.  This core competency allows his other silly qualities to serve as distractions and potential detriments, while the viewer is able to understand why those around him put up with him.

Certainly the characters aren’t fully formed but that’s okay. Everybody started out with a type – Jake is immature, Rosa stoic and scary, Amy a by-the-book go-getter, Charles, a klutz, Captain Holt, dry and indecipherable, Terry, strong but gentle, and Gina just a total weirdo. The show worked its way from there, feeling around, mixing and matching characters, which is what most good comedies do, allowing actors and characters to find their strengths. There’s still some work to be done on the character development front, but the progress is there – the characters feel much more like people than they did at the start of the season. Charles, for example, soon became the resident foodie; while this hobby was mined for laughs, the point was also made that Charles actually did have great taste, and it gave him a positive quality to stand on rather than simply always serving as a lackey to Jake. Likewise, Gina, while definitely still the cast weirdo (we haven’t mentioned Hitchcock and Scully, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s two headed answer to Parks and Recreation’s Jerry, but they’re not really fully-fledged characters in this sense) got her chance to shine when she showed she knew how to pick the best computer expert for the district to hire.

Two major plot points over the course of the season are worth discussing. First, the writers chose to go in the direction of potential romance between Jake and Amy. That’s fine, but all things being even I’d have preferred they didn’t. As I’ve trumpeted many times before, one of my favorite aspects of 30 Rock was the fact that its primary two characters were iron-clad platonic friends, and there aren’t enough comedies that follow that model. It won’t seriously affect my enjoyment of the show, and who knows, I’ll probably be rooting for the two of them to get together eventually. Still, I’d like to at least once for the record put down my small objection to this choice.

The second is, and I think and hope they’ve gone away from this for good, Charles’ unrequited crush on Rosa. This is putting it mildly; if it was just an unrequited crush, it’d be fine at least for a while, but it felt dangerously creepy and it made me uncomfortable watching a show that otherwise is not in for particularly awkward comedy. Fortunately, Charles found a love interest halfway through the season, and although she’s no longer part of the show, I hope that the creators learned a lesson. I wonder if the writers were thinking this exactly when they placed a fake out in the season finale – Charles wakes up next to someone after a drunken night getting over his breakup, and while I was terrified it was Rosa, it was rather Gina, which should lead to funnier and less relatively uncomfortable circumstances.

Within a few episodes, my friends and I were quoting memorable lines from the show, and in my circle, quotation is an important currency for a comedy. While it’s not a one-to-one relationship, if a show gets quoted a lot, it’s probably high up in the collective comedy rankings. Sample recurring Brooklyn Nine-Nine quotes include everything about Charles’ pizza blog and Terry’s forgetting how to breathe.

I’m very happy with the show’s first season, but it is a first season, and f it continues to grow, Brooklyn Nine-Nine could be the new Parks & Recreation by the time that Parks & Recreation (I hate to admit it, but it can’t last forever) is off the air. Those are big shoes to fill, but a season’s worth of Brooklyn Nine-Nine has me hopeful that this show has that in it.

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