When a cop comedy starring Andy Samberg, the president of private parts in beautifully-wrapped boxes and former SNL fratboy commando, first came into being, the prospects were slim. Thanks to Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine seemed destined for jokes that weren't funny, but made us laugh at the teller's sheer audacity. But we gave it a shot, determined to believe that the influence of former Office and Parks and Recreation alum Michael Schur and his creative partner Dan Goor wouldn't steer us wrong. Now, with the first half of the season accounted for, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is officially one of the best new shows of 2013 and it's on track to become even better as Fox gives it time to blossom.
Without discrediting the work of the creators and writers, the most obvious reason BK99 is working so incredibly well is that Samberg's post SNL comedy has undergone a subtle, yet wildly important makeover. Perhaps being around two guys (Schur and Goor) whose past work skews both brutally hilarious and sentimental has done him some good, but in the past few months Samberg's comedy has gained a much-needed softer side.
It began when he participated in The Comedy Central Roast of James Franco and hilariously "failed" at roasting by making each burn a dig on himself rather than the roastee. Samberg's comedic bravado coupled with a seemingly discordant sense of humility was the perfect set-up for meeting BK99's Jake Peralta, a "hot-shot" detective who's not as emotionally stupid or arrogant as he might seem. It took until the eighth episode before Peralta finally showed his capacity for caring, when he punched his hero in the face for uttering a homophobic slur about Captain Holt (Andre Braugher). Since then, this side of Peralta is rarely seen, but we know for sure what he's capable of. He's not exactly Leslie Knope, the patron saint of Parks and Rec, but he can borrow a page or two from that playbook when it really matters.
Still, a detective is only as strong as the rest of his team — at least that's what Captain Holt keeps trying to tell Peralta. Brooklyn Nine-Nine would never have succeeded were it not for the rest of the ensemble. The actors are a group of comedy misfits — Schur's true specialty -- many of whom have been unable to find success in the hands of other series and bit parts in movies. The tremendously talented and famously stern Braugher has notoriously bad luck with television shows that just can't find audiences (Men of a Certain Age and Last Resort). Joe Lo Truglio has been relegated to playing "the worst" in every film or television show he's managed to score a role in (Reno 911, I Love You, Man, and Superbad). And Terry Crews, while constantly working, is never really asked to venture outside of the role that doomed him to type-casting — the angry father on Everybody Hates Chris. Now, by asking these actors to take the traits for which they've been permanently saddled with and turning them into strengths in the name of comedy, each one of these guys has a hilarious home in the 99th precinct.
Of course, there's also Chelsea Peretti, who used to write for Parks and Rec and has quite a stand-up comedy career of her own, as City Administrator Gina Linetti. She's clearly part Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari on Parks and Rec) and part Peretti-brand weirdo, but she's the glue that holds these strange pieces together. Yes, Samberg is more often the glue from a narrative and promotional standpoint (I'm sure Fox loves being able to put him on a poster), from an ensemble angle, it's all Peretti.
She's the strangest, seemingly nonsensical person in the precinct, and like her role as the office administrator, her presence keeps the series on track. When the other characters need to get serious to move some element of the plot along, she's always there to remind us that we're watching a comedy without undermining whatever moment the other characters are having. And at the same time, she's not relegated to become some sort of comedy Tinkerbell, flitting by with a dusting of comedy when need-be. She occasionally gets in on the action herself.
And while the series is mostly comprised of men, Peretti and her fellow ladies (Stephanie Beatriz as Det. Rosa Diaz and Melissa Fumero as Det. Amy Santiago) are anything but token tough girls in the man's world of the television-bound police precinct. As the series grows we find more about these women, who are just as strange and wonderful as their cohorts, and I found a personal sense of satisfaction when the series gave Santiago and Diaz an entire story line revolving around their careers and ambitions.
Some critics have referred the episode nine plot in which Santiago gets competitive when she finds out Diaz was offered a job as a police captain in New Jersey "catty," but what I loved about it was that it wasn't a petty competition two women scratching each other's eyes out. Santiago's a walking wounded ego, driven by a sense of professional competition and neither woman reacts with a textbook sassy "well, I got here first" attitude. Rather, Diaz approaches Santiago's anger with a rather straight-forward and sweet solution by driving Santiago to the New Jersey precinct to show her just how little the captain offer really meant — the last captain quit to sell carpet because it was just that boring. It has multitudes of humanity where it would have been all too easy to have these "tough lady cops" throw down.
Ultimately, that's why Brooklyn Nine-Nine has become such a wonderful show in its first half season. The folks running it behind the scenes are well-versed in television. They know exactly how long they can let Peralta run around like a petulant child before they need to prove that sub-layer of sweetness is real. They know how to draw out Boyle's (Lo Truglia) crush on Diaz slowly without making it the obnoxious centerpiece. They know that Terry Crews practically crying when he can't build his daughter's pink princess castle is the perfect combination of easy comedy and heartbreakingly sweet writing. These folks know how to make great TV and lucky for everyone involved, they've taken Brooklyn Nine-Nine's first 11 episodes as the perfect opportunity to prove it.