September 18, 2013

TV: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Tue 8:30, Fox)

There are still some bugs to be worked out of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, many of them surrounding Andy Samberg in the lead role, but the show's got a fine ensemble, characters who feel far better developed than we normally get in a comedy pilot, and some unusual dynamics driving the relationship between the two leads.

Samberg stars as Jake Peralta, star detective of a Brooklyn police station. He's a goofball who's "learned everything except how to grow up," says one co-worker, and the other detectives in the station are a colorful assortment. Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) is Peralta's partner, a woman who takes her job a little bit too seriously. Sgt. Jeffords (Terry Crew) has been stuck on desk duty for a year since losing his edge after the birth of his daughters. Detective Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) isn't the smartest or the strongest member of the squad, but he's the hardest working; he's got a crush on his partner, Det. Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), a tough cop who takes no nonsense from anyone.

The cast is rounded out by the arrival of their new captain, Ray Holt (Andre Braugher, who manages to be surprisingly funny by playing everything with exactly the same solemn gravitas he has in drama), a well-respected veteran who's finally getting his first shot at command. He's determined to make the most of this opportunity and turn his detectives -- especially Jake -- into the best team in the city.

And here's where we have a potentially fascinating twist on the relationship between Peralta and Holt. You expect the show to be driven by conflict between the two, with Holt insisting that Peralta straighten up, and Peralta wanting to continue his clownish ways. But it turns out that the reason Holt's waited so long to be given command is that he's gay; Peralta actually respects his history as a cop and doesn't want to be the guy who screws things up now that Holt's gotten his shot. Rather than conflict, the driving force may be the two working together to improve the squad, in the process of which Jake finally learns how to grow up.

The supporting cast is terrific, and their characters already have a lived-in realness that even a good sitcom doesn't normally get to until far later in its run. The relationships among them are crisp and individual, and while each of the characters is clearly rooted in some archetype of ensemble comedy, they've each got some depth or personality beyond those archetypes.

Samberg is the show's weak link; he's still playing everything as though it were a Saturday Night Live sketch, and of all the actors, he's the least integrated into the cast. You could argue, perhaps, that this is an appropriate acting choice; Peralta is meant to be the company clown, and learning to fit in better is his likely character arc in the show. But he's taking that too far, I think, and is too stylistically separated from the ensemble.

But everything around him is so good that I'm willing to overlook that for a while. This is an extremely promising pilot.

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