It begins with Andy Samberg facing the camera straight on, appearing to break the fourth wall to introduce the same old, cliched lines about how cop work can break a man. Just when the joke is on the edge of feeling stale, the camera pans out to show Samberg's Jake Peralta and his partner, Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), in an electronics store. Peralta is messing with the multiple TV cameras, trades barbs with Santiago, and proceeds to brilliantly solve the crime.
That playful edge persists in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a show that flirts with convention like the partners flirt with each other, but never crosses the line into Borings-ville. It's exactly what I would expect from the minds behind The Office and Parks and Recreation. The camera style of Brooklyn matches those shows, but the producers have gotten sharper. There is no rough-season-one-footing that plagued the predecessors. This comedy is standing on its own legs straight out of the gate.
While I fretted with the Andy Samberg-centric nature of the preview, the pilot itself recognizes this pratfall and skillfully avoids it. The ensemble is completely rounded out, using characters to play off each other and keep one another in check. In doing so, the world of the 99th precinct is a vibrant environment, no mere cardboard cutout of cop comedy. There's not really the straight man and the comedian--although the bandied lines between Jake Peralta and new captain Ray Holt might seem like such at the surface. Instead, each character gets their chance at the deadpan stare and at off-the-wall comedy. Even the stony-faced Holt gets to enter the world of the bizarre with the flashback to his capture of the Disco Strangler.
The pilot is so much better than the preview would let on, and this is coming from someone who generally enjoyed the preview. In a wise move by the editors, almost every single trailer joke is built on in the actual episode. What could have seemed just as by-the-numbers as your typical cop show is instead elevated to offer laughs that are unexpected and disarming. In my preview review, I cited Terry Crews's line about Peralta's failure to grow up as being eye-rollingly lame. In the actual episode, this is followed by a rapid-fire exchange between him and Captain Ray Holt that makes that joke one of my favorites. In a few words, it manages to turn the entire hokey introductory section into a cutting and self-deprecating character commentary. It takes some serious chops to do that, and I want to slow-applause the writers for that one.
But if there are kudos to be given among the superb cast of actors, they belong to Andre Braugher and his portrayal of Ray Holt. I could watch his face fail to emote forever. Every single punchline is brutally killed by this man, as he delivers a steadfast deadpan accompanied by quick quips that quickly dress down his staff and leave me incapacitated with the giggles.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine exhibits a maturity and comfort that few sitcoms have in the first couple of episodes, let alone in the pilot. These characters feels like friends already, and are people that I want to spend time with--from Chelsea Perritti's strange and ditzy Gina, to Terry Crews's fallen tough guy Terry Jeffords, a man who is actively afraid of seeing any action in the field. Now it's just a matter of seeing if the writers can keep things feeling this natural, and not play a Glee and abandon likable characters for improbable plots. Somehow, I'm not too worried.
-How long do you think it will take them to make a "Damn, Gina!" joke? My bet is five minutes into the next episode.
-In the closing chase sequence, the music cues into some serious funk-inspired riffs. These creators love them some genre, and bless them for that. It shows from the tip of the block-lettered title card to the names of the perps (Ratko? How seventies).