17
Sep
2013
Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season 1, Episode 1
Pilot
Jordan
And now for my yearly speech, given at the outset of each pilot season (or at least, in my first review): pilots are a difficult beast. There’s the weight of exposition, the need to give viewers a feel for what this show will look like every week, and the necessity of giving them something to come back for. Sitcom pilots are an even tougher nut to crack. With all of that narrative and character pressure, where is the room to actually be funny in the first half hour of a show? In addition to that, sitcoms tend to get vastly better over the course of their first season, as a show has time to figure out what works and what doesn’t and learns to play to its strengths. All this is to say, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the rare pilot that seems to arrive fully formed out of the gate. It is a fun, funny half hour that orients us in its setting, introduces its characters, and actually manages to be funny and emotionally satisfying at the same time.

Part of this is the pedigree. Created by Parks and Rec vets Dan Goor and Michael Schur, and starring a murderer’s row of great actors and great comedians including Andy Samberg, Joe Lo Truglio, Chelsea Peretti and Andre Braugher, the show comes to the plate with an incredibly high batting average. It also smartly eschews the mockumentary format that Goor and Schur strapped themselves to (and seem to have found increasingly useless) on Parks, which is immediately endearing to me, and which forces them to show as well as tell here. There is the obligatory speech summarizing each character (delivered by Terry Crews’ gun-shy Sergeant Terry Jeffords), but the episode makes this into a joke, and by the end, it more than proves it could have gotten by without such exposition. We know these characters by the end because we’ve seen them in action.

The story here is pretty straightforward. Detective Jake Peralta (Samberg) and his partner Detective Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) have an ongoing competition to see who can get the most arrests. He is a man-child wunderkind, she is a hyper-competent ball of ambition. There’s sexual tension, because of course there is, but mostly, these two like to catch bad guys. With the help of the clumsy but hardworking Detective Charles Boyle (Lo Truglio) and his object of affection, the tough, street smart Detective Rose Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), the team hopes (with help from Peretti’s administrator) to cut the crime rate and please their new Captain, Ray Holt (Braugher).

Cop comedies can be hard to pull off because too often, they make light of crime or mock the victims. Brooklyn Nine-Nine sidesteps both of these by making the jokes character-based and focused more on the officers than on their cases. The murder at the center of the episode is straightforward, but it’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t feel out of place on any police procedural. It’s the speedo-wearing boy and his team of malcontents chasing the murderer that makes for a lot of fun. Samberg is basically doing his schtick here, which has varying degrees of effectiveness for me, but it mostly lands here. Lo Truglio nails nervous ineffectuality with ease, and could quickly become this show’s answer to Jerry on Parks. Crews is increasingly proving he is a comedic force to be reckoned with (having Arrested Development on the resume never hurts in this regard), and Braugher brings his forceful gravitas to the role but doesn’t leave his bone-dry wit behind.

Though the episode mostly focuses on laughs, it also allows for a little pathos, as it shades in Captain Holt as a character. His story makes sense, and it instantly endears him to Peralta, who will probably be at odds with him on an ongoing basis going forward. Again, the show seems to slide towards a Ron Swanson-Leslie Knope dynamic with these two from the start, and while I have no doubt it will differentiate itself in time, this is a good place to start. Goor and Schur learned lessons from the flawed first season of Parks, and they are applying them here with ease.

The pilot introduces everyone and makes us care about them as much as we can care about characters we’ve only known for 22 minutes. But perhaps most importantly, its funny, and its funny in various ways. Braugher is witty enough on his own, but the show juxtaposes his coldly authoritative presence constantly for humor. And Samberg’s immaturity is counterbalanced by his competence. There are physical gags (Lo Truglio has trouble with a muffin and we flash back to see why Crews is on administrative leave), wordplay, and character-based humor. Brooklyn Nine-Nine packs a lot into its first episode, and all it offers is promising. This is not a perfect episode of television, but as pilots go, its pretty damn good, and more than enough to ensure I’ll be back next week.

Grade: B+

Notes:

-I’m going to cover the show on a weekly basis going forward. This pilot is strong enough that I think we could be in for an excellent freshman season, and I want to be along for the ride.

-“Good news for all you murder fans!”

-“She’s got a type. Which is really anyone but you.” “Yeah, that was my ex-wife’s type too.”

-“That’s a terrible robot voice.”

-“The only puzzle he hasn’t solved…is how to grow up.” “That was…very well put.” “I’ve talked a lot about Jake in my department-mandated therapy sessions.”

-“Speaking of ties, where’s yours, Meep-Morp?” “Fantastic. Captain, hey, welcome to the murder…”

-“I’ll do it. I’ll pick a better movie than Citizen Kane.”

-“Looks like we all got door duty.” “Oh yeah. From before. Good one.”

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