Brooklyn Nine-Nine: the best new sitcom no-one has heard of yet

With Breaking Bad finished, The Walking Dead on a mid-season break and the fourth season of Game of Thrones still months away, I was keen to find another television series to get my teeth stuck into. A friend of mine suggested Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a new sitcom on Fox (aired in the UK on E4 since January) about a group of detectives in New York, starring Andy Samberg (Saturday Night Live and one third of The Lonely Island).

In all honesty, my initial reaction to hearing about a cop show led by someone I associate with songs about premature ejaculation and how to put their manhood in a box, was to give it a miss. Nevertheless, I trust my friend’s judgement on most things TV related and when I discovered that Dan Goor and Michael Schur from the excellent Parks and Recreation created the show, I decided to give the pilot a try. I am so glad I did.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is set in the 99th precinct of the New York City Police Department and follows a group of detectives who come under a new captain’s leadership. The story centers on the relationship between Samberg, who plays Detective Jake Peralta and Andre Braugher as Captain Ray Holt. The comedic brilliance of pairing these two characters becomes apparent very quickly with Peralta, a gifted yet immature detective who is very much anti-establishment, juxtaposed with Captain Holt, a no-nonsense leader who puts down Peralta’s antics in a hilariously dead-pan manner. It is a win-win combination of Samberg’s loud and energetic presence offset by Braugher’s almost statuesque one.

The supporting cast is excellent too, with each character offering something different to the dynamics of the group. Detective Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) is very ambitious and a competitive threat to Peralta to be the best detective in the team. The intimidating Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) prides herself on the fact that none of her colleagues know much about her background, adding a layer of mystery to the character. Detective Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) is the hard-working yet utterly incompetent member who seems to unintentionally rub his colleagues the wrong way. Detective Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) is the group’s leader and acts as the intermediary between them and Captain Holt. He has lost his nerve out in the field and prefers to be behind a desk since the birth of his twin daughters, Cagney and Lacey. The office’s administrator Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti) is brilliant in providing insights on her colleagues with an acerbic twist. Finally, Detectives Michael Hitchcock and Norm Scully offer the physical comedy within the group, the former having a penchant for removing his shirt and the latter for being a little creepy around women.

The show’s greatest strength is in its treatment of the characters and the potential for their character development, which gives the show numerous avenues to explore and therefore longevity.

With Peralta, the show’s producers have been clever in portraying his inyourface personality in a likeable enough manner so that viewers do not find him irritating. We are made aware that he had a difficult upbringing, which helps to bring us closer to the character, so it will be intriguing to see how his childhood perhaps affected the way he is now.

As I mentioned earlier, the role of Captain Holt helps to alleviate and balance out some of Peralta’s behaviour and it is the way Holt deals with him that makes us like both without taking sides. Like Peralta, we can empathise with the character who has had to face barriers in his career for being black and openly gay, so we are cheering him on to do well. Braugher executes the poker face and monotone delivery brilliantly and it is refreshing to see a gay character played in such a manner.

However, this is not the Peralta and Holt show and the supporting cast often have scene stealing moments with interesting story arcs. Terry Jeffords is a large physical presence but has become a real softy since his twins were born. Heis afraid to return to duty and this inner battle with himself will be really interesting to follow. The scene where he struggles to build a princess’ castle is one of the highlights of the season so far. Aside from Detective Boyle’s ineptitude and lack of hand-eye coordination bringing the laughs, his portrayal as a foody is a genius move from the writers – the Sal’s Pizza episode his finest moment yet. His attraction to Detective Diaz offers highly amusing interactions between the two and by the writers slowly revealing little nuggets of information about Diaz’s past, viewers are kept invested in her character.

There are areas of the show that do need attention. Over recent weeks, the flirting between Peralta and Santiago has been ramped up with more time devoted to the ‘will they or won’t they’ situation, a standard sitcom tool. This is fine to a point and I often enjoy these types of storylines, but it should supplement the plot rather than be the focus of it, which can dilute the quality of the episodes. The roles of Hitchcock and Sully need to be evaluated by either integrating them more into the main group, or writing them out of the show. At the moment, they enhance the show’s slapstick scenes but I am not sure what they bring to the storyline.

Still, the show’s creators have found the right formula for an effective comedy cop show, which is a notoriously difficult genre to get right. Crime is more suited to a serious drama, like The Wire or Homicide: Life on the Streets (the latter starring Braugher). The writers recognise this by using crime as an underlying theme, where episodes are remembered for the characters’ comedic behaviours on the job rather than the details of the crime themselves.

With a sharp script set at a vibrant pace, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has become a hit with the critics, yet the show has not yet had the ratings success it deserves. However, as the surprise winner of two Golden Globes, the show will have increased attention and looks likely to stay on our screens for a while yet.

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