The promos, cast and timeslot all make it pretty obvious that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is not your standard police procedural. But just to be safe, Andy Samberg opens the series with a self-serious parody of cop dramas as he recites “the best monologue” from Donnie Brasco into an unseen electronics store camera. He then proceeds to ventriloquize a teddy bear nanny-cam to his partner, Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero of One Life to Live, apparently), but only after displaying a preternatural, Luther-like ability to case a crime scene.
After Santiago and Samberg’s Jake Peralta apprehend the perpetrators of the electronics store robbery, we are introduced to the main cast of characters, which includes Terry Crews (The Expendables, Arrested Development) as Sergeant Terry Jeffords, Joe Lo Truglio (Superbad) as Detective Charles Boyle, relative newcomer Stephanie Beatriz as Detective Rosa Diaz and Chelsea Peretti (Parks and Recreation) as administrative assistant Gina Linetti. Following their briefing with Sergeant Jeffords, the precinct members anxiously await the arrival of their new commanding officer. In the meantime, Samberg treats us to a combined fire extinguisher chair race (the flonkerton of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) reminiscence of the old captain and a robot impression of what he expects of the new captain. In a stroke of sitcom fortuity, Samberg’s meeping and morping is interrupted by said captain, Ray Holt (the incomparable Andre Braugher of Homicide: Life on the Street, etc.), who asserts his presence by asking that he give a command performance of his sit-down comedy routine (and wear a tie).
The cast and their characters is where the pilot of Brooklyn Nine-Nine succeeds and shows the greatest potential for future success. The jokes themselves are as-yet relatively run of the mill—indeed, many of the best were spoiled by their inclusion in the aforementioned promos—but the characters’ deliveries and interactions are generally outstanding. One joke, which felt almost like a holdover from Dads, which precedes Nine-Nine, referred to Crews’ character’s erstwhile obesity and accompanying nickname, “Terry Titties.” By itself, the joke is sloppy and a bit crass, but it is elevated by Braugher’s straight-faced response that, despite its accuracy, he did not care for the moniker. The pilot strikes a good balance of screen time for characters, leaning heavily on Samberg and Braugher to anchor the others’ occasionally cartoonish tangents. After one episode, all of the characters have charmed the audience, but it will be important to maintain this chemistry to keep the show entertaining.
Where Brooklyn Nine-Nine has yet to excel is in developing an identity or clear direction for the series. It is better to think of the series as a workplace sitcom that happens to take place in a police station rather than a procedural; however, even on The Office and 30 Rock they sometimes sold paper and wrote jokes. The utter lack of procedure is a bit jarring; in one scene Peralta and Boyle are discussing delis nearby a recent murder victim that might sell a particularly expensive ham, and in the very next scene they are accusing a surly charcuterist of homicide and chasing him through the store. The show hints at its intent to lampoon procedure when Peralta calls door-to-door interviews a waste of time, but it seems necessary to the setting to at least have the detectives do some legwork prior to arresting their criminals, lest we be asked to suspend our disbelief too thoroughly. More time (i.e. more than zero seconds) could have been committed to Peralta’s search through the records room rather than introducing a second romance (after Peralta and Santiago) between Boyle and Diaz, even if it did allow for some high-quality sassing from Peretti’s Linetti.
The pilot ends with the apprehension of Ratko the Porcophile but not before Holt reveals to Peralta that he is gay in a manner that makes it seem the writers think it’s a big deal but don’t want you to know they think that. “I don’t try to hide it,” Holt says as they flash back to his utterance of “manscaping” earlier in the episode in ultra slo-mo. Ultimately it is unclear what the writers want us to do with this information, but it is at least not a sinister backstory like you would find on a cop drama.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine showcases several good-to-exceptional talents in its premiere episode and manages to do so without embarrassing itself. But it will have to find its footing quickly if it is to find the success of other workplace comedies of the past decade.