Frank Anderson and collaborator Max Wolter (this article) write for The Renaissance Fan.
Andy Samberg rose to fame on the tidal waves of his oft viral “SNL Digital Shorts”. Many of these were huge hits (Dick in a Box, I’m on a Boat, Lazy Sunday), and some were forgettable. In 2013, after SNL, Samberg became the featured player in FOX’s cop comedy Brooklyn 99. For an actor whose success had previously relied on short, quotable clips and songs gaining online popularity, Samberg’s current project has demonstrated a surprising quality: consistency.
Brooklyn 99 brings together creators Daniel Goor and Michael Schur, who combined, have been involved in many of the great TV comedies of the last decade. Goor is a longtime comedy writer, with lengthy stints on The Daily Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Schur was a writer for both SNL and Parks and Rec. He also played Dwight Shrute’s enigmatic cousin Mose on The Office and did some writing there as well. With the backdrop of the NYPD’s 99th Precinct Goor and Schur have created a diverse and quirky cast that delivers plenty of laughs even with very little story. As a credit to the excellent writing, week to week Brooklyn 99 has been one of the most consistent comedies on TV, there never seems to be a dud episode.
In a cop drama the cases are the plot. You are supposed to care about who did it and whether justice is served, and the characters operate within that framework. In Brooklyn 99, a cop comedy, the cases are just something that is going on throughout the episode with very little reason for the viewer to care about if they catch the drug dealer or not. Minimizing the crime fighting aspect of the show allows the characters to interact more in the precinct, which is a much better way to deliver comedy than trying to make homicide funny week in and week out. But for viewers conditioned to 1-hour cop dramas (even lighthearted ones like Castle), the first few episodes of Brooklyn 99 that you watch may feel uncomfortable. “There’s no way the guy they just arrested did it! It’s too simple! There must be a plot twist coming!”. Nope, there isn’t (usually). It’s a 30-minute comedy. Adjust your zeal for seeing cop procedure accordingly.
Samberg’s character, Detective Jake Peralta, is not exactly an acting stretch for the SNL alum. Peralta is unabashedly juvenile, constantly sarcastic, and never takes anything seriously. It’s pretty much Samberg’s wheelhouse. He’s super comfortable in the role and it works well to have a character with such a serious occupation and the demeanor of a middle schooler. It would have been all too easy to have made the character of Jake Peralta out of the cool-cop-who’s-unfazed-by-everything mold. But Peralta is an endearing and almost vulnerable character who strives for the affections of his coworkers and boss, all the while comparing events happening around him to Die Hard, the reason he became a cop. It all works.
Peralta is joined in “The 99” by his partner and dedicated foodie Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio). The Boyle character can be cloying at times, but delivers enough weirdness (particularly related to his dad dating another cop’s mom) to make it worthwhile to have him around. Peralta’s childhood friend Gina Linetti (played by Chelsea Peretti) serves as the civilian administrative assistant for the precinct. Peretti brings a bizarre confidence to the glittery sweater-wearing, dance enthusiast, and self-declared cultural icon that is Gina. Terry Crews plays Sargent Terry Jeffords. Crews (of Old Spice commercial fame) isn’t exactly a comedy dynamo. But he’s serviceable, and his presence sets up lots of great drooling from Gina.
Other precinct inhabitants include the duo of Hitchcock and Scully (Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller). Michael Schur may have borrowed a move from his time at Parks and Rec by introducing not one, but two Jerry Gergich-esque characters into Brooklyn 99. Like Jerry, Hitchcock and Scully exist to be the brunt of everyone elses' jokes and scorn. And they take it all without getting their feelings hurt so that you can feel comfortable laughing at them too! It’s a neat little comedy trick. Detectives Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago (Stephanie Beatriz and Melissa Fumero) round out the crew (Brookyln 99 gets props for having a cast that’s made up of two-thirds Hispanic women, you don’t see that often). One weak point in the show is the romantic connection between Santiago and Peralta. While cute, it lacks any semblance of real spark. Jim and Pam they are not.
“The 99” is supervised by Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher of The Wire). Holt is stone-faced, consummately professional, anti-fun, high-brow, gay, meticulous, and hilarious. Braugher’s dead pan delivery is impeccable and scene stealing. The reluctant (on Holt’s part) budding mentorship between Holt and Peralta is one of the better recurring themes of the show.
Now three seasons in, Brooklyn 99 is at a point where it might start to show its age soon. Through its junior year, the lighthearted cop comedy has been one of the most consistent, though not always adventuresome, sources of laughs on TV (certainly on network TV). Will they be able to maintain that consistency beyond their third year and move into the league of long-running great network comedies like 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, or Frasier? Or will the cop show setting finally start to feel more like a limitation than an inspiration for comedy? With the excellent cast and well developed characters we suspect it will be the former. This is a show with enough talent that we’d watch them just hand out parking tickets for a couple more seasons.