So many TV shows, even successful ones, are about mashing up two things that have worked elsewhere and making them seem fresh by contrast. 30 Rock is The Mary Tyler Moore Show with the frenetic joke pace of The Simpsons. Boardwalk Empire is the storytelling of The Sopranos with the high-toned gloss of Martin Scorsese films. True originals can be wonderful things, but there are some genres that deserve to get repeated over and over again, plus whatever flavor helps them seem current for the moment.
So, inevitably, we get Brooklyn Nine Nine, which is the meat-and-potatoes cop show (Law & Order) combined with modern hipster Brooklyn (Girls), embodied in the pilot by its star Andy Samberg. The pilot episode has some inevitably thin sketches of Samberg's Detective Jake Peralta and the people who surround him, but it also quickly establishes itself as markedly progressive and modern, proving that it's not just lifting artisanal ham and Samberg's hoodies from the titular borough. Andre Braugher's Captain Ray Holt is already fairly famous for being openly, nonchalantly gay, but there's also the tough-ass Detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), amiable goofball Detective Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) and former NFL player Terry Crews as Sergeant Terry Jeffords, a former tough guy rendered a complete weenie after the birth of his daughters.
The story of the pilot episode is a quickly dispatched murder case, with that touch of artisanal ham (and a cameo from Fred Armisen) to elevate its routine plot. But this is a comedy, of course, and there are enough solid jokes to both introduce the characters and keep the story running. The comedy runs a huge gamut, from basic pop culture references (Samberg kicks things off by reciting a speech from Donnie Brasco) to schoolyard taunts (Crews's old nickname is "Terry Titties") to some gloriously odd nonsense, like when Lo Truglio proves he's a klutz by dropping and stepping on a muffin while also hitting his head-- "I muffined my head!" Flashbacks, one of many elements that makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine feel like a child of 30 Rock, pop up intermittently for all kinds of purposes, from simple sight gags (Braugher in a 70s Gheri curl wig) to random character beats that didn't seem to fit in the main story. None of them are as weird and punchy as an average 30 Rock flashback, but neither were 30 Rock's when it started.
The flashbacks show the most promise when watching Peralta "solve" the mystery of Holt's sexuality, and there's a lot of potential to combine complex Arrested Development-style joke structure with actual mystery solving down the road. With so many characters to introduce, and the reluctant mentor relationship between Holt and Peralta to establish, the Brooklyn Nine-Nine pilot understandably doesn't have time to get there. But we're living in a great time for complex dramatic stories in all kinds of genres, from the bonkers developments on Scandal to the Greek tragedy of Breaking Bad, and it would be great to see Brooklyn Nine-Nine tackle some tricky dramatic arcs with the same fast-paced humor it shows here. With Parks & Recreation veterans Mike Schur and Daniel J. Goor behind this show, there's definitely enough ambition behind the scenes to make that possible.
Even if Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn't revolutionize the cop show format, it shakes up the formula enough with its cast of characters to offer something worth watching-- seeing Andre Braugher back in stern cop mode is itself enough to recommend it. As a Brooklynite, I'm eager to see my borough, and even the actual exterior of my local police precinct, get the Law & Order precinct. As a fan of the many different kinds of network TV comedy these days, I'm eager to see yet another new niche get carved out. The procedure-com? The cops-and-comics show? We'll work on some titles and get back to you.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine premieres on FOX on Tuesday, September 17 at 8:30 p.m. You can click here to learn more about it.