Ah, Fall. The time of year when the pumpkins are ripe, the leaves fall and major networks trot out a fresh crop of tv shows. While I’d say there’ve been some disappointments (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and outright garbage (Dads) in the mix, the most pleasant surprise so far has been Fox’s decision to gamble on a handful of oddball genre shows in the form of Almost Human, Brooklyn-Nine Nine and Sleepy Hollow. Could this be the first of a new wave of shows to compete with the kind of unique programming usually reserved for Netflix or, to a lesser extent, AMC? Since all three of these shows are high-concept cop shows, we figured the best way to discuss them would be if Max Robinson teamed up with a different Deadshirt writer on each show in a three-part article we’re calling Partner Up.
Max: On the surface, a show like Brooklyn Nine-Nine could really go either way. It’s a sitcom about a New York City police precinct, kinda lends itself to “limp along for three episodes, get cancelled and forgotten”. But Dan Goor and Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation) have put together a really promising new comedy! Getting into it with me today is Deadshirt-er Sam “Bill” Paxton. Sam!
Sam: Howdy, Max! Frankly, this was a show I was initially not very excited about. The promos really didn’t do any favors, and I had reservations about whether Andy Samberg’s over-the-top schtick would get old too quickly. But then I watched the pilot, and was pleasantly surprised! Samberg is definitely more reserved than we’ve seen him before, and the show doesn’t focus on him nearly as much as I expected it to.
Max: Yeah it’s very enthusiastically an ensemble comedy and it’s so much better because they don’t spend too much time on Samberg’s slacker detective Peralta, the supporting cast is decently fleshed out even by the end of the pilot.
Sam: That was definitely what struck me most as well – for a pilot, the show is surprisingly confident. From the outset, the characters are well-defined and it’s obvious that the cast has good chemistry. It really isn’t that shocking, considering Schur is responsible for what I consider to be one of the strongest ensemble comedies currently on TV (Parks & Rec).
Max: It’s definitely the successor to Parks and Recreation (which is pretty much on its way out the door) in that it’s a show that’s very good at getting you to like its characters. They both tell pretty similar stories but Brooklyn Nine-Nine wisely ditches the pretty half-hearted documentary format that P&R got saddled with back when it was a Xerox copy of The Office.
Sam: One of my big fears for this show was that it would end up as another mockumentary series – The Office pulled it off well enough, but Parks pretty much uses it as a device to get funny talking head segments, and could do without it. Brooklyn substitutes the interviews for flashback sequences, which are usually pretty funny, but can break up the pacing of the show a little bit. I can agree that the characters are exceedingly likable, though; that in and of itself is enough to keep me coming back week-to-week.
Max: It’s definitely a show with some growing pains, they’re definitely still figuring out some big elements like the flashbacks. First seasons of sitcoms, more than any kind of show, seem like they have a real learning curve. You get the sense that Schurr and co. understand that, which is why this first season’s been chugging along pretty slowly but steadily.
Sam: Yeah, it seems like they’re really doing their due diligence to flesh out all the characters bit-by-bit, rather than just give us a whole bunch of Samberg’s character up front and play catch up with everyone else later. The show is much more compelling for having a full stable of characters who can be paired off or even carry an A-plot this early into the show’s run.
Max: And they all feel really fresh? Andre Braugher’s Captain Holt is a great character because he’s the required hardass but they give a pretty solid explanation for why he’s that way right off the bat. (He’s gay, and since this is his first command, he feels he has to prove himself more than anyone else.) And getting Terry Crews to play this super-muscular dude who’s secretly the sweet den mother of this police precinct is inspired.
Sam: The show does a great job of subverting normal character tropes, for sure. My personal favorites are Chelsea Peretti’s Gina, who comes across as an airhead but often ends up reading and understanding people better than anyone else; and Joe Lo Truglio’s Boyle, who bumbles a lot but is probably the kindest and most upbeat person in the precinct. Like Parks and Rec, Brooklyn enjoys surprising the viewer with its characters, and the overarching attitude of the show is kind and friendly, unlike a lot of the mean-spiritedness that drives modern comedies (*cough DADS cough*).
Max: I think my only serious issue with Brooklyn Nine-Nine is that they’ve been leaning heavy on the formula of “Peralta fucks up, Holt gets angry at him”. It’s excusable in the first season but I’m hoping towards the end of the season/into the next season they push some subplots forward (Like the Diaz/Boyle romance) and maybe take some risks.
Sam: True. The show is much more enjoyable when Peralta is portrayed as competent, which only seems to happen about half the time. (Seriously, isn’t one of his defining traits that he’s an “excellent” detective? I wouldn’t conclude that from what we’ve seen so far). Peralta’s antics can sometimes distract from the other characters having their own things to do; because they have to rally around him, his story drives the plot more often than not. I get that that’s an easy way to build these characters up as teammates and friends, but the writers go back to that well a little too often.
Max: I will say it’s actually pretty impressive how well they’ve managed to merge the aesthetics of police procedural with the zany sitcom stuff. Tone-wise, you’d think that’d be kinda tricky but so far they’re striking a nice balance.
Sam: Generally, these are people who are ridiculous, but also good at their jobs. Usually those are kind of mutually exclusive, but it works here. With a lot of my favorite shows gone (The Office, 30 Rock) or on the rocks (Community), Brooklyn Nine-Nine has turned out to be probably my favorite new show this season, and other people must agree too. It does pretty well in the ratings and it recently got the order for a full 22-episode season. It’s nice to see Fox building a really solid stable of single-cam comedies.
Max: I’m really happy to hear that it sounds like it’s getting an audience! Network comedies with even halfway good first seasons are so rare and the ensemble cast is just killer, I’d be bummed if this gets cut down before it can really stretch its wings.
NEXT: Jen Overstreet and Max talk about the masterclass in bonkers high-concept shows, Sleepy Hollow