Sep 18, 2013

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: “Pilot”

By Josh Oakley


The first episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine does something that almost every sitcom pilot fails to accomplish: it gets almost every single thing right. The jokes mostly land, the cast connects to each other and the material, and the tone is assured and confident. This is miraculous from every angle, considering how difficult the specifics of the sitcom pilot can be, and the fact that Michael Schur’s last creation, Parks & Recreation took a minute to find its identity (Schur co-created Nine-Nine with P&R writer Dan Goor). All the flaws inherent in this format are waved away, from an overbearing dump of exposition to the sappiness most sitcom pilots close with.

That emotional moment is there, but it’s played as a joke (without the joke being cruel, which is a key distinction). Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) realizes why his new captain, Ray Holt (Andre Braugher) has been insisting that he wear a tie. It’s a fine moment, but even better is the split second that closes the pilot. Holt, who has spent the episode being a hard-ass, smiles at a joke from Peralta. It’s a small moment (remember, Schur comes from not only P&R but also The Office. The man gets the importance of subtlety), but it proves how determined Nine-Nine already is. The show doesn’t rest on easy types, already beginning the process of shading in the supporting cast. Joe Lo Truglio’s bumbling Charles Boyle has a crush on the intimidating Rose Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), and it’s a fairly funny story that will obviously continue to pay off down the line. Both characters still hew closely to their initial images, but you can literally only do so much with 22 minutes.

The rest of the cast is uniformly great as well. Chelsea Peretti, who will hopefully soon be a household name, slays as what seems to be the “odd” member of the group. Melissa Fumero plays Peralta’s partner, the two being diametrically opposing forces that still like to flirt. It’s a common thread in television history, but both Fumero and Samberg play the romantic tension well. Most fortunately, Fumero is allowed to be funny, which is not a given considering the fact that she’s the stick in the mud to Samberg’s goofball. But a moment with hot sauce, and her admiration for Holt prove that the show isn’t interested in sidelining any of their team members. As the main butting heads, Samberg and Braugher also play well off of each, with the former toning down his usual mannerisms, and the latter continuing to be one of the better actors alive.

We’re this far and I haven’t gotten to plot, but story isn’t of main concern here. Yes, Holt is the new captain of the police squad, and there are various arcs set up (not to mention a case-of-the-week that’s used as a way to prove the show’s colors rather than stand on its own) but the point of the Nine-Nine pilot is just being in that place. The reveal that Holt is gay, and that caused a hold on his career, is nicely done, not stressing the pathos too hard and using cutaways very well. The show has opened the window for eventual sentiment, but knows attempting to grab that this early would be fruitless.

Wise choices have been made here to preserve the show's long-term existence. That seems to be a major problem with sitcom pilots: so concerned with setting up a story, they don’t have time to exist in an enticing world. Nine-Nine skirts that issue by placing the story in the backseat and bringing the show’s textures to the forefront. The use of cutaway could seem tired at this point in the history of the single-camera sitcom, but most of the ones used here feel purposeful, especially one involving Holt and disco. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s pilot episode does contain a handful of jokes that don’t work, and certain kinks have to be worked out, but not many on either of those fronts. Nine-Nine is one of the most promising pilot episodes I’ve ever seen because it’s done what most shows I like couldn’t accomplish until they were half a dozen episodes in: it’s promised me a world I enjoy being in, populated it with people I want to spend time with, and set up a number of possible ways to spend that time. All it has to do now is keep being itself, which isn’t something you normally want to tell a first effort.

Grade: A-

Miscellaneous:
  •  “Good news for all you murder fans!”: It was smart of the show to quickly establish that its approach to murder is more cavalier,  like shows from the 70’s or 80’s. It allows them to discuss tragic crimes jokingly without treading too far into dark territory.
  • The Fred Armisen bit is just as funny here as it was in all of the promos I saw. Which is to say, very funny.
  • Another great bit: the lady who won’t leave the market.
  • Andre Braughner calling Andy Samberg “meep morp” is an excellent thing that exists now.

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