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fall tv 2013

Seitz: As Long As Andre Braugher Is Employed, Brooklyn Nine-Nine Is a Force for Good

The new Fox series Brooklyn Nine-Nine isn't knocking itself out to be a great or innovative sitcom. It's mostly a lighthearted riff on cop shows, and buddy cop films — the kind in which officers banter about this and that, then chase down a perp or pop off a few rounds, so you don't think they're all talk. The biggest apparent influence is The Office, which the loose camerawork and improv-flavored dialogue sometimes recall (the show's by Dan Goor and Michael Schur, of the Office-y Parks and Recreation). The second biggest influence is Barney Miller — which my late uncle, a Dallas cop for 25 years, once told me was the most realistic TV cop show he'd ever seen, because it captured how much of the job was taken up by office politics, pranks, and conversations that go nowhere.

Andy Samberg plays the hero, Detective Jake Peralta, who'd easily pass muster as a "brilliant, and therefore worth the trouble" cop-on-the-edge if he didn't carry on like a fratty man-boy, staging fire-extinguisher races in the office and doing terrible "robot" impersonations to mock the incoming precinct captain, Ray Holt. He's anti-authority. There's really no reason why he should be, but that's how sitcoms are, so that's how he is. He refuses to wear a tie, because it would mean he gave in, or something. It's that kind of show, and touches like these would be insufferable if the writers didn't treat them with the seriousness they deserve, i.e. none. 

Speaking of Holt: He's played by Andre Braugher. That's all you need to know. I could tell you that Holt is a spit-shine unflappable authority type, hilariously dry and therefore a perfect foil for the smug yet manic Jake, and that he has the most intriguing backstory of any of the major characters — the only one that doesn't make him seem like a variation on a type, honestly — but really, none of that matters, because it's Braugher you want to see. If he were playing a guy named Joey Joe-Joe Junior Shabadoo and spending all 22 minutes of every episode sitting silently on an orange crate and drawing cartoons on a memo pad, you'd still be happy to watch him, because Andre Braugher is never not fascinating. But here's the thing: From Homicide: Life on the Street through last year's aborted military thriller Last Resort, which deserved a bigger audience than it got, he's always been rightly acclaimed as a powerful dramatic actor but somewhat undervalued as a comedian. Brooklyn Nine-Nine should remedy that. Men of a Certain Age should've remedied it earlier, but hey, I'm still mourning that one, so let's not even talk about it, all right?

The supporting cast is excellent, even though their characters feel a bit one-note right now: Melissa Fumero as Jake's partner, the super-badass and tightly wound Detective Amy Santiago; Joe Lo Truglio as Detective Charles Boyle, an earnest bumbler; Terry Crews as Sergeant Terry Jeffords, a chiseled mountain of a man who once was fat and still thinks of himself that way; and Fred Armisen, whose 30-second cameo in the pilot adds a splash of almost Dada weirdness. This could be the kind of series that stays on the air for a long time without anyone developing any especially strong feelings about it, or it could be one of those stealth classics like W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati; who among us can say? As long as Andre Braugher is employed, it's a force for good in the universe.

Photo: Fox