It almost feels cliché at this point to explain how difficult it is to make a great TV pilot. The first episode of a sitcom has to accomplish a lot to succeed: simultaneously establishing the show’s premise and tone while introducing the audience to all its characters and giving an indication of what a typical episode of the show will look like, not to mention all while being entertaining during those exposition-filled 22 minutes. The pilot for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which premieres on Fox tonight, isn’t perfect, but it’s a consistently funny half-hour of TV that’s brimming with potential for the future of the series.
Created by Parks and Recreation co-creator Mike Schur and high-up Parks writer/producer Dan Goor, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an ensemble comedy about a group of detectives at a New York police precinct centered on Jake Peralta (played by Andy Samberg), a talented cop who’s immature wiseass antics contrast wildly with his very serious job. Jake is struggling with his new captain, Ray Holt (played by Andre Braugher), a no-nonsense type who’s capable of shutting down Jake’s hijinks and outsmarting him in clever ways. The supporting cast, one of the most diverse in network TV, is made up of comedy ringers (Joe Lo Truglio, Terry Crews, Chelsea Peretti) and newcomers (Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz) alike.
Prior to Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Mike Schur worked on two other ensemble workplace sitcoms, having served as a writer and producer on The Office for its first four and a half seasons before leaving to co-create and showrun Parks and Recreation. Both those series took a handful of episodes to grow into themselves before they really started firing on all cylinders, and the Brooklyn Nine-Nine pilot demonstrates it’s definitely capable of doing that. Brooklyn represents a bit of a departure for Schur and Goor in that it’s the first non-mockumentary sitcom they’ve both worked on, giving them a handful of new weapons for their arsenal as they trade in talking head scenes for cutaways and non-diagetic music. Also, because the show’s about cops, there’s an occasional action element to it. The pilot, directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) contains a couple of action scenes that look real and great, all while working comedically too.
22 minutes isn’t a lot of time to introduce seven characters, let alone to explore all of their relationships with each other, but the Brooklyn pilot does a good job of setting up Andy Samberg’s Jake Peralta. Samberg is in his element as the goofy smartass, who’s admittedly pretty close to himself, but it feels at times during the pilot like he’s already been playing the character for a handful of episodes. The pilot moves along at a nice clip and, thanks to the use of cutaways, manages to show each character in their element and give everyone a chance to do something funny. There’s a lot of talent in the eclectic Brooklyn Nine-Nine ensemble, and given enough episodes to grow, they could easily over the next few weeks gel into a cohesive group and start firing on all cylinders like the Parks and Rec and Office gangs both did.
What really fleshed out Parks’s characters is establishing their relationships with each other. Think of how much more entertaining scenes between Ron Swanson and Tom Haverford became once Tom found out about Ron’s jazz musician alter ego Duke Silver. The next string of episodes will give Brooklyn time to find the weird nooks and crannies in its characters and figure out how each one interacts with eachother or if anybody has any dark secrets a la Ron Swanson’s secret life as a jazz man who’s beloved by old ladies.
With 30 Rock, The Office, and Happy Endings having ended their runs last season and Parks and Rec and Community most likely closer to their endings than their beginnings, there’s a lack of new critically-acclaimed, comedy nerd-approved sitcoms on the major networks right now. Given the chance to grow by Fox and its audience, Brooklyn Nine-Nine stands a good chance of changing that.