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Pilot episodes for new TV series are always tough to judge, especially for comedies. A pilot episode has two major goals. It must set up the characters in a way that not only clues the viewer into who they are but also how they interact, and establish the general tone of the show. Not to say that both the characters and tone may not change after a few episodes once the series has been picked up – I recall a multitude of smart, competent women becoming blubbering and ineffective between The Newsroom’s first and second episodes – but usually the stronger pilots end up showing a strong foundation for the series and then the other elements are tweaked as it goes along.
In “Pilot,” the much advertised Brooklyn Nine-Nine accomplished both those aforementioned goals – albeit in a very simple way. Brooklyn Nine-Nine comes from the creators of The Office and Parks and Recreation, Daniel Goor and Michael Shur. And their DNA is all over “Pilot” whether it is the slightly off-kilter main character, the one-camera shooting style, or the supporting and ancillary characters who will all end up being utilized in some form or another. And just like with The Office and Parks and Recreation, Goor and Shur have created three strong lead characters around whom the show will revolve.
Andy Samberg plays the lead role as the silly but skilled Detective Jake Peralta. Melissa Fumero plays the career driven Detective Amy Santiago, Peralta’s partner and love interest. Andre Braugher rounds out the top cast as Captain Ray Holt, the straight man (except in his sexual orientation) to Peralta’s antics, who is by-the-book but not overly aggressive about it.
“Pilot” does a few things very well. By the time the episode is over, it is clear that the actors, especially the leads, have good chemistry together and are genuinely having fun, which certainly rubs off on the viewer. Peralta’s silliness is fairly charming and isn’t annoying, which makes it all the harder for Santiago to keep a straight face around him. Likewise, while Holt is the straight man, he isn’t a fun-hating stickler. In one scene where it seems as though Peralta has decided to acquiesce to the captain’s orders to wear a necktie, only to reveal that he is wearing only a speedo despite the shirt and tie on top, Holt calls the entire precinct down to see Peralta instead of becoming angry or aggressively ordering him to become serious. It’s a nice twist on the stickler cop boss character.
The episode opens up in a smart way as well. Peralta sarcastically lists all the clichéd buddy cop plot points that make a seemingly lazy joke funnier than it should be, while also telling the viewer that the viewer will be in on the joke if the series decides to use some of those plots down the line. But where that particular method worked for the joke it was telling, it fell flat on its face later in the episode with two other jokes.
Goor and Shur know that a pilot’s job is to set up all the characters and so they decided to just bang most of the setup out in one scene where the officers are rotely catalogued for Holt. Peralta is childish, accompanied by a flashback of something ridiculous. Boyle is clumsy, accompanied by a flashback of him dropping his muffin, banging his head, and stepping on his muffin. Each character was given a brief introduction like this, and while it was clear that Goor and Shur were poking fun at what a pilot episode is, it didn’t work. This same feeling returns when Peralta realizes why Holt wants everyone to wear a necktie and decides to explain it out loud to Holt while they are in the midst of arresting a criminal. While those kinds of jokes are winks to the audience, they felt out of place in the episode.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an interesting hybrid of a show. Goor and Shur cut their teeth at NBC and Brooklyn Nine-Nine has that feel of an NBC comedy, but with a Fox sheen. The show contains many more one-off jokes than Goor and Shur’s previous shows and while the humor isn’t crass or trying to push the envelope, which is what Fox has been known for, it also isn’t as subtle or character driven as The Office or Parks and Recreation. In fact, Goor and Shur have dumped the talking head approach, which was a staple of their previous shows, and have opted for quick flashbacks, a la Seth MacFarlane, except they are funny and come within the context of what is happening in the show.
The main thing to take away from the pilot episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is that the show is fun. The actors and characters are having fun with each other and the audience is having fun right along with them. All of the acting from the lead down to the glorified extras is very good. While Brooklyn Nine-Nine will almost certainly change by the end of the season, the tone from “Pilot” and the chemistry between the characters and actors put the fledgling show on firm ground.