There are three reasons that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” has the potential to become a hit: Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher and “Barney Miller.”
The new sitcom, premiering at 8:30 p.m. today on Fox, is a throwback to that classic 1970s show about the members of a New York City police squad. There were crimes to be solved by Barney Miller (Hal Linden) and his squad, of course, just as there are on “Brooklyn Nine Nine,” but “Barney Miller’s” appeal was that it was as much a drama as a comedy.
Created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur (“Parks and Recreation”), “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is about how members of a city police squad react to the arrival of a by-the-book chief, Capt. Ray Holt (Braugher, “Men of a Certain Age”). The other cops adjust to Holt’s style without much fuss, but not Det. Jake Peralta (Samberg, “Saturday Night Live”).
“The only puzzle he hasn’t solved is how to grow up,” says his colleague Sgt. Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews, “Bridesmaids”).
Overage kid though he may be, Peralta is an excellent cop, maybe in large part because he doesn’t bother with proper procedure. And that ensures he’s going to butt heads with his new boss.
Peralta takes his job seriously, but that doesn’t rule out having fun while he’s doing it. He and fellow detective Amy Santiago, (Melissa Fumero, “Gossip Girl”), compete to see who can solve more crimes. But what we’re really supposed to care about is when they’re going to accept the fact that they find each other arresting.
Other members of the squad include office doofus Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio, “Burning Love”), resolutely humorless Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz, “The Closer”) and civilian office manager Gina Ginetti (Chelsea Peretti, “Parks and Recreation”).
One reason “Barney Miller” became a classic was that the show made a point of inclusive casting, with actors like the late Jack Soo, Gregory Sierra, Max Gail, Steve Landesberg, Ron Carey and Abe Vigoda reflecting the multicultural and multigenerational reality of an urban population in the ’70s.
You’ll notice that they’re all guys, of course, but Barbara Barrie did show up from time to time, playing Barney’s wife. Clearly, that all-male formula doesn’t work in the 21st century, which is why there are as many women in the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” as men.
In another effort to reflect contemporary reality, Braugher’s character is gay and has been out for years. But instead of trying to play it as just another aspect of everyday life in a New York squad room, the writers give Jake room to make a complete fool out of himself when he learns about Braugher.
Braugher and Samberg are terrific and have instant chemistry, with Braugher playing the – you should pardon the expression – straight man to Samberg’s irrepressible goof-off.
Even if the show weren’t a 21st century take on “Barney Miller,” it isn’t out to break any new ground, but it may not have to. Both individually and when they play off each other, Braugher and Samberg are reason enough to tune in to “Brooklyn Nine Nine.”
It’s possible for “Brooklyn” to just coast along on how much viewers like Samberg and Braugher. But to reach its full potential, “Brooklyn” needs to move beyond stock situations, such as when Peralta and Santiago will fall into each other’s arms.
“Barney Miller” worked week after week because the job of being a New York City cop brought the central characters into contact with all sorts of people. Those secondary stories were indispensible.
That doesn’t really happen in the pilot episode of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Peralta and the other cops are on the trail of a murderer who absconded with a very expensive ham. Funny enough, but too silly, really, to work as a catalyst to reveal much about the main characters. Unless the characters grow and deepen, we could lose interest in them. And the key to their potential is what they do and how they react to situations on the job.