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/ October 22, 2013
Could Brooklyn Nine Nine Save The Sitcom?

Brooklyn Nine Nine, Fox’s newest sitcom about a rag-tag team of detectives in the NYPD’s 99th precinct, just might be the next big thing. On Saturday, Fox announced that the show, which premiered in mid-September, would follow New Girl in the coveted post-Superbowl block this winter. The show’s main cast boasts three NYU Tisch alumni: Andy Samberg, Melissa Fumero and Joe Lo Truglio.

Half-hour comedies have not been well-favored on network television this season. As of Monday afternoon, NBC’s Parks and Recreation has been put on hiatus after low rating in its first weeks. Coincidentally, Parks is the brain-child of Michael Schur and Dan Goor who also created Brooklyn Nine Nine. Earlier in the summer, hinted at Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe’s possible permanent departure from the City of Pawnee. Saturday, NBC announced the cancellation of both Welcome to the Family, the controversial Latino/Anglo culture clash comedy and Ironside, a remake of the late-60’s crime drama about a paralyzed detective. Perhaps Brooklyn Nine Nine presents an acceptable substitute for cop-show and sitcom lovers across the nation.

The show is actually quite funny. Samberg stars as Jake Peralta, a goofy man-child who’s surprisingly skilled at police work. He battles for dominance at work with the adorable Amy Santiago (Fumero), a no-nonsense young detective eager for a promotion. Joe Lo Fruglio is hilarious as Jake’s socially inept companion, Charles Boyle. A rising star, Stephanie Beatriz is terrifying as Detective Rosa Diaz and shoos away Charles’ creepy flirtations with spicy stares. Chelsea Peretti plays Gina, the office’s ditzy administrative assistant. Each episode, Jake must prove that he is capable of handling the dangerous world of Brooklyn crime, while still maintaining his boyish charm. In the show’s pilot, he joyfully cheers, “Welcome to the murder!” and we immediately know we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Brooklyn Nine Nine‘s most notable cast-member, however, is former NFL linebacker and Old Spice salesman, Terry Crews. He plays the gun-shy, delicate and overly-cautious precinct sergeant Terry Jeffords. Watching the 6 foot 3, 245lb superstar hold back tears as he tries to build his daughters a dollhouse is terrifically entertaining. The Julliard-trained actor, Andre Braugher plays Captain Ray Holt, a traditional, by-the-book hard-ass with an astonishing secret. It’s refreshing to see a half-hour comedy that functions without talking-heads or voiceovers. Although the show does employ cut-aways on occasion, the structure is old fashioned and rock solid. The premise is clear as a bell and the jokes arise organically from deep-rooted character conflicts. The underlying sexual tension between Jake and Amy is a nice, enduring edge.
Additionally, race plays an interesting role in the series. Both Crews and Braugher are African-American and Fumero and Beatriz are Latina-American. The 2013 failed remake of Ironside decided to cast the eponymous protagonist, who was previously portrayed by the white actor Raymond Burr, with Blair Underwood, an African-American. Kerry Washington, a black actress, has found enormous success on ABC’s Scandal as Olivia Pope. These three shows all star people of color in positions of power in detective, police or security positions. Welcome to the Family, now cancelled, revolved around Junior Hernandez, a young Latino-American who accidentally gets his girlfriend pregnant just before he leaves for college. As network television works hard to compete against the internet with a racially diverse line-up of shows, it’s important to ask ourselves if these characters are being shown in a positive light.

The ability of network television to compete with online streaming changes daily. Fox, NBC and ABC all provide full-episodes on their website of fall shows the day after airing. Last week, however, Netflix was announced to be in talks with Comcast regarding a potential merger or agreement. NBC Universal is a subsidiary of Comcast and could therefore potentially stream all of its content on Netflix. Access to television, by legal means, would become even easier for those who are members of the site. Television writers face immense pressure to produce compelling work that can quickly grab an audience. If the initial viewership isn’t there, the show gets pulled right away. When funny videos are so readily available, unique and high quality storytelling is key. Brooklyn Nine Nine is doing everything right. Its long-term success or failure could be indicative of a larger-scale change in sitcom consumption worldwide. For now, we’ll have to wait and see.

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