Working a Brooklyn police beat on TV can be a harsh experience. You must deal with psychopaths and malcontents. You meet people who think nothing of dashing past all sorts of societal and legal boundaries. You have to put up with folks who seem to want to make the world a more inhumane place.
After all that, sometimes you gotta actually leave the precinct headquarters and confront criminals.
Such is the world of Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a show about the strangest precinct in the Big Apple since Barney Miller. It's a knockoff Community in cuffs—a rapid-fire comedy whose own version of the Miranda Rights would almost certainly feature a dancing woman with fruit on her head.
(My editor says I must specify that that's a Carmen Miranda reference, for readers under 60 and who haven't watched a sufficient number of old Bugs Bunny cartoons.)
Det. Jake Peralta (Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg) stands at the sitcom's nutty nucleus. This gifted but unhinged gumshoe is almost certainly a donut short of a dozen, prone to high-volume comedic outbursts at least twice every show segment. He may burst into song. He may dance a jig. But rarely will you see Jake stand still. He reminds me just a little of Gonzo the Great after one too many espressos.
Other characters are trotted out and used according to stereotype. There's Det. Amy Santiago, Jake's overachieving and high-strung partner; Det. Rosa Diaz, the precinct's mysteriously sulky tough hombre; Sgt. Terry Jeffords, the squad's vein-bulging, iron-pumping chief; and hapless Det. Charles Boyle, the obligatory well-meaning but somewhat clueless tagalong.
Then, of course, there's the show's straightest of straight men—who, paradoxically, happens to be gay. Capt. Ray Holt rarely smiles, never laughs and sagely tries to keep his wildly erratic charges in line. Watching the captain at work is a little like watching James Earl Jones try to rein in a ring full of carnival clowns—if Jones was prone to simmering over homosexual bigotry.
Still, relentless look-at-me energy isn't enough sometimes, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine is not a remarkable comedy. Nor is it particularly clean. While this workplace laugher tries to portray the precinct as one big happy, if dysfunctional, family (again, like Community), the humor can feel pretty mean, too. It's predicated on more personality foibles than tawdry sexual exploits, but innuendo has certainly not been locked up. Language can be harsh. And, in a rarity for sitcoms, viewers will occasionally see forceful takedowns and fisticuffs with the bad guys—nothing too brutal or gruesome, of course, but it's there.
Alas, for all the effort these detectives put in around their precinct, its silly streets are not safe.
Amy throws a turkey party. Of course her plan is spoiled when Holt and Jake must leave to solve a crime—then further spoiled when the guests realize she can't cook. (Amy's toilet overflows after they try to use it to dispose of the meal, which is likened to "fish vomit.")
Jake's not keen on the idea of a "family" gathering like Amy's, due to his troubled upbringing. But Holt tells him, "The beauty of being an adult is you can make a new family with new traditions." And Jake ends up toasting his colleagues as "family." (Diaz doesn't quite make the same trip.)
Boyle and Holt trade punches with some bad guys. A family gets into a Thanksgiving fight, wrestling on a couch and throwing rolls. For the looks and the laughs, an officer takes his shirt off. Holt mentions his husband. Folks drink wine and beer, and someone mentions a drink called a "rough night," which consists of tequila and a nicotine patch. After an arrest, Jake walks around with a brick of cocaine. Characters say "d‑‑n" four times, "h‑‑‑" once and misuse God's name three or four times.