Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pilot Season: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (I Like Everything But Samberg)

So, I liked Brooklyn Nine-Nine more than I was expecting to, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Because the specific thing I did not like, well, it’s kind of a big thing.

The show (which airs on Tuesdays at 8:30p and is available on Hulu) follows the cops of Brooklyn’s 99th Precinct, in a weird but strangely appealing combination of cop procedural and workplace comedy. There are real cases, and the characters are (reasonably) competent cops, but the show mostly follows their workplace antics and interrelationships. So, you know, it’s interesting.

The pilot episode has a case in it, but I honestly have very little memory of what that case was, because it was really secondary to the actual story. The story involved the Precinct getting its replacement Captain and everyone dealing differently with the new Captain’s desire for actual rules and order and stuff. Very character driven, genuinely funny comedy, there’s just one problem – I don’t like the lead.

Since the procedural aspect isn’t worth recapping, here’s how our pilot went on the workplace comedy side of things. Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), a “lovable” screwup who happens to be a competent detective but is definitely a dick, basically runs the precinct. While his ambitious partner, Detective Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), rolls her eyes in frustration, Jake gets away with murder. Or at least with wild antics and a complete disregard for protocol. He gets away with it because he’s good at his job, but he does have a tendency to take it a little too far.

Into this comes Captain Holt (Andre Braugher, who starred last year on the underrated Last Resort, and is basically skewering his usual roles here). Holt is a veteran officer, highly decorated, and committed to his command. He loves rules and order, and immediately takes offense to Jake’s laid-back, mildly offensive ways. He decides to make Jake an example. And then hijinks ensue.

The whole show is only twenty minutes or so, so the emotional arc is pretty quick, but the basic setup for the series is solid. Holt wants Jake to grow up, Jake doesn’t want to grow up, laughter, etc.

In addition, the background characters are really well done. Each one is both a parody of a cop show regular and also a reasonably fleshed out character in their own right. Amy, for example, is an uptight, by the books cop – the yin to Jake’s yang – but she also has seven brothers, a fierce competitive streak, and a hardcore “I told you so,” smugness to her. I like her. She’s screwy.

And we have Detectives Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) and Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), partners who have pretty much nothing in common, except that they both think Rosa is awesome (which she is). Charles is constantly trying to ask Rosa out on a date, only to be faced with her really terrifying impassive stare, and apparently picky movie choices. They’re cute, in a weird way, and you actually kind of hope they get it together. Maybe. She might eat him alive. But it’d be fun to watch.

There’s a cop who’s afraid of crime, Sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), who prefers to stay in the office, and remarks several times that he would love to be able to lock himself in the records room because it could not be further from the action. His character is already pretty complex, since we know from his backstory that he both lost a lot of weight recently, and also became a father, which contributed to his overwhelming fear of, you know, everything.

Chelsea Peretti appears as Gina Linetti, the gossipy civilian liaison (or something like that), and manages to be both inappropriate and really really relatable at everyone all the time. Basically, great cast, great setup, and good writing. What could go wrong?

Well, you could have a main character that I absolutely can’t stand. That could go wrong.

Here’s the thing. I really enjoy this show. I laughed actually out loud while I was watching it in my room alone on my computer, and that’s weird. That’s unusual. Normally I just sort of snuffle a little into the blankets. This had me straight up, “My sister is going to think I’m crazy,” laughing. So you can take that as some indication of quality.

But I was always laughing at the side characters. At their reactions to our lead. Jake, I found, is not a sympathetic character. Actually, I really want to slap him. And not in the way that means I also find him attractive and charming, in his boyish way. No, I literally want to slap him. He is annoying. He is frustrating. And just spending twenty minutes watching him on my computer screen made me endlessly sympathetic to everyone else in that precinct.

I mean, in a way, this is a good thing, because it got me pretty well invested in the show, right? I really care about all those other characters. I just happen to care about them at the expense of caring about the lead.

And I think I know why. Andy Samberg, first of all, isn’t really acting with this character. He’s doing an extended pastiche of his Lonely Island persona, and it’s super grating. Jake Peralta is a child in a man’s body, and while that has worked for the past couple of years, I think we’re over it now. I, personally, am ready to root for a grownup.

The other problem, though, is simpler than that. Jake is a jerk. He’s a privileged white guy who has no idea how hard it is for the people around him, and as a result, he trivializes their struggles and appropriates their achievements. Jake, the upper-middle class white male protagonist, has no concept of what it would be like for Amy Santiago, a lower class Latina woman, coming up in the NYPD. Just straight up no idea. So when he calls her boring, or complains that she’s too ambitious, we have to understand that he’s not a free spirit raging against the machine. He’s a privileged dick.

Or when he finally figures out why Captain Holt wants him to wear a tie – because he wants their team to really be a team, and because Holt is desperate to prove he can run a precinct, as the only openly gay Police Captain in the city – Jake is only really concerned with how this affects him. He has no ability to sympathize, because he has no idea what struggle is.

He callously mocks Terry’s fear of getting hurt, even though that fear is actually shown to be pretty well justified and comes from a place of love. And he is just generally a really terrible human being.

Look, I like my slightly sociopathic geniuses as much as anyone else, but what I really like is seeing them grow. I don’t know if we’ll get to watch Jake grow up, but I certainly hope so. Because he sucks. Just as a human being. He’s terrible.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a good show, and it’s definitely worth watching, as far as you can tell from the pilot, but I find myself disappointed in it, simply because, out of all of those interesting, compelling, and funny characters, they chose to focus on the white affluent man-child. Because of course they did.


  1. Here's hoping that season 1 ends with him having played with evidence or something, because rules don't apply to him, and he's busted and fired and the show continues while focussing on the rest of them.

    1. Or he could just grow up. I think I'd be into that, as long as it's not the main focus and it happens right the hell now.