“AWK” for “Awkward:” A Dead Season Discussion of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Season 1 (Part 1)

title cardCreated by Dan Goor (Parks and Recreation) and Michael Schur (The Office, Parks and Recreation), Brooklyn Nine-Nine debuted on September 17, 2013 on Fox. Although conceived as a vehicle for Andy Samberg in his first post-SNL role, a top-notch supporting cast turned Brooklyn Nine-Nine into one of the best comedies of the year, winning Golden Globe awards for Best Comedy Series and Best Actor in a comedy (Samberg), and earning Andre Braugher an Emmy nomination for Supporting Actor in a Comedy along the way.

To celebrate the show’s Season 2 premiere, Jeff (of Slazenger1) and I break down Season 1 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

As usual, SPOILERS abound. Also, possibly penis graffiti…

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Patches: Jeff! It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, hasn’t it?

Jeff: Yeah, you know, the important stuff gets in the way: life, work, responsibility, binge watching the first season of Once Upon a Time….

Patches: Once Upon a Time? Oh, Jeff… I understand. I’ve also made some terrible decisions where attractive ladies were involved… Wait, did that make it sound like I think your wife is hot? Wait, did that make it sound like I think your wife is ugly? Godammit…

Let me change the subject by linking Robert Carlyle’s Wikipedia page. This the least flattering picture in the history of photography, right?

Jeff: What a beautiful woman! Too bad even she can’t save OUaT. But we’re not here to talk about fairy tales, we’re here to talk about a show that actually tries when it comes to writing: Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Let’s get to it!

Patches: Very well! From our brief conversations on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it seems as though we both enjoyed it and think the show has a lot of potential. If not for the surprising resurgence of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, B99 would have been my comedy of the year. Then again, I’m not a big comedy guy, which I suppose makes the fact that I’m watching it pretty big compliment itself. So, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF SEASON 1, OVERALL?

Jeff: B99 was the comedy with the most promise for the 2013 fall season. Not only did it have the pedigree of Schur and Braugher (which was a big sell for yours truly), but it was also praised by critics as one of the best new shows of the season (hmmmm I seem to remember another Braugher pilot getting a lot of “best show” buzz not long ago…). Awards recognition aside, I’d say it lived up to my expectations. It’s hard to directly compare it to The Office and Parks and Recreation as each of those shows had 6-episode first seasons while B99 got a full 22, but I will say this: I’d probably take the first 22 episodes of either of those shows before B99.

That’s not being very kind to B99 though, as they didn’t have the benefit of an off-season to rework certain characters and relationships. Given that handicap, I think a lot of B99 was clicking pretty well by its finale. The show hit a lot of the right notes for a new series finding its footing and mixing its metaphors. Like you, I don’t watch a lot of network comedies, but of the few I’ve seen, I’d say B99 had the strongest debut season since Community in 2009/2010 (I also enjoyed dear, departed Enlisted from this past season, but ultimately, I think B99 edges it out). With The Office gone, Parks on its way out and Community moved to Yahoo!, B99 may be my only foothold in network comedy (apart from New Girl, which had a pretty rough third year).

I don’t want to say too much before we get to the downs and ups of the season, but it’s well worth my time (and yours) and I expect it will get even better in season 2. Do you have any more overall thoughts on the season, or its success as a first season in general?

Patches: Not really anything too crazy. I think your assessment is both fair and accurate, although I don’t have the volume of comparison that you do. I actually liked B99 much more than the first season of The Office, if only because Office was trying too hard to duplicate the British version. I would probably agree, however, that if you toss in S2 of The Office, B99 is probably a little behind at the moment.

I would almost liken S1 of B99 to my favorite comedy of all-time, Scrubs. Both shows’ first seasons showed a lot of promise, established some pretty good gags and recurring themes, and established complex, interesting characters. Hopefully, B99 doesn’t fall off a cliff in Season 5 like The Office or screw the pooch with a terrible, unrelated season after a pitch-perfect finale.

SKIP BAYLESS LOVES MY STRONG TAKES!

I think the other thing worth establishing is that the only reason I started watching this show was because of Andre Braugher. I’m the only person on the planet I know who has watched Homicide: Life on the Street in its entirety and no one watches Homicide without loving Andre Braugher.

He is the reason I (both of us, probably?) watched Last Resort. And gave it the DSD treatment. He is the reason I started watching this show. Andre Braugher is my favorite actor of all time and I will watch anything he is in, unless, apparently, Ray Romano is also involved.

vlcsnap-2014-09-23-14h26m58s75Jeff: Though I may not agree with your strong takes, I’ll defend to the death your right to…take…them? It is probably too soon to tell for B99. It may not have started as strong a some, but it certainly has potential. The ratings weren’t great, so season 2 will not only be the proving ground for the show’s quality, but also its ability to draw a crowd. As for Men of a Certain Age, maybe we should give it a couple of decades before we tackle that DSD.

Patches: Sounds good to me. I know I’ll have a lot of praise to dole out, so maybe we should start with the demerits first. Obviously, few first seasons are going to be a show’s best. What, if anything, about S1 of B99 FELL FLAT, MISSED THE MARK, OR COULD USE SOME IMPROVEMENT for Season 2?

Jeff: Unfortunately, I don’t know how specific I’ll be able to get, as I haven’t revisited the show since the finale. When looking for knocks against the show, I found myself thinking “yeah, but they sort of started to fix this by the end of the season.” That is a compliment to the show, and exactly what you’d hope for a show concluding its inaugural year. Still, it wouldn’t be much of a DSD (based on our long history) if I didn’t try to be picky.

The biggest wild card for me was Samberg, and whether or not he’d be able to anchor a comedy without being a constant goofball. As demonstrated by Steve Carell and Amy Poehler, being a nut-job is fine, but there has to be some degree of humanity behind the inanity. Despite the Golden Globe win, I don’t think Samberg ever quite got there for me. He had his moments, particularly in episodes 13 (“The Bet”) and 22 (“Charges and Specs”), but those were tied to the URST between Jake and Santiago. It just felt like we might get serious-ish Jake for part of an episode, but he’d be back after the commercial stuffing rubber chickens into his pants or something. I don’t know whether to chalk this up to a lack of range on Samberg’s part or just a desire for this show not to be too dramatic. They don’t have to make it super-serious or anything, but I want to buy that the characters can realistically have more than one dimension. Jake Peralta can (and has) only become more well-rounded, but I think there’s more work to be done. It’s fine for him to be wacky, but I don’t want him to be a cartoon.

I’ve got a couple more I can throw at you, but I don’t want to dominate the conversation up front. What did you think of “The Lonely Island guy in all of those SNL digital shorts” as our leading man, and what else would you like to see changed, or were you glad to see changing?

vlcsnap-2014-09-19-18h34m13s144Patches: I think you hit the construction cliche on the head by suggesting that most or all of the problems were either fixed or in the shop by the end of the season. I can take a few swings anyways, though.

Andy Samberg was definitely the big question mark for me as well. I thought his digital shorts were generally the best stuff on SNL and he certainly projects an aura of likeability. Samberg’s Jake Peralta is frequently hilarious, particularly while deadpan snarking or playing off a more serious character. However, these positives were offset by a childishness that frequently strained believability.

He was also a bit too self-aware at times, which made him come off as some weird combination of Jimmy Fallon cracking himself up on SNL and the overdone smirk of John Krasinski on The Office. My favorite Samberg moments usually fused that goofiness with some seriousness, like in “Tactical Village,” “Charges and Specs,” and that one time Jake accidentally called Captain Holt “dad.”

My other complaint is Charles. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot about him. Joe Lo Truglio plays Boyle with impeccable timing. I like the idea of a not-so-gifted cop who gets the job done because he just grinds at it. I also love that he has a lot of stereotypically feminine interests without that becoming a “thing.”

Unfortunately, all that fun stuff is overwhelmed by his interactions with Rosa. The contrasts between the two work in the beginning, but at some point, unrequited love becomes unrequited harassment. I’m sorry, but if a woman LITERALLY says, “You are a nice person, but I’m not interested in you romantically,” that should be the end. It’s not cute or funny when it continues.

That’s all I got for negatives! If you’ve got a couple more rounds in your clip, fire away!

vlcsnap-2014-09-24-14h47m11s201Jeff: Thanks, dawg. I hear what you’re saying about Boyle, though I think I was less put off by it because the show did a surprising amount with his character. More on him later, I think. I will also say that I personally didn’t care much for Chelsea Peretti’s Gina. I think some of that comes down to writing, as if the writers thought it would be enough to have a comedian in the role.

Although I think it’s a topic that probably bears more discussion on its own, another thing I’ll bring up briefly is the habit I have of looking for “all timers.” These are the “classic” handful of episodes in a series that are the ones you will always remember or refer to when discussing your favorite shows. I don’t think B99 had one of those in its first 22. That’s not a big deal. Favorites of mine like 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation didn’t have all timers that early. Community, Arrested Development and Scrubs all did though. Even The Office dropped “Diversity Day” on us in its short first season.

I know it’s unfair, but it’s like I’ve been watching B99 just waiting to see if “this episode” will be the one that finally hits the mark for me, the one that puts the show in the same league as some of its predecessors. The show hasn’t made it yet, but it has kept me tuning in

Lastly, I want to mention Andre Braugher. Having seen the first 4.5 seasons of Homicide (I’ll get there, I’ll get there), he was a big draw for me too. Unfortunately, I felt like his talents were wasted throughout much of the first season. Yes, he played Holt perfectly as the mostly unreadable, semi-hard-ass police captain, but the role didn’t require someone of Braugher’s caliber, nor did it live up to the awesome potential of a comedic Frank Pembleton. Of course, Jake Peralta is the Frank Pembleton of B99, so maybe I was expecting too much from a supporting character. The show did more with him as the season progressed, but I think there are still layers to Holt we have yet to explore. I want Braugher to get award nominations because he’s great in the role, not just because he’s the great Andre Braugher.

vlcsnap-2014-09-22-17h37m14s30Patches: I would totally agree that his role didn’t need Andre Braugher. On the other hand, could anyone do better than Braugher? Two sides of the same coin, I suppose.

Andre Braugher probably serves as a nice transition into WHAT WE LIKED ABOUT SEASON 1.

First of all, B99’s characters developed an impressive amount of depth, for a comedy at least, in a short amount of time. Every character started with some defining trait or characteristic (Terry was scared, Holt was serious, Rosa was emotionally cold, etc). Then, over the course of the season, everyone got moments or scenes that gave us a better understanding of that person or otherwise subverted our expectations. Comedy characters shouldn’t be this deep, this soon.

In further praise of the writers, the characters are so unique that there is a ton of humor to be found simply by finding an excuse to split them into pairs or groups and letting the magic happen.

As for the actors, everyone has such phenomenal chemistry that almost no pairing fizzles. The cast’s delivery is universally great. Even better are the cast’s facial expressions, from goofy reactions from Peralta, Santiago, and Gina to the earnest Boyle and the deadpan reactions of Rosa and Holt. They really sell those facial expressions too, even when they are in the background. That takes a lot of commitment, but it makes everything happening seem important.

Before I get to a little character-centric praise, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the good from Season 1. Whad’ya got?

vlcsnap-2014-09-27-23h19m01s28Jeff: I’ll echo your sentiments on the overall strength of the ensemble, criticism of Samberg aside. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call (m)any of these characters particularly “deep,” but I do take your point about character growth and this crew all managed to get beyond their initial defining character traits by the end of the season. Also, the cast is refreshingly diverse, a which has been noted by plenty of others, so that’s all I’ll say about it here.

Even if I said he was wasted above, the more I think about Braugher (and rewatch episodes of the show), the more his deadpan delivery is actually a perfect alternative to the craziness of most of the other cast. He’s rattling off jokes, but they don’t sound like jokes, which is great. So props to the writers and Braugher for making a lot of those moments work (he looked totally out of character doing that arm wave thing in “Christmas” though).

I’m also a fan of Joe Lo Truglio’s Boyle. You’re right about the trope of him pining for a woman who doesn’t want anything to do with him not working, but he’s got such earnestness (which you already mentioned) in everything he does. I don’t think the whole engagement to Marilu Henner plot worked that well, but more than anyone else on the show, I think Boyle owns the small moments.

It appears my praise for this show is all about the cast, but I think that makes sense for a freshman series. If the ensemble is strong, they’ll be able to sell the earlier “finding the way” stories until stronger ones can come along. Do you have any more praise about the show in general, or does our enjoyment really come down to this being a pretty good cast?

vlcsnap-2014-09-23-14h12m10s181Patches: I think you captured what we love about the series most. It’s a great ensemble with great chemistry. Give me Amy’s hilarious nervousness around Holt (Or just more Amy. She is the CUTEST HUMAN ON THE PLANET). Give me the chiseled Terry being a great dad. Give me the weird father/son thing Peralta and Holt have going. Give me all of these characters in different combinations.

Ultimately, I don’t even care what they’re doing. If you gave me a choice between a show with a great concept and a show with great characters, I’ll pick the characters every time.

Well, Jeff, we may be at the end of our ropes here. Anything left to say before we move on to our Superlatives and start discussing Season 2?

vlcsnap-2014-09-27-22h48m40s120Jeff: Not really. I actually feel bad for not coming up with anything more constructive or analytical to say about the show. It’s just a pretty solid show that doesn’t blow me away but gives me enough enjoyment each episode to make it worth my while. I agree with you about the great characters usually trumping a great concept. Obviously, you don’t get much more generic than “cop show,” so the fact that B99 has made it work and improved over 22 episodes, without relying on procedure, is admirable (it helps that it’s a comedy). Here’s hoping the show continues to fulfill the promise of its first season, because I’ll be tuning in for sure.

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More Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Season 1: Part 1Part 2

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