“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” walks one of the toughest beats on television: It’s a blue-collar comedy infused with Ivy League irony. It’s set in a precinct where low-income housing and artisanal pickle shops collide. And it’s a cop show where no one’s gotten shot.
“I’m hoping that eventually someone fires a gun,” Andy Samberg, who plays the show’s Det. Jake Peralta, told TheWrap. “I think it would be cool to actually get into serious action. But I think that’s something we have to earn. It’s a fine line because you don’t want to get too serious.”
The Fox comedy is good at fine lines. In its first season, it won Golden Globes for best comedy and for Samberg, immediately becoming an Emmy contender. What’s most impressive about the show is how much it aims to do, and how cleverly it balances it all: It’s a Samberg vehicle, but also an ensemble where everyone gets to shine. The cast is one of the most diverse on television. And it’s infused with Conan O’Brien‘s smart-stupid brand of comedy.
It’s also managing nicely the question of whether to shoot people.
“We had to make the crimes either not too gruesome or so gruesome that it’s comedic how gruesome they are,” said co-creator Dan Goor. “When I worked with Conan he was always a proponent of there being no blood in a sketch, unless there was way too much blood.”
Goor, a veteran of “Parks and Recreation” as well as “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” loosely based the show’s fictional 99th precinct on Brooklyn’s real-life 78th, one of the most diverse parts of one of the most diverse cities in the word. It’s a fast-gentrifying area that’s home to its share of crime, but also the Brooklyn Nets and yoga classes for babies.
Goor, who co-created the show with fellow Harvard and “Parks & Rec” alum Michael Schur, knows the area well. He went to high school in Brooklyn, lived there again as a “Conan” writer, and can tick of the name of the best restaurants and sandwich places in the 78th.
“When you walk around New York and you look at the cops, there are 400-pound Samoan dudes and there are 63-pound Vietnamese ladies,” Goor said. “That just felt like such an opportunity to open up the cast to a tremendous range of people and talents and voices that you don’t necessarily get to see. And Brooklyn is such an interesting place. It’s so full of characters, and it’s always in transition.”
The transitions play out within the 99th. Samberg’s exceedingly confident detective butts up against Andre Braugher as the captain who’s always trying to rein him in. But he’s not the typical by-the-book boss: Braugher’s Capt. Ray Holt wants precinct unity after years of being passed over by the old guard because he’s gay. It’s one way the show takes a familiar trope, then subverts it.
“A police station was a shortcut in some ways because people are very aware of how police television works,” said Goor. “You know instantly who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.” But the setup is also full of risks: “We can’t have Jake arrest the wrong person and interrogate them and keep them in jail for six hours or 10 hours.”
Added Samberg: “You don’t want to make light of anything in terms of the real danger of working as a police officer.” The only way he could see someone getting shot, for example, is “where we were not playing it for comedy.” But there’s a minor problem there, he said, since making people laugh is “the purpose of the whole show.”
Also read: Why You Should Watch ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’
“Brooklyn” will figure it out. But it hasn’t yet figured out how to grab a big audience–which could be a problem come Emmy time, since the Brooklynites will be up against the juggernaut that is “Modern Family”, the hit show that has won in the Outstanding Comedy Series category for the last four years.
One of the show’s biggest challenges this past season was going up against ABC’s “Agents of Shield”, another show that targets young men. Could it be that “Brooklyn’s” traditional setting and untraditional approach might appeal to two different audiences?
“And somehow we’re alienating both of them? That’s a very interesting theory,” Goor said. “I just don’t know. I don’t know why people watch what they watch. Because you could say the same thing about “Modern Family”– it’s set in Los Angeles, and it’s about wealthy people and gay people, and yet it has a very broad appeal.
“Without saying that we’re broad or hacky or bad, I’d say that our show is aiming to appeal to a wide audience.”
Until it does, it will just have to settle for rave reviews and awards like the Golden Globes. And for always having the right amount of blood.