Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher (from left)
One of the fall’s better sitcoms bows tonight on Fox with the premiere of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a fast-paced new police comedy with Emmy winners Andre Braugher and former Saturday Night Live cast member Andy Samberg heading a strong ensemble cast.
Created by former Parks and Recreation writers-producers Dan Goor and Michael Schur, the single-camera comedy is set in the titular New York precinct, where high-spirited Detective Jake Peralta (Samberg) has been given a long leash for his madcap antics until the arrival of a new captain, Ray Holt (Braugher).
Jake has worn several of his superiors raw with his stunts and clowning (“I’ve talked a lot about Jake in my department-mandated counseling sessions,” confesses one sergeant), but the fact is, he’s the best detective in the precinct. Ray, however, insists that Jake maintain his sterling success rate while being more professional, which includes – oh, the horror! – wearing a necktie.
At this point, we think we’re seeing yet another cop comedy about a rule-breaking rookie and a by-the-book veteran, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a few tricks up its sleeve, and these characters don’t always behave the way you’d expect them to.
Given that Braugher is best known for his intense dramatic work in shows such as Homicide: Life on the Street, I was pleasantly surprised to see the relaxed confidence he brings to the very likable Ray. After years of playing some broad comedy on SNL, Samberg shows some authentic acting chops here as well, although his Jake is a character who is often a hair’s breadth from going over the top. Here’s hoping Samberg never crosses that line.
The ensemble also includes One Life to Live alumna Melissa Fumero as Jake’s partner, Detective Amy Santiago, whose fiercely competitive spirit is fueled by a childhood vying with seven brothers; Terry Crews (Everybody Hates Chris) as Sgt. Terry Jeffords, who has been on administrative leave since the birth of his beloved twins, Cagney and Lacey; Joe Lo Truglio (Superbad) as sad-sack klutz Detective Charles Boyle; and Chelsea Peretti (Parks and Recreation) as meddling office manager Gina Linetti, all delivering their snappy dialogue with real style.
Ironically, this superior sitcom is preceded tonight by the worst network comedy I’ve seen since ABC’s excruciating 2012 men-in-drag office comedy Work It. I’m talking about Dads, a painfully unfunny multi-camera show from Seth MacFarlane and two other members of his Family Guy and Ted creative teams.
Dads isn’t the only new fall network sitcom to squander a good cast on lame material, but it’s arguably the worst. Seth Green and Giovani Ribisi star as, respectively, Eli and Warner, longtime friends and co-founders of a successful video game company. Warner’s life is routinely complicated by the half-baked get-rich-quick schemes of his father, Crawford (Martin Mull), who lives with Warner. By the end of the pilot, events have transpired that force Eli’s dad, David (Peter Riegert), to move in with his son as well. Intergenerational tensions ensue, to put it mildly.
You may already have heard about the controversy over a scene in the pilot where Eli and Warner coerce their assistant, Veronica (Brenda Song), into dressing up as a “sexy Asian schoolgirl” to charm some visiting potential Chinese investors. In terms of political correctness, the scene is both racist and sexist on some levels, but since Veronica is written and played as the smartest person in the room, the men actually are the butt of the joke.
No, the far more serious problem with Dads is that it just feels lazy, ill-conceived and witless. An appalling number of the jokes are stale – one of them, involving a character mispronouncing the word “Shiite,” I remember hearing for the first time a quarter-century ago on Murphy Brown – and the writers seem to be just throwing everything they can think of against the wall to see what sticks. Very little does.
In tonight’s premiere, three bits are allowed to go on far too long. In the first, Eli and Warner swap thuddingly unfunny one-liners about how irritating their fathers are. In the second, Crawford and David both go to tedious lengths to avoid being stuck with the lunch check at a diner. Finally, and most painful to watch, a frustrated Eli sneaks up behind his dad while he’s watching TV and mimes a variety of ways he’d like to murder his old man. It drags on. For. Ever.
Let me just add here, in the interest of full disclosure, that I’m generally a MacFarlane fan. His appearances on talk shows such as Real Time With Bill Maher have shown him to be a really smart, articulate guy, and Ted turned out to be a box-office blockbuster with genuine heart. I even enjoyed his much-criticized hosting of the last Academy Awards telecast.
Dads, however, isn’t going to do much to dress up his resume. Here’s hoping the network puts this dud to a merciful death quickly.
Martin Mull, Giovanni Ribisi, Seth Green and Peter Riegert (from left)
Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison
Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) meets Washington Irving in Sleepy Hollow, a thrilling, loopy funhouse ride of a fantasy series premiering tonight on Fox. Co-creators and executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci from the rebooted Star Trek movies have taken Irving’s beloved 1820 yarn about a timid schoolteacher’s encounter with a terrifying wraith and pumped it full of storytelling steroids that carry the Colonial American action into the present-day.
The story opens in the heat of a Revolutionary War battle, where history teacher-turned-spy Ichabod Crane (Brit hunk Tom Mison, HBO’s Parade’s End miniseries) finds himself confronted by a masked, ax-wielding Redcoat on horseback. After shooting his adversary proves ineffectual, Ichabod beheads the Horseman, but not before he sustains a grievous wound himself. At the brink of death, Ichabod sinks into unconsciousness … then awakens, gasping for air as he digs himself out of the floor of a cave. Finally breaking through to muted daylight, Ichabod finds himself on the outskirts of Sleepy Hollow, in a strange new world of asphalt roads and roaring metallic conveyances.
That night, as wind blows and lightning flashes, Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie, Shame) and her mentor, Sheriff August Corbin (guest star Clancy Brown), are investigating an incident at a nearby farm when Corbin is attacked and decapitated by the Horseman as Abbie watches in horror. Back at headquarters to report the murder, Abbie encounters the peevish and disoriented Ichabod, who has been brought in for questioning. When Ichabod clings to his far-fetched insistence that he is a spy for George Washington who has been asleep for 250 years, Abbie’s tough-minded captain (Orlando Jones) orders her to take him to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. She spends their long car ride together sizing him up.
“Did you get up to pee?” she asks Ichabod about his long nap, smiling. “I don’t know about you, but I’d be getting up to pee every 75, 80 years.”
Soon, however, Abbie realizes that, nutty or not, Ichabod seems to have special insight into the psychopath who beheaded her former boss. Still haunted by a paranormal experience she and her sister shared as girls, Abbie quickly bonds with Ichabod as their investigation starts to turn up indications that this eerie case may involve a secret society that stretches back for centuries, witchcraft, the Book of Revelation, Ichabod’s dead wife Katrina (Katia Winter) and, of course, “an ancient evil.”
Clearly, Kurtzman and Orci are building a mythology for their show that could sustain years of storytelling without a sweat, so my only worry – as with most high-concept shows – is whether Sleepy Hollow might meet the ratings ax before fans are able to get closure with this epic narrative. That’s out of my hands, though, and the pilot is so much fun, and looks so gorgeous, that I was pretty much in by the first commercial break, although I hope future episodes may inject a little more humor.
It obviously doesn’t hurt, either, that Mison and Beharie are a real dream team in terms of chemistry. He recently topped a poll of my colleagues in the Television Critics Association as this season’s most likely new breakout star, but it’s Beharie who’s the real find for me. Beautiful, confident and radiating intelligence and humor, her Abbie is a lovely creation and a perfect foil for Mison’s intense and often testy Ichabod. I’m looking forward to spending Monday nights with this duo for a long time to come.
Favorite Line: Deputy (shouting to Horseman): “Put the weapon down and put your hands on your … uh … .”