Almost every article about television this fall has included a reference to the fact that there's just so much damn television to watch, and this one will be no different, because seriously, have you seen the schedule these days? We're nearing 400 primetime scripted shows; when you factor in reality and talk shows, and every other genre, the number is closer to a thousand. Standing out among the pack has never been more difficult, or more important.
And so while some TV stalwarts are chugging along just fine (largely those on CBS), the others scramble to deliver moments that can be easily turned into clips, hashtags, and talking points. And these shows aren't always worse off for it — though an actively bad show is often more noteworthy than a mediocre one. (If you don't believe me, just ask Sharknado.)
What this means is that consistently good shows are easily overlooked in favor of the extremes surrounding it. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is now two episodes deep into its third season, and it has rarely ever stumbled. While most comedies need at least a few episodes to settle into their rhythms and figure out how best to play to their cast's strengths, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was solid from episode one.
In its first season, Brooklyn Nine-Nine won Golden Globes for Best Comedy and Best Actor (for Andy Samberg). Since then, it has largely faded from the awards conversation, save for Andre Braugher, and it seems unlikely that the show as a whole could break back into the cultural conversation without breaking its own pattern of consistency. But why should it, when it has found its footing and held it in such a clear, confident way?
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the rare sitcom that found its footing almost immediately, thanks to canny character development
Creators Dan Goor and Michael Schur knew to trust their actors' strengths rather than fight against them for the sake of preserving their original intent for the characters (a problem many new comedies struggle with). Samberg is the lead apparent — and apparently was the cast member who sold Fox on the series — but Brooklyn Nine-Nine made the savvy choice to make sure the supporting cast was just as well-defined. Every single actor in the 99 can be relied on to land a singular kind of punchline.
Emmy nominee Andre Braugher leans on his natural gravitas as Raymond Holt, the precinct’s deadpan captain who can make everything sound grand and important. Sometimes it seems as if the show throws lines at him just for the pleasure of hearing him say it in his booming baritone, like the episode in which Holt becomes addicted to the phone game "Kwazy Kupcakes."
Samberg finds his goofy counterpart in Joe Lo Truglio, a comedic vet of The State who plays his unapologetically weirdo best friend, Charles Boyle. Terry Crews plays against expectations as the precinct's second-in-command, Sergeant Terry Jeffords, who can kick ass in the field but would rather be eating yogurt with his twin daughters, Cagney and Lacey. Dirk Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller sit at the fringes as Hitchcock and Scully, two older cops who are still on the payroll despite their aggressive avoidance of all things work.
Standup comedian Chelsea Peretti lends her unique drawl to Gina, Holt’s assistant, who would rather die than admit she likes anything or anyone that’s not floor dancing or Beyoncé. Peretti is also a childhood friend of Samberg’s, and it shows in Jake and Gina's easy, teasing rapport.
Relative newcomers Melissa Fumero and Stephanie Beatriz round out the main cast in two diametrically opposed roles. Beatriz's Rosa is the precinct's stone-cold badass, prone to snarling at lesser beings, and Fumero's Amy Santiago is a type-A teacher's pet.
Rosa and Amy are maybe the best examples of characters who could very easily be one-dimensional. On another show, Amy might just be characterized as Jake's partner and love interest. On Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jake respects the hell out of her skills, and her try-hard personality manifests itself in an apartment that looks like a parody of dusty Vermont B&Bs. Rosa's fierce bite doesn't make her less empathetic, especially as she unconditionally supports and trusts her colleagues.
Consistency was always the name of the game for Brooklyn Nine-Nine
It helps that Brooklyn Nine-Nine was a pet project from writers and producers who honed their workplace-comedy skills on Parks and Recreation and The Office. By the time Goor and Schur got to Brooklyn Nine-Nine in 2013, they had already gotten the hang of ensemble comedies, and were experienced in the art of finding humor in the banal.
With Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the police precinct’s grisly cases take a backseat to interpersonal office politics. This might be a strategic choice, seeing how a police precinct's activities aren't exactly operating on the low stakes of Dunder Mifflin's paper company. In fact, watching a portrayal of a police precinct that doesn't approach anything controversial like police brutality, or even stop and frisk, is a little uncomfortable.
It's unclear whether Brooklyn Nine-Nine will ever address these more serious issues, but it is notable that it largely focuses on the drudgery of police work, like the endless mountains of paperwork, more than any significant cases. Even as we know they're working on catching counterfeiters and drug dealers, the day-to-day operations certainly read more like The Office than Law & Order.
In a discussion of their priorities with Brooklyn, Schur told Deadline that he was approaching the show with the mindset that every single episode counts:
"Someone once asked Joe DiMaggio why he played so hard every day. His answer was, "Because you never know when there’s someone in the crowd who hasn’t seen me play." That’s how I feel about TV: You don’t know when one person will see your show for the first time."
To be fair, there aren't a whole lot of showrunners who will admit that not every episode can be a winner, even if it's a widely accepted inevitability. But Schur's philosophy of hooking viewers by making sure every episode exemplifies his team's humor, and the full capacity of what they can do, shines through in the quality of Brooklyn's week-to-week work.
Sure, some jokes don't land as hard as others, and there are some lamer cases of the week sometimes. But the vast majority of Brooklyn's material is whip-smart, character-specific, and confident. Schur's philosophy of creating consistently solid material has manifested itself in two exemplary seasons, and looks to continue the same in the third.
But if there's anything a show doesn't want to be during Peak TV, it's consistent
There aren't many shows — sitcoms or otherwise — that can turn out 22 solid episodes like Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But really, not many shows have to turn out back-to-back solid episodes anymore. Even if Schur's right that you never know when someone's going to try the show, television is leaning into the fact that many people will hear about a show through isolated moments.
Smash hit Empire lives and dies by its ability to produce jaw-dropping moments, as does ABC's Shonda Rhimes–produced Thursday block (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, How to get Away With Murder). Comedies are also depending more on online traffic that goes after specific moments. Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show found success through celebrity-heavy material that is easily shared the next day, and sketch shows Key & Peele and Inside Amy Schumer found a huge audience online that would only watch isolated sketches.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine prioritizing consistency means that a viewer could drop in at any time and be impressed, just like Schur said. But it also means there are fewer hooks to discuss it in an industry that is increasingly prioritizing hashtaggable moments, and populated by critics who are overwhelmed with content. Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes are imperfect measures of critical output, but both list a sharp dropoff of criticism for Brooklyn Nine-Nine between the first and second seasons, even as the praise remained consistently high. While the A.V. Club and Vulture cover it weekly, most critics seemed content to acknowledge that Brooklyn Nine-Nine was great and then send it along on its merry way.
I was recently talking to a friend about how many shows I have on my slate, just out of sheer necessity. "But there are some shows I love that I'll probably never write about because I just want to enjoy it," I said, "like Brooklyn Nine-Nine." But it bothered me to say it, and so here I am, writing about Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It might not provide a flashy lede, but it is a show that has kept true to its voice and sharpened its humor every week since it began, and that is an achievement worth celebrating.